With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we look at how our upbringing affects our own parenting decisions.
There are loads of different factors that affect the decisions we take as parents – from mainstream parenting trends and your socioeconomic status, to what you and your children are like as people.
Of all the possible factors, research has shown that how we make sense of our own past – especially our childhood and formative years – has potentially the biggest influence on the choices we make as parents. This means our own parents have a huge effect on how we raise our kids.
This happens regardless of whether we had a good or bad childhood. On the one hand, if we felt our parents did a good job, we’ll idealise them and end up mimicking their values and techniques with our own kids. On the other hand, if we felt our parents did a bad job, we’re likely to take their choices as a sign of what not to do, and attempt to raise our kids in a completely different way.
We asked the parents in our Blogger Network how their own childhood has affected their parenting. We got some mixed responses.
Emma from Life According to Mrs Shilts said that her upbringing taught her not to be overprotective of her children:
“My parents always told me to think wisely and be confident in my actions and to learn from my mistakes when I made them. A phrase I grew up with was 'You've made your own bed now sleep in it' and I guess that's something I'm keen for my son to be aware of: to think ahead and remember that actions have consequences. My son is only three but I'm aware that he needs to learn about his actions and subsequent consequences (as long as they're not dangerous, of course).”
On the other hand, Nickie from Typecast was keen to be a completely different parent to her own:
“My parents were fairly strict and this led to me rebelling a bit and leaving home at quite an early age, so I wanted to parent a bit differently. With my own children I provided the rules and the boundaries but I encouraged them to be a bit more open with me and taught them that honesty provided freedom. You are raising your child(ren) to be an individual so provide them with the knowledge and let them forge their own path.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte from Mummy Fever says it’s important to take a mixed approach:
“I think it is easy to blame your parenting skills on your parents but really we choose the parents we want to be and we are in control of how we react to things and how we behave. For me, I’ve taken the things I felt they did really well and used them and the things I don’t think they did very well I have improved on.”
This seems like a sensible and easy option – simply pick and choose what you liked and did not like from your childhood and model your own parenting accordingly.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
This is because there are ways that our upbringing can influence us subconsciously, meaning that it’s not always easy to spot when we’re making pre-programmed mistakes. There are a number of ways that this can happen.
An example of this is where we recreate our childhood emotional environment in our adult lives. This can happen even when our upbringing wasn’t great, as we’ve built up psychological defenses to cope with the difficulties we faced. An example would be where a parent was hit as a child and has created the justification that ‘tough love’ is the only way to develop strength. They then carry this into their adult lives, using it in turn as a justification for hitting their own kids.
The scary thing about this is that these justifications can even influenced our choice of sexual partner: we may have subconsciously chosen a mate who offers a home environment similar to what we experienced in the past. This makes it even harder to ‘break the mould’ and offer our kids something different.
Another example is how we can be ‘triggered’ to behave certain ways in stressful situations. We all know that parenting is a challenging experience and that in the deepest moments of frustration we might have acted in ways we weren’t proud of after the fact. In these moments it may feel as if we’ve been transported back into painful situations that we experienced ourselves growing up, and we end up mimicking either our own or our parents’ behaviour. Either way, it makes us feel that we aren’t really being ourselves.
It’s important to be aware of all the ways that our childhood can subconsciously affect our parenting. After all, kids are so malleable and impressionable that they’ll pick up on, and be affected by, behaviours that we may not notice ourselves.
For more on this topic, check out this great article on the seven ways your childhood affects how you'll parent.
Image via Mindaugas Danys