As a couples and relationship counsellor, I see many clients whose childhood issues begin to resurface when they become parents. These unresolved issues could put extra strain on both partners as well as the family unit. This is a very common experience and we know from research in family therapy and attachment, that the biggest predictor of how we will be as parents is how much we’ve been able to make sense out of our own past. As the saying goes, “who you are today, is due to where you have come from”. It is inevitable that whatever you don’t heal about yourself, you will pass onto your children, and the patterns will continue.
So when you notice that you are having strong reactions, this could be your childhood experience emerging, which will impact both your parenting and your relationships. This is an opportunity for you to process these feelings and experiences, so that you are better able to relate to your partner, your children and yourself. There is no need to feel guilt or shame about this, as by working through the pain of your past, you can better understand your gut reactions and learn to manage your own feelings. Don’t be alarmed; this is a common experience that many new parents go through.
Some of the common ways you may notice your early history impacting you as a parent now include:
It is common to be emotionally triggered or over reactive with your children at moments of frustration or disappointment. You may find that a present situation provokes distressing feelings from your past, which happen beyond your conscious awareness and control. In those moments, you may feel like you are back in that old painful place of your childhood and you may act out in ways that do not reflect your adult self. Having intense emotional, seemingly exaggerated reactions to your children is usually a sign to look to your own childhood experience for understanding, clarity, and an opening to change. Being over reactive is giving you the signals that you need to explore this further and do something about it.
It is common for us to project our feelings onto our children. We may see them as our parents saw us, ‘the smart one’ or ‘the black sheep’. You might put pressure on your children to be like you because you see them as an extension of yourself, or you may put pressure on them to be successful in areas that you weren’t so successful in. When you project onto your children, you miss out on actually getting to know them as the unique individuals that they are. You will then try to meet the needs YOU THINK they have, rather than their actual needs. Becoming aware of how “your stuff” might be getting in the way of building connected family relationships is a good first step to explore. This is the benefit of working with a professional counsellor, who can see the links in your behaviour that you may be blind to.
Lately I have noticed that many parents in my couples counselling practice find it hard to say “no” to their children, often due to feelings of guilt. Being unable to set boundaries with your child is unhealthy for both of you, and is generally a reaction to the way you were parented. For example, you may choose to be easygoing and permissive because your parents were conservative or rigid. This may be a rebellion against your own parents’ behaviour or an attempt to compensate for their way of treating you as a child. Unfortunately overcompensating for your own childhood can cloud your ability to discern your own child’s needs and rob them of important developmental opportunities. Consciously choosing the kind of parent you want to be, and being the kind of parent your child needs, requires mindfulness and an ability to reflect on your own feelings and behaviour.
When I work with couples in counselling about the childhood issues that may be impacting their parenting, I aim to:
- increase your self-awareness of your own behaviour as a parent,
- give you a safe space to come to terms with your own childhood experiences,
- support you to understand your own triggers and reactions,
- improve your ability to catch yourself when you are projecting or overcompensating with your children,
- help you to identify your own emotional needs and how to address them,
- teach you to create safe and healthy boundaries for yourself and your children.
If you or your partner are finding that your past issues are impacting you in the present, then contact me now to find out how I can help you put the past to rest and create the future you want for you and your family. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Ginny Lindsay is a Sydney based relationship counsellor and psychotherapist who supports individuals and couples moving from pregnancy into parenthood. With 40% of divorces happening during pregnancy or in the first 3 years of a child’s life, Ginny established From 2 to 3 to offer support early before a relationship breaks down.