April 18, 2022

Fixing ourselves before parenthood

The idea of fixing ourselves before parenthood sounds well and good.

But there's one problem: Many of us don't realize we need fixing until after we've become parents.

Come to think of it, this post should be called Fixing ourselves FOR parenthood.

Anyhow, moving on.

Take a look at this excruciatingly candid exchange I discovered on Reddit's r/AskWomen community:

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't have all the answers.

I'm not a doctor, licensed therapist, or counselor.

But I do know I've got work to do.

And I suspect you might, too.

And there is zero shade in that suspicion. None. Zilch.

Weas the parents chosen to raise the next generationare all in this together.

The good news is, we don't have to be medical professionals; simply recognizing that there's work to be done in the first place is huge in and of itself.

More in that in a minute.

But, first, let's start with a real-life scenario that requires some audience participation:

Close your eyes and think of a time when your kids didor didn't do—something and you went off.

The time when you were subjected to their incessant whining from the back seat...the door-slamming after you refused to indulge one of their whims...or the sheer resistance you received from any garden variety order you gave them (i.e. clean your room, feed the dog, put the Legos back, etc.)

Reconnect with the frustration and anger you felt in that moment. The tension. The adrenaline.

Physically and emotionally go to that place.

Just thinking about one of those moments makes me melt with remorse. 

I knew back then that my response wasn't healthy.

But I didn't knowuntil recentlywhere those responses may have been coming from.

Now, let's bring into the fold a list I discovered on Bored Panda, an art and pop culture magazine. The list is called People Are Calling Out Toxic Parenting Tactics That Are Still Often Viewed As “Normal,” and it was inspired by a thread on r/AskReddit:

People of redit, what is a normal parenting tactic that shouldn't be considered normal. [sic]

From that thread, which received nearly 2,000 upvotes and drew equally as many comments, a list of 30 toxic traits was born.

For the complete list click here, but for the purpose of this particular post, we're just going to focus on #30:

Having kids before you've gone to therapy to address your own childhood trauma, as this just causes undue trauma on the kids.

And boy, does that one hit different now that I'm a parent.

Let's focus on our mental health for a minute.

Lavinia Brown explains to us why it's so integral:

So, maybe it's not just the stress of work/life balance.

Maybe it's not just the fact that you're a horrible sleeper and always wake up cranky.

Maybe your temper is not just attributed to your innate personality.

I mean, yes: stress, sleep deprivation, and having a short fuse are not necessarily hallmarks of good health, and they canand undoubtedly willcreate innumerable roadblocks within relationships. 

Especially on a parenting journey.

But what if when we lose our sh*t and yell at our kids, there's actually more to the story?

What I'm saying is, what if there's something underneath it all that's got nothing to do with our kids?

Because whatever it is has been inside us for a long, long time.

Like, so long that we didn't even know it existed.

I can hear some of you now: 

Who, me? I wasn't abused, for crying out loud! I mean yeah, my parents were yellers and, now that I think of it, when I was 10 my dad did kind of lean on me for emotional support after my mom divorced him...but, hey, no childhood is perfect...right? I mean, I didn't get beat with a broom, sent to bed without dinner, nor have I ever taken a hot iron to the back a la Penny in Good Times, so...

(If you don't have a clue about the Good Times reference; google it. But not before you've grabbed a box of tissues.)

But back to the matter at hand:

"Just because you enjoyed holidays abroad, abundant food on the table or grew up in a nice house, doesn’t mean that you also enjoyed the emotional support that you needed as a child, in order to feel truly loved and understood. 

And yet many mamas believe that because their physical needs were looked after, their childhoods were not lacking in any way. 

This is not necessarily true. 

Providing a roof over your head was relatively easy. Providing unconditional love not quite so. 

And it is the emotional lack that you experienced that needs to be healed in order for you to thrive as an adult. 

Because emotional sustenance is what creates the foundation for who you think you are and for how safe the world feels. 

(Which are the messages you pass onto your kids.)

So when you think back to your childhood, think about whether you felt seen, heard and safe? 

And whether your parents spent time with you. Appreciating you for you?

Any gap between what you needed (in your own special way) and what your parents were able to or made an effort to give you, constitutes emotional lack. 

And this lack is where the healing potential lies."

—Lavinia Brown

Here's something else I've said before on this blog: parents likely did the best they could with what they had.

This is not about blaming earlier generations.

This is about awareness.

It can be true that your parents loved you.

It could also be true that you had enough food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and Christmas looked like Toys R Us threw up under the most gigantic Frasier fir your dad could find at the tree farm.

And it can also be true that your emotional needs weren't met, or that you put your parent's emotional needs above your own.

And you never knew this because how could you know this when you were a child? What happens to us in childhood is our normal.

But normal doesn't always mean healthy.

And as Bessel van der Kolk so eloquently chose for the title of his book: The body keeps the score.

Jamie McCoy, Trauma Coach      Instagram: @myintegrativetherapist

Meaning, although you're not that little child anymore, that uneasiness from something that happened during childhood may still be there. 

It never had an opportunity to escape.

But it's come to the point where it can't sit silent and still any longer.

Certain things light an already existing fuse and bring that pain roaring back to life with a vengeance: When our kids piss us off, when someone cuts us off on the I-94 service ramp, when the house is a goddamned mess one millisecond after we finished cleaning.

These all feel like reasons to blow.

But what if they aren't the real catalysts?

But want to hear something even scarier than realizing that this is happening?

Realizing that, if left unchecked, we could pass this on to our child.

But guess what?

There's a good chance that, if we have some modicum of awareness about what is happening, we probably won't.

Apparently, the recognition alone is the golden ticket.

Here's more from Lavinia Brown:

"One of the most common worries clients come to me with is their fear of having emotionally damaged their children. 

The main reason they want to heal is not in order to improve their relationships with their parents. But to improve their relationships with their kids. 

They want to stop parenting like their parents in order to no longer keep perpetuating the patterns that created so much emotional harm in them. 

The thing is, however much you feel you might have damaged your children, you will never have passed on the same trauma that was passed onto you. 

Do you want to know why? 

Because whatever you might have said or done to temporarily rupture the bond between yourself and your kids, you also put in the repair.
That doesn't erase what you did. But it does make up for it. 

And I would bet a large amount of money that your parents didn't do that. 

You take responsibility for your actions.

You say sorry.

You tell your children that you could have done better and will try to do that next time.

You tell them that you love them. 

These are things that most of our parents were not very good at. 

Which makes all the difference when trying to reverse the effects of traumatised parenting. 

So, whilst you think you may have ‘damaged’ your kids in the past (and will probably continue to do so), the ‘damage’ is not permanent. You have the tools, the skills and the drive to do and be better.

Which is what reverses the effects of traumatised parenting. 

As you heal your past, you are healing your future.

Focus on that and everything will be ok."

—Lavinia Brown

And so, to repeat what I stated earlier:

Simply recognizing that there's work to be done in the first place is huge in and of itself.

And apologizing—and truly meaning it. That's key, too.

While what was done to us in childhood was not our fault, healing ourselves before it impacts our children is indeed our responsibility.

In the words of inspirational writer Iyanla Vanzant:

"The past has already been written, but we have the power to write the future, based on who we are and what we do now."

It all comes down to this:

Instagram: @RespectfulMom

And while I wholeheartedly support the notion of paying homage to those who walked before us, that does not mean everything is worth passing on to the next generation. In that vein, here's one last nugget of wisdom I couldn't help but share:




We have to do this.

And we can.

© Copyright Courtney Conover, 2022

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