When you become a parent, you want more than anything to do the best job possible. And if you have had a difficult childhood, then you will strive twice as hard to make sure that has no impact on your child.
But attachment research states the one predictor of your ability to perform as parents is how you have interpreted what you went through yourself. But even if you went through a difficult time growing up, this doesn’t mean you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes all over again. But how do you do that?
What is most important is no matter what the distress is you have encountered in your childhood years, you have been able to process that. Then you can better understand your child’s needs and give them what they need. And you can see your ‘instinctive’ reactions are not always the way you want to parent. Then you can begin to identify why your child is triggering you in a certain way.
Preparing for parenting begins when you are a child yourself. Your life experience makes you the mom or dad you become.
Your childhood has a significant impact on this, as well as your youth and adult experiences. Your thoughts, expectations, and objectives all go into the mix. They can shape and mold how you are as a mom or dad.
There is a direct link between you bond with your child and the manner and style of parenting you’ve experienced. And your earliest memories impact how you initially attach to your child.
Children have an innate tendency to attach to one who gives them care. So this means they will even get connected to a neglectful, distant, or even hostile parent. Studies have shown early attachment relationships can be passed down from parents to children over at least three generations. Thus a pattern forms. Your upbringing influences you, and you pass this down.
As a mom or dad, one of your most essential tasks is you give your child a place of safety. So they can process their feelings of insecurity. And you can and tell them it’s possible to cope with disappointments and uncertainty. If your child doesn’t experience this during childhood, they could suffer. They may struggle to express comfort and compassion. And they may have difficulty giving a sense of security, towards another person.
According to a study by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in 2018, severe childhood trauma and stresses early in parents’ lives are linked to higher rates of behavioral health problems in their children.
And if the mother has been through an adverse childhood experience, it has a more significant impact on your child’s behavior than the father.
These can include:
Separation of parents
Estrangement from a parent
Emotional, physical or sexual abuse
Witnessing violence in the home
Exposure to substance abuse in the household
Parental mental illness
Speaking to Science Daily, Dr. Adam Schickedanz is a pediatrician and health services researcher and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He confirmed this, saying: “Previous research has looked at childhood trauma as a risk factor for later physical and mental health problems in adulthood. But this is the first research to show that the long-term behavioral health harms of childhood adversity extend across generations from parent to child.”
According to the study, if you have experienced four or more of the adverse effects, your child is double the risk of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
And they are four times more likely to have mental health problems.
How can you stop that? The process of change begins in becoming conscious of the effect of your past experiences. How you now react in the present. The good news is, even if you have experienced a difficult childhood, you can break the cross-generational cycle and raise your child differently.
There are several behaviors you can avoid to try and stop your child from being impacted by your own experience. And by doing this, it will enable you to break the cycle.
*If you fight fair in front of your child, they are likely to be well adjusted
No parent wants to argue in front of their child. However, you have to accept that sometimes this happens. But how you manage conflict can be a make or break. According to a University of Illinois study review, when your child witnesses mild to a moderate conflict that involves support, compromise, and positive emotions at home, they learn better social skills, self-esteem, and emotional security.
This also helps parent-child relations and how well they do in school. When your child sees you resolve a fight diplomatically, they are happier than before it started. Your child is reassured; you can work things out. Your child can pick up on if you are giving in to a fight or refusing to communicate. The study says their emotional response is not favorable.
*If you try to minimize chronic stress and destructive conflict
These two factors can lead to your child having limited social skills, according to a study by the Rovert Wood Johnson Foundation. This means your child could have a higher chance of being arrested, or binge drinking when they are an adult. From an early age, your child’s social skills can determine whether they go to prison or college. If you are suffering from high levels of stress, you are less engaged with your child. And you will not be helping them develop their social skills.
* If you divorce when your child very young, this can impact your relationship with them in adulthood
If you split up when your child is aged between 3 and 5 years old, according to the University of Illinois, you will have a more strained relationship with them as an adult. The study suggests this is heightened if you are the father.
*Having a working mom can make your child keen to work
There can be significant benefits for a child who grows up with a mother who works. Harvard Business School researched families where the mom worked outside the home. It found daughters of working mothers went to school longer, had a better chance of a job in a supervisory role, and earned more money. This was compared to 23% to their peers who were raised by stay-at-home moms.
Meanwhile, sons of working mothers were more involved in household chores and childcare. The study found they spent 7.5 more hours a week on childcare and 25 more minutes on housework.
*If your child is exposed to violent TV or games, they are more violent as an adult
Your child models their behaviors after what they see. So if your child sees violence being rewarded, they will follow that behavior.
And that doesn’t necessarily have to mean seeing violence from the ‘good’ or the ‘bad.’
An example of this is if your child watches a violent clash between a detective and a murderer. If the detective is rewarded for bringing a murderer to justice after a violent confrontation, it will result in more pushing, grabbing, and shoving from your child. They see it as a way of achieving something good. This will continue even after he or she has grown up.
*If you abuse drugs or alcohol in front of your child they are likely to be very serious as an adult
A child who has to care for their parent because they are in a stupor because of using a substance becomes the parent themselves. It means they grow up as the carer and don’t understand how to be a child themselves. And they become over-responsible.
*If you are less stressed in front of your child they will find it easier to deal with conflict
If you are an intensive parent, this can hurt your child’s behavior. In particular, if you are a stressed-out mom because you are juggling work and looking after your kids., this can negatively impact your children. Try and minimize your child’s exposure to stress, so they find it easier to process heightened situations.
*If you don’t let your kids make decisions, they can become codependent as adults
If you don’t allow your child to dress themselves, or choose their own playmates, they could end up being a codependent adult.
This is a classic example of ‘helicopter parenting’ or paying close attention to what your child does so they cannot think for themselves.
According to mental-health counselor Laura JJ Dessauer, as they get older, they will likely seek out relationships where their partner has all the power and control.
Strive to make a break from the behaviors you experienced as a child yourself. Then you will see where they had a negative impact, and this can really enhance your ability to be a good parent.
If you couple this with being mindful of your behavior, you will be able to stop your childhood repeating in your kids.
If you liked this post, check out my post on the ‘3 R’s.’
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A 3xTEDx speaker, media contributor, parenting coach, and a mom of two - helping families thrive by using the Guidance Approach to Parenting.