How Your Past Affects Your Parenting

My sobbing three year old son stood by the bed.  “You must hug me; I can’t hug myself.”

And I was frozen inside. Unable to offer comfort until my husband pushed me towards the little boy and told me to.

What made me cold and unfeeling? Why could I not offer comfort?

None of us wake up in the morning intending to hurt our children. Yet we do.
We neglect needs, say hurtful things, withhold comfort, or laugh when we shouldn’t.

The hurts we inflict are often unintentional and our children are wounded.

Most times there is a reason why we hurt our children.  It would be wise to look back.

We react in two ways to the way we were parented. We either recreate what we experienced or we do the opposite and try to correct the mistakes our parents made.

Recreating what we experienced with our parents may be intentional. A dad wants to take his kids camping because it was something special his dad did with him.

Sometimes we re-create unintentionally because we are wounded. And wounded people wound others. A father finds it awkward to play with his children because his father never played with him. I battled to have and show compassion for my son because I did not receive it myself as a child.

Some parents try to do the opposite of what their parents did. A mom decides never to put academic pressure on her child because her parents put her under extreme pressure to achieve. A dad shows affection to his children because his father was not affectionate toward him.

You may act on beliefs, values, and experiences from your childhood without consciously deciding to. The amount of crying, or whining you tolerate from your toddler; the way you treat your boys compared with the way you treat your girls; the way you react to your kids arguing; and your ideas about discipline all have roots in your early experiences.

Your family of origin has a huge influence on how you parent. Childhood events such as divorce, loss of a parent, a mentally ill or unstable parent, an alcoholic or drug addicted parent or just a generally chaotic environment can leave deep wounds for children. Whether you experienced a onetime trauma or multiple difficult or scary situations throughout your childhood, you may be trying to manage your own kids with a lot of anxiety and reactivity. But research has shown that the biggest predictor of how you will fare as a parent – how present and available you are able to be to your child – is your ability to make sense of your own history. It doesn’t matter whether that history was calm and pleasant or painful and abusive; as long as you are able to examine it, understand your own reactivity and patterns and therefore bring awareness to your own choices as a mom (or dad), you’ll be able to parent in a much calmer, more balanced, and healthy way. You can’t change the past, but your willingness to face the pain you may still carry about past events allows you to break the cycle of unhealthy family patterns. (Taken from here)

Examining how you were parented, making sense of how you were raised, is vital to being a good parent.

It takes courage to look back, and it may hurt.
But your kids need you to look back. (See here for how to heal from your past).

Here are some questions to help you look back at your own childhood experiences: (some taken from here, and some my own)

  1. What was/is your relationship like with your own mother? Does this impact your parenting today? Was it healthy? Was there co-dependence or enmeshment? Was there neglect or abuse?

2.  What was/is your relationship like with your father? Does it impact your parenting today? Was he present in your life? Was that presence positive or negative? Did he neglect you or abuse you?

3.  What were some of the messages you received as a child from those nearest you? (About your intelligence, ability, importance, value?)

4.  How do these messages impact your parenting today?

5.   In what ways do you feel your parents had a positive impact on you—that you would like to continue with your own child?

6.   Was there anything about your parents’ approach to raising you that you don’t want to recreate with your child?

7.   Are there any significant events or experiences in your childhood that had an impact on you and that now may be influencing your parenting? For example: the loss of a loved one, parental separation or divorce, significant tension between parents, financial insecurity, parental mental health issues, or parental substance abuse.

8.  Are there any less traumatic experiences in your childhood that affected you and may influence your parenting? For example: neglect by a parent, a parent not taking your side when you needed them to, parental indulgence, being compared to a sibling, verbal put downs, neglect of basic needs, or rough and impatient handling.

Your children need you to be intentional about healing from your own wounds so that you don’t pass them on. It is by refusing to look back and work through hurts that the sins of the fathers pass on to the third and fourth generations. (See Exodus 20:5)

By God’s grace wounds can heal and the cycle of woundedness can end. Once I recognised why I couldn’t show compassion I took that woundedness to God and asked Him to heal me.  Then I had to learn to show compassion.  It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.

This wasn’t the only area of my parenting that was affected by my past.  God has been faithful to point out where my reactions don’t make sense because they are based on my past and not on the reality of today.

I challenge you to ask yourself how your past has affected your parenting and do the work of healing in your own life so that you can be the parent you need to be.

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.


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