Why would you want to understand your parents?

I often say that you get two phases of participating in the parent-child relationship dynamic: once as the child, and once as the parent. On the first time around, we have a very simple view of the world and we soak up information and experiences, and that informs our experience the second time around. As we become conscious of our behavior as parents, we become conscious of the experiences that formed our parents, and vice versa.

Parents have an unfortunate habit of deriving their internal value from the behavior of their children, for example: “I am a good parent if my child is a straight-A student.” This is not a good mindset for many reasons, mainly because deriving internal value from external circumstances is a recipe for feeling like a failure, but also because by playing that game, you are failing to recognize the particular needs and individual spirit and agency of your child!

Now, a tangent. It’s worth noting that for many listeners, childhood was a source of pain at the hands of neglectful or abusive parents. First: this was NOT your fault in any way. You did no wrong and you did not deserve what you received, for it was their own feelings of lack and fear and unworthiness projected onto you.

Now, knowing this, it is helpful to understand their motivations for your own learning and development. Note that the word is “understand,” NOT condone nor forgive; accountability is a part of growing up.

But understanding the “why” behind hurtful and harmful behavior is key in order to become conscious of our own potential for traumatizing our children by reenacting those terrible things that shaped us. The key is leveling with our own ever-present potential for doing both good and bad in order to learn from our parents’ lives and thus avoid making their mistakes.

Now that you are in the adult role in the dynamic, the onus is upon you to take the steps that must be taken to grow and heal, and to be good to your child. Remember that parenthood has huge ups and downs. Many days will be B-minus days. But as you come to accept what is and make peace with yourself and the past, you will heal, you will feel like a better parent, and your children will be better because of it.

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