Parenting when you’ve had a tricky childhood
Parenting can be challenging at the very best of times; it’s intense, exhausting, unremitting and you don’t get holidays (well, unless you’re lucky enough to have the grandparents around).
That’s not to say that that parenting is not also exhilarating and extraordinary, spending time with funny, original, strong-willed and creative little people can be enormous fun. Particularly when you’re getting enough sleep and also have a little time for yourself. But it can also be one of the hardest things that a person can do.
It can be even harder if you also add to the mix the trickiness of parenting when your parents perhaps weren’t as you’d have chosen.
This isn’t about blaming our parents, more about understanding what happened so that we can be more mindful in our parenting now. It is likely that they did the very best that they could, but that doesn’t mean that you weren’t left with your own areas of trauma or pain or patterns of behaviour that don’t serve you well in your adult relationships or those with your children.
If this is the case, it might be useful to go back and look at what wasn’t right for you when you were little; sometimes it is obvious, where there is violence or abuse, but sometimes it is subtler, like constant criticism, or being a close confidante to one or both parents, something that is inappropriate for a parent to ask of a child who has neither the resources to offer nor the emotional capacity to deal with it. This can make it hard when we are appropriately expected to give emotional and practical support to our children, as it can trigger these old wounds.
This is true even if we didn’t actually experience it as painful when we were little, as the mind has a way of hiding what we cannot cope with in the moment. Children are particularly good at splitting off indigestible experiences and feelings so that we only know about them when they are triggered when we are safe and/or grown up.
It is not uncommon to find yourself being triggered by your child; perhaps your child needs something developmentally appropriate (a two year old needing a lot of attention, for example) but you feel angry and controlled by this. Obviously, every parent feels resentful and reluctant at times - sometimes a lot! - but there may also be threads that link back to your childhood and how you were parented yourself.
It can also make it hard to trust ourselves if we don’t have a reliable blueprint from our childhood, so we might find that we are always second guessing ourselves. Or the opposite, we may be unwilling or unable to acknowledge any mistakes at all.
Sometimes, just taking some time to look at what we are finding difficult and problem solving ourselves can have a profound effect, as can talking openly with supportive and like-minded friends and family. The internet can be a very valuable resource for both information and support, and books can be very useful too if you can find the time. However, if you do find yourself really struggling, a therapist can also be a good investment to help you to unpick and unpack what you are finding difficult.
Parenting can be one of the most important jobs that we do, and one of the most demanding; it is fine to reach out when you’re struggling and take a whatever space for yourself you can. You can struggle and still be a rock star of a parent.
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About Jo Baker
An experienced UPCA registered psychotherapeutic counsellor, Jo specialises in individual therapy for women. She has worked with survivors of domestic and sexual violence for a number of years in various projects. She now works from her private practice in Lewes, East Sussex, and also for a low cost counselling service in Brighton.