When we consider being a better parent, much of our concern is how our children will behave or not behave.
I’m sure you see it too. Parents, stressed and struggling to be fully present with their kids. Reacting to their child’s demands or tantrums with an overwhelming show of force. At times like these it is difficult to differentiate the parent from the child.
Parenting is difficult in so many ways. It is quite natural to get emotionally overwhelmed. So how do we improve our ability to be there for our kids? One of the best ways we can do this is to learn about the emotional challenges that cause us to react to our kids in unhealthy ways.
Becoming aware of our psychological triggers can be a true gift to our kids by helping parents establish healthy relationships with their children.
An example of these types of psychological triggers is a parent who grew up in a family system that didn’t let them have their own emotional experience. In this environment a child would be given the message over and over that their emotional and internal experience was not valued. It can happen in statements like, “quit your crying,” or “stop acting like a baby.” These statements make it clear to the child that what they are feeling is not important and they should stop feeling it.
Growing up in that environment a parent may view their child as someone to be controlled or managed. They may not see a child as a full human being. Thus, when the child gets upset or expresses a lot of emotion the child is given similar reactions as the one’s they got when they were growing up.
The real opportunity is to take time to look into our own lives and learn about the things that still cause us to act without compassion or kindness.
In their book, Parenting From The Inside Out, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell discuss the importance of learning how to change your old patterns of relationship so you can show up differently for your kids.
By freeing ourselves from the constraints of our past, we can offer our children the spontaneous and connecting relationships that enable them to thrive. By deepening our ability to understand our own emotional experience, we are better able to relate empathically with our children and promote their self-understanding and healthy development (Hartzell and Siegel, 2013).
It isn’t uncommon for people to believe that they have moved past the ways they were treated as children only to have them show up again as parents. “Oh, God, I’m acting just like my father/mother,” are not uncommon responses when learning to be a parent.
The reason for this is that we still have the old patterned ways of relating to the world that we were taught as children. These patterns will not show up in friendships or other less important connections. However, with a child, who is depending on us for their development, we start to pull from our old habituated forms of behaving.
As Siegel and Hartzell state,
In the absence of reflection, history often repeats itself, and parents are vulnerable to passing on to their children unhealthy patterns from the past (Hartzell and Siegel, 2013).
In my own life I continually bring awareness to my tendency to shutdown emotionally when I get overwhelmed.
I know that this comes from growing up in a family system that was too much for me at times. Although this strategy seemed to work as a child, it now makes my wife feel alone. If I were to do this to a child, it would create within them the belief that they did something wrong. A child, treated in unhealthy ways, will often times blame themselves for the failure of the parent.
The way to change these patterns is to start to learn about them.
We need bring a reflective perspective to our childhood and notice if there were certain habits of reaction that we notice. By encouraging more awareness to our way of parenting we can start to learn how to change some of the behaviors that are not working for our families.
Understanding our lives can free us from the otherwise almost predictable situation in which we re-create the damage to our children that was done to us in our own childhoods (Hartzell and Siegel, 2013).
Hartzell, Mary & Siegel, Daniel (2013). Parenting From The Inside Out: How A Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive. New York, New York, TarcherPerigee.