From the first time I found out I was pregnant so many years ago the realization that I would be responsible for this little person’s life, health, early experiences and growth felt a bit daunting. While I had wanted to be a mom and planned for it, there are just some things you can’t/won’t know ‘til you are immersed in the experience.
Certainly, some kids come out the gate with easier dispositions that make parenting them feel like a breeze, while other kids have issues that can make the most confident person turned parent feel immobilized or helpless.
While there is a lot written about how to deal with colicky babies, when to start solids, how to help baby feel secure, as babies cross each stage and phase of growth and development into children and then teenagers, each new stage can often bring more questions and uncertainties than the last.
The vast majority of us parent in one of two ways. Either by default – meaning we parent the way we were raised, hoping for a better outcome, or we parent in complete opposite ways hoping to avert the distress we felt growing up in our own dysfunctional homes.
Sadly, many parents parent out of their own unidentified, undiagnosed, unhealed wounds that they experienced growing up that are still with them today.
There is a consequence to that which is profound. If you find yourself distant, not feeling bonded, or attached to your child, that may be much more about your own childhood experience and the failures of the adults around you to bond, nurture and provide safety for you.
If that is your story, and you have not identified and actively been on a healing journey it is likely you are parenting from those wounds.
One way this plays out is with moms who do “too much.” If you experienced childhood where you had to “be an adult” and assume adult roles and responsibilities too soon, you may have told yourself you want your child to get to be a kid as long as possible. You are the mom that is still packing lunches and doing laundry for your seventeen -year -old. While it may make you feel like an all star parent, this parenting style does little to prepare your teenager with life skills or confidence in their abilities when it’s time to leave the nest.
Often when people have the wound of feeling abandoned or rejected by their parent, they will go to great lengths to be their child’s friend in the unconscious attempt that their child will love them and perhaps not leave them. This is a case of unknowingly using your child to make you feel better and help heal your wounds from the past. This dynamic does a disservice to your child.
If you find yourself overly permissive saying yes to everything because your child wants things, because "Johnny’s mother lets him", and because all the other kids get to do…you may want to start questioning why this is. What is it about you that causes you to not provide appropriate boundaries with your child?
Parents who have done the hard work to heal from their own past woundedness are often better equipped to raise well adjusted, mentally/ emotionally healthy children who become capable, stable, content and responsible adults. Mentally/ emotionally well parents are able to provide secure attachment, as well as appropriate boundaries which helps the child grow up in ways that feel emotionally safe.
Since none of us were raised by perfect parents- nearly everyone you meet is carrying around old wounds, or they have had the courage and wisdom to engage in a process (often counseling or therapy) to identify those wounds, heal from them and learn better coping strategies and life skills- all of which benefit kids as well as marriages.
As a counselor I see the fallout of parenting from past wounds. Kids with no boundaries. Kids whose parents explain away bad behavior and afford no consequences to their actions. I also see parents who put their children into adult responsibilities way before they have the mental / emotional capacity and development to endure all that comes with those roles. I’ve also seen the consequences of parents who parent from perfectionism wounds offering only criticism and shame when their child falls short rather than comfort, guidance and support.
While parenting classes can be enormously helpful (nearly every job requires some kind of training and yet none is required for the most important job of parenthood) just as important is doing your own healing work.
I wish I could say my healing work was finished before I embarked on one of the most important roles of my life- that of being a mother. My healing journey came after making many parenting mistakes. With that said, I am able to step back and reflect on the strengths of my parenting as well. With gratitude I have had many meaningful conversations with my now adult children about those strengths and weaknesses.
Can you ever be a perfect parent? No. I wasn’t either. Can you be a better parent? Absolutely.
Don’t leave your parenting style to default. If your child (ren) are under 18 and still living at home, you have opportunity to course correct.
Start with working on your own journey.
Additionally, take the time to really be WITH your kids, and not just talk AT them. I would offer, making time to engage (with no agenda) other than wanting to know them, see them, hear them and delight in them is the greatest gift a parent can provide to their child.
Many things get better when kids feel seen, heard, loved, cared for, and delighted in just for who they are (not what they do).
Wishing you joy, wisdom, patience, courage and endurance on your parenting journey.