Updated: May 1, 2020
No parent is perfect, and the harder we try to reach perfection in parenting the more stress and imbalance we create for our children and also in ourselves.
There are stresses in every family, and as children grow, they will inevitably experience difficulties, no matter how much we try to guard them from such things.
In my work with families, I see many adults vow to be a better parent than their parents were – in a way they are rejecting their parents because of the difficulties they faced in childhood.
Early life creates certain imprints and sets up particular patterns of behaviour. These imprints and patterning do not go away and are still present for many in adulthood.
We may have learnt to adapt, outgrow, or even reject emotional difficulties and important feelings from childhood but if they remain unprocessed, we leave the task of resolution and healing to our children.
If we are to parent better, we need to begin to see that the real purpose of parenting is to grow with our children.
My research has revealed that the models of human growth have limited the ways we understand children and consequently the way we parent. Parent and child actually grow together, because as the child is growing the adult revisits their own childhood through each age and stage.
As a parent raises their children, their childhood memories and experiences spontaneously resurface to be reviewed. So, if your child struggles with something you feel they should improve or overcome, this is a wonderful opportunity to consciously revisit your own past challenges, support your own unhealed past and help your children to have their needs met at the same time.
For example, we might recognise that a child experiencing anxiety needs to be soothed in order to feel safe and secure to transition in its own time.
Yet, many parents find soothing or managing an anxious child difficult. The difficulty is not because the child’s anxiety is unmanageable, but because the adult is spontaneously activating a stress response in their body to the anxiety.
This reactivation occurs in adults who as children may have been told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get over it’ or to ‘stop crying like a baby’ and could not process their feelings of anxiety.
If feelings are not acknowledged, or parents cannot hold the space for the child’s feelings, the child receives a message that expressing feelings is a bad thing and will learn to avoid or adapt when anxious feelings arise.
So, we can see that if an adult has not learnt how to deal with and feel their anxiety (The Need to be Safe and Secure) the anxiety will circulate until the feeling can be felt and sometimes this can literally take generations.
Because childhood challenges often lay dormant until we become parents, our children offer us an opportunity as they grow to revisit our past struggles as they are facing life’s challenges and learn to grow emotionally with them.
Rather than instructing them and telling them how to feel, we can return to our own feeling nature. Supporting a child to have their feelings validated and their needs met requires parents to work through their unhealed and unprocessed feelings from childhood.
When your child is experiencing any pattern of behaviour that triggers you, take a moment after the situation settles to reflect on the following questions:
What would I have needed as a child to overcome a similar situation?
Do I try to fix my child without asking them what they need?
Do I have an inner resistance to the situation faced by my child?
Do I have a similar pattern of behaviour to my child (anxiety for example)?
Do I know where this pattern comes from in me?
These questions are designed to support you to move away from deflecting, denying or overlooking your child’s signal of need when they present in their behaviours.
From this position, rather than perceiving your child’s behaviour as a problem that makes you feel bad or that you need to fix, you will begin to see that the real purpose of parenting is an opportunity. An opportunity to re-parent those unhealed and unmet needs in you, as you grow together and support your child to move through life with more emotional ease.