How Your Childhood Is Influencing Your Parenting Style
How we parent our children is strongly influenced by our childhood experiences. Our parents become role models (for good and bad) for our own parenting.
Some of us might hate the way our parents treated us in certain situations, or we may have bad memories of childhood in general. We promise ourselves that we won't do the same to our children. We will be different! At some stage however, we all find ourselves resembling our parents in some way. We might hear the critical voice of our father or mother coming from our own mouths when we are stressed, for instance.
Our first relationships influence our lives. We gather experiences and we learn: what happens when someone's gets angry? What happens if I do something wrong? How does it look like in the eyes of my mother when I am sad? How does it feel to be loved? How does my father show warmth towards me?
The way our parents deal with their own emotions and our emotions as children is the very thing that shapes our future relationships.
Some of these patterns are easy to see - for example: 'I get angry when my child disobeys me. I remember my parents getting angry in the same way'. Some of them are unconscious and more difficult to deal with. It's a matter of self reflection to discover them - for example: 'I realised that I can't say 'no' to my child even if I know I should - I feel hopeless in the same way I do with my mother. I can't say 'no' to her either'.
But we are not condemned to our past. Our task as parents is to learn from what we experienced as children and adapt differently. For example – talking about boundaries – it might be the case that someone used to be a teenager ‘crying out’ for boundaries and not getting them from parents, no matter what he/she was doing (extreme risk behaviour, abusing alcohol, breaking any rules, abandoning school, etc.). Later on when a parent, this person might find him/herself in the same position as his/her parents – repeating the same set of sentences and messages, while speaking to their own children. The feelings of hopelessness and worrying for the child overpower the parent and he/she is not able to be firm and strict with the child.
So, how can we stop these repetitions and start doing things our own way? The major task here is to recognise two things:
Firstly, we need to recognise our needs, the ones which weren’t met when we were children, and how this pattern repeats itself in our present behaviour. These might be the very needs which we now have to meet when relating to our own children.
This is the place from which we can develop our own way of doing things, make changes and go beyond the generational cycle.
Secondly we need to prioritise our parenting. We can laugh at some of our parenting patterns. It may be frustrating to us that we behave like our parents, but this is not harmful to our children's development. Other patterns can have big consequences. We need to make sure we don't focus on the small things and ignore the big ones because dealing with them seems much more difficult.
We become who we are through relations with others. It’s good to remember that in parent-child relationships it is mutual – children influence their parents too. We don’t have a full control over this process and accepting it gives us the opportunity to learn from the experience.
Agata Western is a Psychologist at Balancing Parents, mum and trainer specialising in life-long learning and personal development. She facilitates parenting workshops, which promote the understanding of emotional experience of parenting. Next workshop: Galway, June 5.