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The experience of parenthood among children of Holocaust survivors : reworking a traumatic legacy / Ziva Y. Stern

Publication | Library Call Number: RC451.4.H62 S747 1995

This phenomenological, exploratory study was designed to investigate adult children of Holocaust survivors' (COHS) subjective experience of parenthood, filling an important gap in the literature on the intergenerational consequences of trauma. Ten COHS with children below age 12 were recruited through Jewish organizations and by word of mouth. Six women and 4 men, ages 34 to 43, participated. Semi-structured interviews were audio taped, transcribed, and reviewed for recurring themes. Results encompassed three areas: (a) participants generally described their survivor parents as evidencing both signs of the harm wrought by the Holocaust and coping capacities; (b) most participants reported that the Holocaust affected them personally, in some significant ways; and (c) parenthood for COHS involves unique challenges and rewards. Participants reported that, as parents, they have thoughts, feelings, and images about the persecution of children, parents, and grandparents, aspects of the Holocaust upon which they had not previously focused. Some participants described an empathic process of identification with these Holocaust victims, with accompanying feelings of sorrow, mourning, and vulnerability. Parenthood thus introduced a need to rework aspects of the Holocaust trauma. The Holocaust intruded upon the participants' everyday experiences of parenthood to varying degrees. Enjoyable and healing aspects of the experience of parenthood, also noted by the participants, emphasized familial and cultural continuity. Finally, participants voiced concerns about how to educate their children about the Holocaust, and about inadvertently "transmitting" traumatic effects. Discussion explored alternative understandings of the varied extent of participants' "secondary traumatization." Possible explanations, considered separately and in interaction, involved: survivor (e.g., age during war, extent of verbal communication about experiences), COHS (e.g., temperament, willingness to bear witness, personal history of traumatic losses), and environmental (e.g., support networks) variables. Several lenses were applied, including family systems, and theories of secondary trauma. Recommendations for future research include investigating how COHS' Holocaust-related thoughts, feelings, and imagery influence parent-child interaction, and qualitative studies of how other developmental challenges interact with a family history of trauma. Implications for clinical practice stress the need for therapists to signal their openness to hearing about the influence of the Holocaust on COHS' experience of parenthood.

Stern, Ziva Y.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 172-180)
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Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:46:00
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