How Jada Pinkett Smith Is Breaking Generational “Cycles” With Daughter Willow
Jada Pinkett Smith’s memoir, “Worthy,” has generated tons of headlines from the minute she began promoting it. But under the shocking revelations is a book full of deep insights about learning to face the past and using new insight to alchemize it into something different. A lot of the memoir focuses on key relationships in Pinkett Smith’s life, from her close bond with Tupac Shakur to her marriage with Will Smith. But ultimately, the thread that ties the whole story together from beginning to end is Pinkett Smith’s grandmother Marion Martin Banfield and the garden that taught her key life lessons.
As a young child, Pinkett Smith and her mother frequently lived with her grandmother, who had a sprawling garden. Pinkett Smith’s mother was 17 when she gave birth to her, and her parents’ marriage lasted just a year, so they often needed a place to stay. During those years, Pinkett Smith spent a lot of time in the garden, observing the way the plants and flowers all worked together, dying and coming back in cycles. She returns to that garden again and again throughout “Worthy,” citing it as a symbol of growth, love, and nourishment.
“I think that we’re all trying to return to the garden, and so we find different gardens along the way,” Pinkett Smith tells POPSUGAR. “I’ve been able to build on my grandmother’s garden through the garden of my own family, the garden of my friendships, the garden of my relationship with Will, and the garden of my relationship with my mother.” Pinkett Smith addresses each of these relationships in “Worthy,” exploring their thornier sides, as well as the generative aspects of the connections she’s been able to nurture over the years. She also discusses the ways that trauma can thread its way down generations, influencing the present and, if not interrupted, the future.
“I didn’t feel it necessary to just tell my story without purpose. And when I found that purpose in my journey from lack of self-worth to self-worth, I was like, well, that is a worthy journey to share.”
There were idyllic moments in Pinkett Smith’s childhood, such as hours spent in the garden, but there were also great challenges that became wounds she carried into her adult life. Both her parents struggled with addiction, and her father was in and out of her life until his death. She eventually began dealing drugs at a young age, struggling to find a semblance of autonomy. In returning to the finer details of those years to write “Worthy,” Pinkett Smith says that the main thing she became aware of was a cycle of trauma that had been passed down through generations of women in her family. “I think returning to my grandmother’s story was probably one of the most heartbreaking components – really looking at her history and looking at what she had to endure,” she says.
In the memoir, Pinkett Smith reveals that her great-grandmother – Marion’s mother – had paranoid schizophrenia and was institutionalized by her grandfather. Her grandmother’s little sister died when they were children, and Marion was also impregnated at a very young age under unclear circumstances. She was then cast out by her family, only to be taken in by a white family who made her work as a maid. Writing about what her mother and grandmother went through gave Pinkett Smith a “clear understanding of the trauma cycle between the women,” she says. “When I looked at my great-grandmother’s story that bled into my grandmother’s story, that then bled into my mother’s story, and then bled into my story, and then how I was able to break some cycles with Willow.”
Pinkett Smith shares her two children, Jaden and Willow, with Smith, who also has a son named Trey from his first marriage. Pinkett Smith writes about the three of them and their fiercely independent spirits with a sense of awe and reverence, similarly to how she describes her grandmother. Her journey toward making peace with what happened to the women who came before her has also given her more space to parent Willow, in particular.
“Whether it’s how many Instagram followers you have, or how men react to you, or how women react to you, so much of our self-worth is dependent upon resources outside of ourselves.”
“When things come up in regards to Willow, I can separate myself and just look at what she is dealing with, versus having my fears run up on me and me guide her,” Pinkett Smith notes. “Even if I do get a little fearful, I’m aware of it, and I can check it and I can remove my fear from her circumstance and just look at her circumstance purely as her experience. Her experience is not my experience.” Pinkett Smith says detaching from her own trauma gives her the freedom to give Willow “whatever she’s asking of me by being in present time with her experience.”
