The Past in the Now

Becoming a parent is an amazing experience. It is what life is in its entirety, the roller coaster of ever-changing emotions. One day you feel abundance of love, you may feel you’re doing a pretty good job, maybe even feel you’re getting a hang of it, only to be reminded that everything can change the next day. There are days when you doubt yourself, feel anxious and despairing or lose temper and feel guilty about it. You question your competence as a parent and feel insecure about your decisions.

When we become parents we bring with us our own experiences from childhood; how we were mothered or fathered, how our feelings were attended to or not, how we were comforted, and what limits and boundaries we had and how they were set. All of these, and many other seemingly invisible interactions with our caregivers, influence how we parent our children. Many experiences that are not fully processed continue impacting us, and oftentimes get triggered by interactions with our children. At those times we may have strong emotional reactions and view them in distorted ways. We may act impulsively and wonder why we’re repeating certain undesirable behaviors, or have conflicts with our children despite our hopes and intentions to have a good relationship with them. Take for example someone who was raised by caregivers who were unable to tolerate emotions. They would not hear their child, or worse would use silent treatment or time outs to evoke “good” behavior. Imagine now this person becoming a parent. Oftentimes, what I hear in my practice are complaints of great discomfort with an infant’s crying, a toddler’s tantrums or “too high” energy, or a teenager’s talking back and acting out. It is quite challenging for such parents to step back and see these “issues” in any different light and with compassion.

For many of us, some of these unresolved feelings will be brought up by the upcoming Holidays and time we spend with our families. So be mindful. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? What am I expecting? Pay attention to what you anticipate about these reunions and interactions with specific family members. Are you apprehensive, excited, anxious, on edge? More so, notice how it impacts your relations with your children or your partner. It’s an opportunity to gain more self-awareness and begin the process of change.

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