I Want to Be a Better Parent than Mine Were

Be a Better Parentby Abby Bordner

It’s bound to happen. When we become parents, we reflect heavily on the way we were parented ourselves. Sometimes we are motivated to be the same as our parents and do things the way they did. And, as with many parents I work with, we are determined to parent differently than our own parents did.

Eighty five percent of brain development happens in the first three years of a child’s life. This early brain development includes the neural pathways that form social/emotional behavior, as well as language, learning and attachment. Wow! That’s a lot happening in a child’s brain in the early years of his/her life.

In fact, a famous study (The ACE Study, acestudy.org) by Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, MD looked at how children’s brains form when they are exposed to three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACE) sustained through early childhood. The study identified the following adverse childhood experiences: poverty, emotional/physical abuse, alcoholism, sexual abuse, mental illness, attempted suicide, drug addiction and incarceration (of any family member in the home). Dr. Felitti proved that when a child is exposed to adverse childhood experiences, they are more likely to grow up to have physical illness, depression, failed relationships, commit a crime, drop out of high school and create the same environment with his/her family later in life.

So, you may ask… “If my own childhood included some of these ‘adverse experiences’ how can I be the best parent possible and give my children the guidance, connection and positive leadership they need to be healthy and whole?”

Well, your sheer determination may carry you for a while.  But the truth is you’ll need help. You’ll need to learn to manage your own emotions. You’ll need to learn what healthy relationships are like. You’ll need to learn about communication, listening and respecting the ones you love. And you can do it! Many adults have broken the cycle of dysfunction from their past and created a safe, loving and connected home environment for their children.

In the first 12 months of a child’s life the brain pattern of attachment is forming. For a baby, attachment comes in the form of how his/her needs are met. The basic needs of a baby (and child, for that matter) as it pertains to attachment are categorized as (1.) the need for connection and (2.) the need for separation. This is a balancing act that parents are always doing. You can picture it, right? Your excited crawler crawls to the other side of the room and looks back at you with a smile (need for separation). And conversely, your scared toddler comes running toward you with arms extended (need for connection).

As parents, recognizing what our child needs and responding with compassion, love and action is called bonding. Baby’s job is attachment. Parent’s job is bonding. You may also notice that sometimes these needs from your children frighten you, anger you and “trigger” you.  You fear they may get hurt if they are separated from you. You feel impatient when your child needs you when he’s crying.

So, it’s a combination of managing your own needs and feelings and recognizing what your kids need from you in each moment, day and phase of their life. It’s a difficult dance, especially if your needs weren’t met in these ways when you were young. You developed decoy ways to feel safe or avoided your own emotions and needs. Many adults grew up in dysfunctional homes. Many adults still today are managing the fallout of their early childhoods. AND many adults are finding the support, information and help they need to heal themselves and be healthy so that their children can experience a different childhood than theirs.

How have you healed from your past? What are some things you can be doing now to grow, learn and change in the way you are parenting so your kids get what they need? Post your comments.

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