Basically, she says, it’s about “not bringing my garbage into her life. You know what I mean?” Pinkett Smith laughs. “My luggage, my baggage, into her experience.”
Pinkett Smith’s kids have been by her side as she works to process her past, and so have Smith and her mother. “They’ve all been on this journey with me. I’m so grateful that I have a partner and a family that is so willing to keep stepping [forward], and that’s really all you can ask of anybody,” she says, using “partner” to refer to Smith. Their relationship has been the subject of countless conversations ever since Pinkett Smith revealed in a promotional interview for “Worthy” that they separated in 2016. But in the memoir, she seems uninterested in offering any neat answers regarding the status of their relationship.
She does, however, address the events of the 2022 Oscars in detail, when her husband slapped Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. Apparently, the event helped her realize that she had only been seeing one side of Smith and that she’d been ignoring his true self and the pain he was in as well. “Expecting people to show up perfectly and expecting ourselves to show up perfectly all the time is such an unrealistic want,” Pinkett Smith explains, reflecting on her changing perspective of Smith. “I’ve just learned that when you have people around you that are continuously willing to keep growing, that’s the part to be grateful for, versus wishing that you have arrived to a place, or your partners arrived to a place, or your kids have arrived to a place,” she says. “The fact that we’re all here together willing to grow, learn, and heal together, that’s all you can ask for.”
A lot of “Worthy” chronicles Pinkett Smith’s healing journey and the ups and downs of her growth. Her path has led her to many different faiths and healing mechanisms, including ayahuasca, which she credits with curing suicidal thoughts that crept up on her around her 40th birthday. For anyone inspired to do ayahuasca, Pinkett Smith says, “Go online.” She adds, “There’s some pretty reputable organizations that offer different journey programs that you can do safely. I would definitely tell people to do their research and make sure that they are working with people who are trained.” The author also recognizes that ayahuasca alone doesn’t lead to enlightenment. Unless you’re one of the few enlightened masters to walk the earth, she says, few of us arrive at a place where we’re fully healed – instead, like the garden, most of us go through constant cycles of growth.
Pinkett Smith’s healing journey has also included cutting things out, such as social media, which she feels contributes to a culture of comparison that makes it extremely difficult to feel worthy. “Whether it’s how many Instagram followers you have, or how men react to you, or how women react to you, so much of our self-worth is dependent upon resources outside of ourselves,” she emphasizes. “We try to get validation from other people who really have no authentic validation to offer because they’re trying to figure out their own stuff.”
So, no, Pinkett Smith doesn’t spend her mornings checking Instagram. Instead, her morning routine includes an hour of silence, then yoga, followed by reading some kind of scripture. The silence, in particular, helps her stay connected to the core of who she is, beyond any wounding or subjectivity.
Ultimately, Pinkett Smith says she wrote her memoir to emphasize the importance of going inward and finding your own worth, independently of how others view you or how many possessions you have. That central idea was the seed that brought the whole memoir into being. “I didn’t feel it necessary to just tell my story without purpose,” she says. “And when I found that purpose in my journey from lack of self-worth to self-worth, I was like, well, that is a worthy journey to share.”
Telling that story required her to visit difficult moments, but it all – every love and every loss – led her back to the garden and to the love that her grandmother offered despite her troubles. Some things, after all, should be passed on through generations, and reflecting on her grandmother’s life also led Pinkett Smith toward a celebration of “the strength that she passed on to myself and her daughters, and what I’ve been able to pass on to my kids. The legacy of love that accompanies the trauma,” she says. “How the legacy of love trumps the trauma – that was a really deep journey that I was able to take.”
It all goes back to the garden, the embodiment of her grandmother’s resilience and ongoing love that also lives on in her descendants. “I have connected all these gardens to my grandmother’s garden, so I have this expansive, beautiful park within my heart,” she says. “That’s all it’s about, and just returning and creating gardens as we go.”