How your Childhood 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. 

How does how you were parented affect your parenting?

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.

Looking back at how we were parented ourselves is important to understand why we parent the way we do.

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.

1. Imitation

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.

But 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.

2. Reaction

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.

Related: 5 Ways to deal with impatience and anger as a parent

Effects of emotional trauma on parenting

Emotional trauma also has a huge impact on how we parent.

Childhood trauma changes your world. It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes:

  • body-shaming by a parent or teacher
  • molestation or beating
  • bullying at school
  • emotional abuse and manipulation
  • divorce
  • neglect
  • substance abuse by a parent and much more

The result of this trauma is the instinct to protect ourselves and we do that by finding ways to cut ourselves off – through:

  • Denial that we have been hurt
  • Dissociation from the painful event
  • Repression of the memory

But none of these things remove the actual damage and unhealed damage will impact how you parent.

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)

Any unresolved trauma becomes the filter through which you see the world and all your relationships.

Examining how you were parented, making sense of how you were raised, as well as working through any kind of trauma 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 and heal from your own wounds so you don’t inflict wounds on them.

Related: 14 Tips for becoming a better parent

Questions to help you evaluate your childhood experiences:

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

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

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 your parents did that you don’t want to repeat?

7.   Are there any significant events or experiences in your childhood that had an impact on you and that 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,
  • parental substance abuse
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • verbal or emotional 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). The cycle repeats itself unless we decide it stops here.

By God’s grace wounds can heal and the cycle of woundedness can end.

I realised that I couldn’t show compassion to my son because I never received it as a child. Once I recognised why I couldn’t show compassion, I took ownership of it and asked God to heal me.  Then I had to learn to show compassion.  It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.

How has your childhood affected your parenting? Are you willing to take ownership and do the work of healing in your own life so that you can be the parent you need to be?

How is your past affecting your parenting?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has three grown kids and is married to her best friend, Richard. She started this website as a platform to help families, and specifically women, to take control of their lives and grow themselves spiritually, mentally & emotionally, and to discover their God-given purpose and live it out with confidence. She is a trained Life Coach and has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She is a certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) facilitator. She lives in sunny South Africa.


  1. When Parents Don't See Eye to Eye (how to get unity) - Love More to Live | 20th Apr 21

    […] Related: How Your Past Affects Your Parenting […]

  2. 6 Ways to Stop being an Angry Parent - Love More to Live | 9th May 22

    […] Related: How your Childhood Affects your Parenting […]

  3. How to Stop Being an Angry Mom - Love More to Live | 18th Jul 23

    […] Related: How your past affects your parenting […]

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.