The Child Inside: How Your Childhood Affects Your Parenting

by Jun 30, 2017

NEWS FLASH: Your Childhood Influences the Kind of Parent You Are

With the kids out of school, many families are going on vacations, sending their children to summer camp, and of course there are those families whose schedules don’t change a bit other than having to figure out alternative arrangements for childcare. For many parents, the summer months can actually bring on more stress around the house because of having to adjust to a different routine from the previous nine months. As a parent it’s important to recognize that’s it’s not just the adjustment itself that brings about a stressed out family, but indeed, how you as a parent respond to the stressors that are presented to you.

What could be triggering this response in you, you might wonder? Think back to your own childhood and how you felt around your parents when summer came along and you were rushing to the airport, or going off to camp, or sitting at home in a very unstructured environment. The experiences (good and bad) we had when we were children get brought forth and influence the way we parent. Often, when these experiences have not been fully processed they can lead to unresolved issues that influence how we respond to our own children’s behavior. And as parents, we are especially vulnerable during times of stress to act on the basis of our unresolved past issues.

Raising Healthy Children Begins With Self Care

Let’s look at the classic example of a mother who sneaks out of the room without saying goodbye because she didn’t want to hear her child cry at the separation. I hear about this happening all the time at pre-schools and daycares – and by the way, I will admit, I’ve rationalized doing this as well; I was wrong. The child’s sense of trust gets broken when they look around for their mother and they get upset at her absence. The child feels insecure, betrayed, and uncertain about when she will return. If it turns out that this resembles what you experienced as a child, separation experiences might be challenging for you in your role as a parent. Your own sense of abandonment might affect the decisions you make when leaving your own child.

When parents don’t take accountability for their own emotional baggage, they miss an incredibly important opportunity to further their own self-development and become better parents in the process. Our unresolved “stuff” gets in the way of responding to our kids in the ways they need us to. Instead we become stuck in our life story and the reactive responses from our past wins out. We seemingly forfeit our ability to choose how we respond to our children when our limbic system hijacks the higher order neocortical processing of the brain.

What You Can Do Right Now

Keep a log tracking your emotions – you can do this daily or weekly whatever works best for you. Whenever there is an event that rubs you raw, pay attention and notice where in your body you feel movement. Observe what thoughts begin to bubble up into consciousness. There is no need to change your response at first, just practice strengthening your awareness muscle. You may notice that there are certain behaviors that your child engages in that are more likely to trigger these emotional reactions. Take note of these patterns and write them in your log. Being mindful of your thoughts and feelings is a crucial first step towards growing with your child, and becoming the parent you want to be.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to Your Couples Therapist Blog.
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