When we become parents we are given an invaluable opportunity to grow as individuals. Through our intimate contact with our children we will automatically revisit our own childhood experiences even though this time we are in a different role. Most people enter parenthood with the aim of nurturing their children in a consistently loving and caring way and yet many parents will know the experience of watching themselves say or do the exact things that felt hurtful to them when they were a child.
Parents can feel stuck in repetitive patterns that don’t fully express the loving and caring relationships they hoped for when they began their journey as parents. Even with love and the best of intentions, we may struggle with learnt responses that make our children’s experiences intolerable to us.
Our own childhood experiences can have a profound effect on the way we parent our children. An unresolved issue can make us rigid and inflexible with our children and react in overly emotional ways. In these moments we are unable to attune to our children because our own emotional experiences are so noisy that it’s all we can hear.
Research in child development has shown that a child’s security of attachment to parents is very strongly connected to the parents’ understanding of their own life experiences. Contrary to what many people believe, our early experiences do not have to determine our present and future. We are not bound to recreate the same patterns that we experienced as negative. However, without self-understanding, research has shown that history is likely to repeat itself and that negative patterns of family interactions can be passed down through generations.
Of course, the development of the child’s personality is influenced by many things, not just by the parents, but parent-child relationships offer a very important part of the early world a child grows into and adapts to.
We can’t change what happened to us as children but we can change the way we respond to our experiences and it is never too late for that. The opportunity to change, learn and develop continues to be available throughout our lives.
In psychotherapy it can be helpful to make sense of how your childhood has influenced your life and affects your parenting. Understanding more about ourselves and our own attachment experiences can help us to offer a foundation of emotional wellbeing and security to our children and to break a repetitive cycle. Thinking about our own lives in a different way entails being aware of our present experience and understanding how the past continues to impact on our lives in the present. By deepening our ability to relate to our own emotional experience, we are better able to relate to our children and to support their healthy development.
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