Healing ourselves to be better parents

“I just lose it when my daughter doesn’t obey me”

“My son’s behaviour drives me up the wall.”

“I get angry when my son’s homework is done at the last minute.”

Very often in our parenting workshops, parents talk about how their children’s behaviour triggers strong feelings in them. We urge them to delve deeper and reflect – is the trigger the child’s behaviour or is it coming from their own past experiences? For instance, if one has grown up in a family where food was rationed to feed a large family, it would make them furious when their child wastes food. Instead of seeing that the child is full, such a parent might shout at his child - “Do you know how many people don’t get food to eat and you are wasting like this”.

Some of our reactions stem from our own tiredness or the frustration of dealing with challenging behaviour of our children. Yet, some other some strong reactions may surface because of our past experiences too. In her book, The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabury highlights the aspect of what might trigger big feelings in us. She says, ‘Our children don’t make us feel this way. They merely awaken our unresolved emotional issues from our childhood.’

On introspection, parents often discover a connection between how they were raised and how they parent today. One participant spoke about how upset he gets every time his daughter talks back to him as it makes him feel the way he felt when his short tempered father used to shout at him –powerless! Another parent recounts how she had seen her younger brother die of illness and as a result she is over anxious when her children fall ill. This makes her children feel insecure. These examples show how there are times when we end up projecting our own feelings and experiences onto our children instead of realising they are different people. We may not able to ‘see’ what is happening right now or understand our child’s need, because we are thrust back into being a child ourselves. 

Though we cannot change the difficult experiences we’ve had, it is important that we process them to be able to heal ourselves. Going back to the earlier example if this parent could heal from the loss of her brother, she would not project her fears on her children, allowing them the space to grow confidently.  Processing our own childhood experiences to be able to parent our children mindfully is a journey not a onetime effort. Here are some suggestions:

1. The first step is to reflect and understand our own childhood. Acknowledge the feelings and needs that you had as a child. Try and identify what triggers strong reactions in you when you are with your child.  Ask yourself if those are those linked to your past experiences. 


2. Desist from blaming or judging yourself or your parents. Our parents did the best they could, given their circumstances, difficulties, with the information available at that time. If you feel comfortable, you could talk to your parents and understand their actions. For example: If you were sent away to stay at your grandparent’s place in your childhood, knowing their difficulties may help you make sense of the experience and heal yourself. 


3. Discussing your experiences with your spouse or friends is therapeutic. One could also write experiences in a journal to reveal unprocessed feelings. 


4. Seek support from a professional counsellor if needed.


We are all human and there are times when we are reactive and lose it with our children. But we can invest in processing our own childhood experiences and ‘break the cycle’ of unproductive patterns. The more aware we are, the more we can offer our children a proactive response which is suited to their needs rather than ours.