Abstract: Contested Notions of Home: Intergenerational Trauma and Parenting Perceptions Among Second Generation Vietnamese American Parents (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Contested Notions of Home: Intergenerational Trauma and Parenting Perceptions Among Second Generation Vietnamese American Parents

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Belle Khuu, MSW, MPH, Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Introduction: Refugees endure numerous adverse mental health effects after resettlement in the host country, affecting not only the individual and their family members but also reverberating generations. A small number of studies began to examine intergenerational trauma among Southeast Asian refugee families. The empirical evidence suggested mixed evidence for the effects of intergenerational trauma among second-generation Vietnamese Americans (SGVA). This study seeks to examine more closely these mixed findings through a qualitative approach to further unpack the effects of intergenerational trauma on parenting as a phenomenon among SGVA.

Method: The study used an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) as the primary method of inquiry to explore SGVA’s perceptions of the impact of parental trauma on parenting. Participants were recruited through a purposive sampling method and were interviewed for an hour to two hours through a semi-structured questionnaire. Participants consisted of 11 SGVAs community-dwelling adults currently residing in the Midwest. There were eight mothers and three fathers SGVAs; all reported being currently married. They ranged in age from 30 to 47 years old (M= 37.09 SD=5.54). One participant had a high school diploma, and the rest reported having high educational experience. Their gross annual income ranged from 40k to more than 200k. The number of children was one to five, with the mode being two. Their children’s age was from 10 months to 16 years old (M=6.25 SD=4.19).

Results: Data analysis included six themes that emerged from IPA. The themes consist of segmented disclosure, family stories of trauma, SGVA’s lived experiences, FGVA’s parenting, SGVA’s parenting, as well as resiliency and meaning-making. Although all of the participants had first generation Vietnamese American (FGVA) parents that suffered during post-Vietnam war adjustments and navigating life in the United States, several participants reported willful silence from the parents about war experience growing up. Others reported the trauma filled family stories being told with little emotional valence and in fragments with little warnings or follow up. As a result, many were confused by the monetary disclosures. The lack of communication about trauma has contributed to dysfunctional family dynamics, cohesion, and functioning. Participants also reported enduring harsh and punitive punishments at the hands of their FGVA as means of behavioral control while growing up. Participants overwhelmingly reported a conscious desire to parent differently from their parents. Yet they also expressed difficulties envisioning parenting models that would be culturally appropriate for their family needs.

Implications: The study highlights the need for nuanced research into the effects of intergenerational trauma within families of Southeast Asian Americans. It adds even more empirical evidence for the cumulative effects of trauma across the lifespan among ethnic minority populations. The findings from the study may inform efforts to develop culturally appropriate intervention approaches, which could add to the existing health and child welfare policy and practice knowledge resulting in the prevention of child maltreatment and promotion of healthy families.