We tend to parent the way we ourselves were parented. Unless we take stock of the situation, we automatically repeat the child-rearing styles of those who raised us.
If you grew up with wise, attuned caregivers who were in control of their own emotions and behaviour, you’re lucky. And if they showed their love by setting consistent limits and dealing out appropriate consequences for breaking family rules, you probably come by parenting skills naturally.
But if like most of us, your parents were limited in their skills, you’ll have to work on your parenting. The problem is, it’s so hard for most of us to face the fact that our childhoods harmed us. People will say something like – oh well, I was a really bad kid. Or – my parents beat me but it didn’t do me any harm.
It’s as if admitting they were damaged is shameful and humiliating. They don’t want to admit that they’re wounded.
Herein lies the problem. If we don’t face the fact that we were wounded in childhood, we’ll probably parent the way our parents did or fall into one of the following traps.
Many wounded parents confuse their child with their perpetrator parent. These parents are fearful of their children, especially as the children become physically stronger and more capable of arguing persuasively. Faced by the child’s temper tantrum, these parents are triggered into the fear they themselves felt as children. This renders them completely incapable of setting appropriate limits and handing out consequences for misdemeanors. Children soon learn there is no adult in charge and take advantage of the situation – to their detriment.
Other wounded parents bend over backwards to be their children’s friend. Children don’t feel safe without an adult to set limits and be in charge.
The message to parents, then, is this. Face up to your own woundedness. Get help for yourself. If you don’t, your emotional pain will be visited on your children.