We are all affected by our childhood and the life experiences of those who cared for us as children, who themselves grew up affected by the experiences of those who cared for them, and so on. Our childhood has everything to do with how we parent and no matter how many parenting books you read or how many podcasts you listen to, you will parent as you were parented until you turn the lens inward and endeavor to transform your life, including how you parent, through your own growth journey.
When you were a child, you were more than likely raised by behaviorists, whose focus would have been on ensuring your good behaviour rather than on the foundational importance of relationship and connection. As a child, you would have “learned” that when you were spanked or timed out, received consequences or were grounded, that your performance determined the accessibility of your greatest need: love. In more direct terms: In order to be loved you needed to perform “properly.” And if you didn’t succeed, that love was withdrawn in some form as a means of securing your return to those approved performative behaviors.
When your parent responded to your developmentally typical behaviour with anger, frustration, or sadness, you learned that your unmet needs were less valuable than the needs of others, and that denying yourself was the only way to find acceptance. In contrast, when you were rewarded for appropriate behaviors, actions, and accomplishments, you learned that worth was determined by your ability to be good enough.
Now consider the way you parent your own children. Do you find yourself using language like “good boy/girl,” or have you ever felt yourself, even internally, retreating from connection with your child in the moments when their behaviour is most challenging? Do you sometimes find yourself feeling resentment towards your child because you have cared for them above caring for yourself?
There is probably not a single parent in existence, myself included, who does not answer “yes” to one or more of these questions. So why is it that we parent differently from what we truly know nurtures growth?
Having acknowledged the role of our own upbringing and the impacts of our ancestral line in the way we parent our children, and understanding that doing our own inner work is necessary to growing our children in the best way possible so that they get to become who they were truly intended to be, the next step is then to sort out how you can go about doing your own work to grow yourself.
1. Expose your Roots
It is a powerful thing to shine light on what lurks in the shadows of the past. When you begin to understand the stories of your parents, grandparents, and other family members, you can consider how their same story “themes” might be very much alive and operating in your own life. You don’t have to fix it. The most brilliant starting place is to bring light to it, and healing can naturally follow.
2. Uproot Old Beliefs
For many of us, whatever is lurking in the programming of our minds, brought forward from our own childhood experiences or ancestral line, finds its unbidden way into how we interpret and experience our lives. Challenge those thoughts, examine those interactions, and question your reactions to determine whether or not these beliefs are serving you or your child.
3. Cultivate Curiosity
What is happening for my child in this moment? What is happening for me in this moment? How are these two things connected? What is the message in this situation for me? What old story or program is running the show here and how might I step in authentically aligned for myself and my child so that I can write a new story? Let curiosity be your guide to both a more peaceful path and continued self-growth.
4. Await the Harvest
When you plant a tree, it doesn’t fruit right away, but you trust the process knowing that the end result is well-worth the front-end work. It is the same with us: when we trust in the process of caring for our own hearts and engage in the work to make that happen, we will grow and eventually thrive. That growth bears fruit that will empower you to be able to show up in stunning ways to facilitate the growth of your child.
See more articles from Dr. Vanessa Lapointe in our Parenting Corner.