Focus on self-improvement in order to improve as a parent.
Modification of your child’s ways is generally the focus of mainstream information on how to be a better parent. But that is not really the answer. Research indicates that being a better parent begins with self-improvement. Improvement of oneself is where becoming a more nurturing, quality mom or dad starts. While it is easier to look at what must change in the child, looking inward at ourselves for greater personal understanding only enhances our parenting abilities.
Through our children we revisit our own childhood and its unresolved issues.
We may have shelved painful feelings from our past. But our children reawaken those hurt feelings through their own innocence, spontaneity and liveliness. When we avoid dealing with these feelings from our childhood, we are blocking closer relation to our own children. Discomfort, anger and resentment toward our own children can surface when emotional connection is present. By blocking our feelings being reawakened in these times, we cut ourselves off from our children and miss the cues of what they are experiencing.
Researchers have explored this area, saying:
A child’s open arms reaching for us open up our own wounds of loneliness. But these moments bring to the surface all at once the physical smells new and stagnant of ghostly sensations awakened in ourselves. These are awakened by that dead self of the parent, who was the child now seen in the baby. The baby reaches out using the heartfelt language of innocence, the language long forgotten by the parent through learned mistrust.
In lieu of continuing this defense mode we place ourselves in against the feelings of our youth, we can face those feelings and explore any unresolved trauma to make sense of those pains. As we gain better understanding of what happened to us during our own youth, we become much more effective as parents to our own children. We also develop more stable and cohesive attachments with our own children. Another researcher states, “The integration of our own self-knowledge facilitates our being open to the process of becoming emotionally connected with our children. Coherent self-knowledge and interpersonal joining go hand in hand.”
Whatever we criticize within ourselves and about ourselves, we project onto our children.
When exhibiting ambivalence and other attitudes toward our children, we are actually projecting the attitudes we have about ourselves onto them. Within each of us exists conflict between self-confidence and self-appreciation versus self-hatred and self-deprecation. Unsurprisingly, these conflicts and contradictions manifest through our attitudes toward our own children. The attitudes a parent has about his or her own children are directly influenced by the internal conflicts that parent feels in regard to his or herself.
It is common for parents to project their own feelings of self-criticism and poor self-image onto their children. By doing this, they then become heavily critical of the projections then seen as qualities and behaviors of their child. This perpetuates the problem, with the children starting to see themselves through the same light as the parent did of him or herself during childhood.
By looking internally, and by examining the genesis of our negative attitudes and beliefs about ourselves, we gain greater compassion for ourselves and our offspring at the same time.
Leading researchers say that children are of particular vulnerability, when it comes to being the target of parental projection of unresolved issues from the parent’s childhood. The defense mechanisms which served us well in childhood later inhibit our ability to parent our children with empathy and receptivity. Without engaging our own inward-looking self-understanding, we are inflicting our distorted patterns of defensive response onto our children’s own experiences.
We perpetuate our parents’ behaviors by acting the same with our children, as they did with us.
At some point in time, usually when scolding their child, every parent experiences that moment when they think they sound just as their own parents did. This is a horrifying moment wherein it is hard to believe that you are using the same words or behaving the same way toward your child. But the reality is that all parents are somewhat programmed to repeat their parents’ patterns.
This reenactment may occur when the child is at an age which was particularly difficult or traumatic for the parent. At these stages in development, parents often reenact how they were parented during the same phase.
There are three phases comprising this perpetuation of negative parenting through the generations. Those are:
(1) During formative years, each of us experienced hostility, trauma, rejection and deprivation to varied degrees. When our parents were not emotionally or physically in control as we experienced these things, we developed an internal voice of criticism in their place. In essence, we took on the role of parents when they were not able to provide the support or guidance we needed during their worst moments.
(2) This critical and detrimental internal voice remained with us throughout our lives. It punishes, creates limitations, restricts and even soothes us, as we act for ourselves as our parents did for us.
(3) As we parent our own children, we feel drawn to similarly parenting our children, using the same tools of mistreatment as were used on us.
To stop the cycle of reenactment, we as parents must directly face the feelings of our childhood, those felt as a result of received treatment. If these are revisited, we can then more clearly see the negative attitudes internalized in youth and end the cycle of those attitudes. It is then that we can provide the affection, warmth, guidance, sensitivity and love that is so critical for a child’s well-being.
You are your child’s role model.
Leading researchers presented their findings of a study about what makes a quality parent. This study utilized 2,000 parents to formulate results. As part of a resulting list of ten critical parenting competencies, only five were relative to the relationship between parent and child. The remaining five were only relative to the parent.
Three of the top ten competencies were based in modeling. One of the three was relationship skills, as having a quality relationship with one’s significant other models those skills. The second of the three was education and learning. Having a quality education models educational opportunities and learning. Health was the final of the three modeling competencies, as eating right and remaining physically active models good health.
It has been realized by psychologists that children act as they see their parents act, not simply doing as their parents do. This makes being a positive role model even more powerful than any form of training or discipline in rearing of children. Rules, statements and guidance are overshadowed by these processes of imitation and parental identification. Children become as they see their parents being as part of everyday life. Everything a parent does should be worthy of imitation by the child, as children will re-enact what they see.
Another researcher said, “While most parents are ready to teach their children discipline and know that they are the ones to do so, they are less ready to accept the idea that they can teach only by example.” Parental traits of congeniality, non-intrusiveness, consistency and generosity all positively affect their child’s personality.
The truth that our children emulate us is reason enough to focus on self-development. Only through living with integrity in our own lives are we able to adequately model our children as mature adults. Maturity and honesty are key in determination of our children’s healthy formation, even more so than other techniques provided by experts.
Live well for yourself.
It is not healthiest to sacrifice our own fulfillment for our children, but to seek self-fulfillment. Through pursuing our own goals, we provide a positive example to our offspring. Living well starts with genuine value of ourselves in acceptance of our wants, needs, feelings and priorities. This means actively living our own lives. By doing so, we profoundly impact our children’s personal development and their futures positively.
“We need not make any claim to be perfect. But if we strive as best we can to live good lives ourselves, our children, impressed by the merits of living good lives, will one day wish to do the same.”
Many parents choose to live through their children’s lives, in lieu of living their own. By doing so, they are taking away from their children, not giving to them. These parents are emotionally feeding off of their children, in desire for deprivation of love and care in their own childhood. This is a confusion of the feelings of need and love, draining the child through emotional hunger of the parent.
In lieu of working to be the “best parent,” parents can provide more by being real and honest with them, admitting weaknesses and shortfalls. They should share history of their own childhood with their children, revealing struggles they endured, successes they achieved and generally being honest and open with the children. Compassionate child rearing is developed through the parents’ own compassion for themselves.
Accept your children’s love.
Parents raised through self-imagery of being unlovable often present obstacles for close, tender bonding with their own children. Parents unable to accept their child’s love often provide negative response to these attempts by the child to grow closer. Many texts written about child-rearing fail to provide this behavior the attention it needs.
In Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, it is written, “Our children need to be able to feel their loving feelings for us, for the people we really are behind our roles as parents. If we deny this opportunity to our children, they will suffer emotionally. We need to learn to be receptive to our children’s spontaneous expressions of affection and love toward us. This seems obvious, yet it may be the most difficult task faced by us as parents.”