The effect of your childhood on your parenting might not be obvious. However it fundamentally affects everything that you do. Why?
Have you ever reacted to a situation involving your child, and when you looked back, you thought “I sounded like my mother (or father).” While this might be something sentimental to look back on and smile. It is a cause for worry if you are someone who had a traumatic experience growing up. The question of how your childhood affects your parenting is a recurring one for parents who are afraid of making the same mistakes with their children or even exposing them to harm. We all have hang-ups from our upbringing. We all want our children to be happy. Here is an example that puts this in context. A mother ran onto the playground when she saw her son stood on his own. She threw her arms around him saying, ‘don’t worry that no one plays with you. I love you. I will’. To which he turns round and says, ‘Mum, get away. I’m in goal’. Slightly extreme but the mother had put her own anxieties of being left out at school onto her son.
According to a study led by Dr Adam Schickedanz, pediatrician and assistant professor, parents who lived through adverse childhood experiences were more likely to report higher levels of mental health issues. Even if your own childhood wasn’t traumatic, we have little to model parenting on. ‘Normal’ is relevant. You could have had loving parents who, due to circumstances, might of not had much money. Therefore you ‘overspend’ to make sure that your child does not go without.
We all have have the potential to become the parent that we want. But we need to reflect why we want that, is it best for our child or are we trying to reverse something we saw lacking in our own childhood? Finally how does it fit in with our partners opinion? We talk about the importance of joint parenting plan here.
How Does your Childhood Affect your Parenting?
Your childhood can manifest in your parenting in several subtle and glaring ways. If you wonder if your childhood would affect your parenting there are signs to watch out for. Here are ways your childhood can affect your parenting:
- Overcompensating with your parenting techniques. This pitfall often manifests in parents who are doing their best not to put their children through the same experiences they endured at their own parents’ hands. They end up swinging to the extreme opposite without really meaning to. Practically, those who grew up under overprotective parents can end up being very nonchalant, which can leave their child feeling neglected. While those who perhaps felt neglected when growing up can overcompensate leaving their children unable to cope with issues themselves.
- Instinctive imitation. Some parents might tell you that they didn’t know how much of their parents they assimilated until they had a child. We as parents are our child’s greatest role model, and so it was for us. Revelations like these come after a series of events where they see themselves acting like their parents. Only after completing the action do parents realize where it came from. As an extreme this can lead to childhood emotional neglect being passed through the generations.
- Getting triggered by your child’s behavior. Your child’s moments of frustration can sometimes trigger you as a parent. A moment of a childish tantrum can transport you back to a painful moment in childhood, causing you to react disproportionately to the current situation. It may be that you consider the child’s frustration alien, a behavior you never exhibited in your childhood. This can cause you to lash out in justification of your parents’ past reaction. It may well be that you’re stressed, but a situation like that requires some reflection to check why you reacted in that way.
- Destructive self-criticism. When someone whose parent was bad at parenting has a child, there is usually the fear of a repeat. Often this fear is dialled up to a crippling degree. An inner voice that criticizes every effort made. Every negative behavior from the child takes on a huge significance on the parent’s part. It convinces them that they are awful at parenting. That critical inner voice develops from childhood due to the internalization of parents’ failings. This inner critical voice is why some people are so afraid of being parents at all. If the first parenting models they had particularly failed at it then to them, then they fear that there’s a big chance that they will too.
- Projecting yourself onto your child. One of the central ideas of good parenting is a clear understanding that you are not your child. And your child isn’t growing up in the same place and era. This distinction is fundamental because it can help stop you from making parenting decisions based on your own childhood experiences. You wouldn’t feel the need to pressure your child into being more or less like you. Doing that would limit the upbringing of your child. Instead of encouraging them to pursue their own dreams, be their own person, you end up feeding them your own dreams.
How Would My Childhood Affect My Parenting? Signs to Watch Out For
At this point, you now know that how you react to your child’s moods and demands is often rooted in the childhood dynamics between you and your own parents. One slip doesn’t make you a lousy parent. You will definitely have your off days, so be kind to yourself. But a repeated combination of the following behaviors are signs you need to watch out for:
- Making a habit of scolding your child to an excessive degree after every mistake. This can affect your child negatively, even in adulthood. We discuss techniques in telling off your child here.
- Denying your child of affection. It can create a massive disconnect between you and your child. And your child may find it difficult to hhttps://nextstepparenting.com/category/relationship-with-your-child/you-as-a-parent/techniques-in-telling-off/andle relationships as an adult. All children want is for you to be PRESENT in their life.
- Comparing your child to another child as a way to show up your child’s inadequacy. It is a confidence killer and will significantly affect their self-esteem.
- Not making rules or making rules and not enforcing them can result in a child that grows up without discipline. Rules help children toe the line of acceptable behavior. Clear discipline is important in a child’s life for their own wellbeing.
- Not listening to your child or respecting their feelings. It sends a message that their feelings or opinions don’t matter. Learn how to listen and talk to your child.
How Do You Stop Your Bad Childhood Experiences From Affecting Your Parenting?
As mentioned earlier, a bad childhood is not a life sentence. With work and determination, you can stop yourself from importing your own childhood into your parenting.
- Self-help books. It might be that there is a book that can help you reflect on your childhood and seperate it from your own parenting. A link to possible books is here.
- Talk to someone. If your childhood dynamics with your parents is imposing itself on your parenting style in extreme ways, consider seeing a therapist. Play it down, and you risk ruining your child’s childhood, making it into a cycle that might end up not stopping with your child. A psychodynamic therapist who understands the effects of childhood experiences in adulthood can help.
- Resort to something unexpected. Sometimes the situation demands a more urgent response, which means walking away is practically impossible. But you can feel yourself on the verge of exploding, about to toe the line of your own parents. In such a fix, do something unexpected instead. Go for a bear hug, a silly dance, or a stupid laugh. Studies have shown that smiling or dancing helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate in tense situations.
Final Thoughts on the Effect of Your Childhood on Your Parenting
Despite our own childhood influencing much of how we behave as adults, including how we parent, we can still make better choices. Preventing the adverse experiences of your childhood from seeping into your parenting techniques start with interrogating your actions. The first step is being aware, and then you can work out a solution. Most importantly, talk to a professional who has been trained to help.