You promise yourself you won’t make your parents’ mistakes, but despite our best efforts history often repeats itself. Mindfulness mentor, author and podcast host, Hunter Clarke-Fields, offers tips on how to stop the cycle and not be like your parents.
How To Not Be Like Your Parents
When I was a little girl, I remember hiding behind my bedroom door, petrified, listening to my father rage down the hallway toward me because I had done something wrong. I wasn’t abused, and I don’t have too much trauma around these events. It was just the garden variety type of authoritarian parenting that many of us remember. But it was most certainly NOT what I wanted for my own child.
How shocked and disappointed I was then, when that same rage and anger came out of me. I can remember being in a puddle of tears on the floor outside my toddler’s bedroom because that rage had come out—I had yelled and I scared her. It was the exact opposite of the peaceful, respectful way I had hoped to parent her.
Eventually, I picked myself up and realized that this problem could either debilitate me, or I could learn from it. I chose to make my anger my teacher.
I learned many things from my anger. I found out that when my daughter didn’t listen, it brought up my unresolved issues around not feeling heard. But at the time, I had no idea this was going on. Anger would well up like I hadn’t felt since I was… a child.
When we understand why we are so reactive—what old patterns and wounds are being triggered for us—then we can practice to heal and choose a different way of being, rather than repeating dysfunctional family patterns. Then we have a chance to refrain from unwittingly passing this baggage onto our kids.
You too can start to see your times of parental difficulty and challenge as opportunities to heal old wounds. As we heal our inner hurts, we can show up with more presence for our children—allowing us to be a comforting presence for them when they are hurting, and helping us to hold our firm boundaries with compassion.
Seeing Your Issues Clearly
Understanding why you are triggered will help you respond more thoughtfully. Without awareness, we react out of old conditioning—that’s when your mom or dad’s voice flies out of your mouth.
So if, for example, you are aware that you were raised to believe that little girls should always look clean and pretty, you’ll understand why your brain is freaking out when your daughter walks barefoot through the mud and gleefully streaks it all over her face. Knowing that this discomfort is your stuff and not hers, you can practice some restraint (deep slow, breaths!) and interrupt any old, harmful patterns of shaming and blaming your child.
If we never look at our old wounds and triggers, we’ll continue to respond out of habit from the past, and probably pass our hurts down to our children. Becoming conscious of these wounds will allow us to carry our own baggage rather than passing it down the generational line. Think of this as an opportunity to heal wounds not only for yourself, but for generations to come.
Looking Back at Your Childhood
Examining your own childhood can help you move beyond the limitations of your past. While you may look back and find many positive seeds that you want to pass on to our children, many of us have had difficult childhoods. There may be hurts and difficulties that have become the catalyst for the strength and resiliency that you have now, as well as, perhaps, your reactivity. A deeper self-awareness gives you greater compassion towards yourself and others—and can give you the possibility of choosing new ways of being rather than blindly repeating the past.
Start to ask yourself some important questions:
- How did you get along with your parents when you were little?
- Did you ever feel rejected or threatened by your parents?
- How did your parents discipline you as a child?
- What impact do you think your childhood has had on your adult life in general, including the ways in which you think about yourself and the ways you relate to your children?
Writing down your answers to these questions will clarify your understanding in a way that will help you see clearly what you are bringing to the relationship. Stay open-minded to learning new things about yourself.
Although the events of our childhood make little sense at the time, it is possible to make sense of them as adults and understand how they influence us. Resolving our past hurts sometimes means that we have to face the difficult feelings that come along with them. When you are ready to look at these issues and understand how they are affecting your life, you are already on the path to healing and growth.
Understanding our triggers is making the unconscious conscious—an integral part of the Mindful Parenting method of transforming our parenting. We don’t have to repeat these generational patterns, but just hoping we won’t repeat them is not an effective strategy. Bringing awareness to our old hurts is part of the first step, calming our reactivity. You’re on the right path.
About the Author
Hunter Clarke-Fields is a mindfulness mentor, host of the Mindful Mama podcast, creator of the Mindful Parenting online course, and author of the new book, Raising Good Humans (New Harbinger Publications). She helps parents bring more calm into their daily lives and cooperation in their families. Hunter has over 20 years of experience in meditation and yoga practices and has taught mindfulness to thousands worldwide. Learn more at MindfulMamaMentor.com.