” I don’t want to mess up my daughter the way my mom messed me up.”
Yep, EVERY mother on my psychotherapy couch ( especially the “good” daughter) who has a difficult mother and is now raising a daughter has the worry she will make the same mistakes her mother made and leave her daughter feeling anxious and insecure.
If you are one of those mothers I have good news for you- read on. You can turn straw into gold if you know what to do. It is truly the unexamined dysfunctional childhood that is likely to be repeated. The old saying, “What we don’t pass back we pass on” holds true. But you might not know, the opposite holds true as well. When you process the pain of your childhood you become a wiser and more compassionate mother.
When you remember and reflect on how you felt as a child, your awareness can make you more sensitive. Whether through therapy or soul-searching talks with someone close, you’ve taken the time to reflect on and process the pain of your dysfunctional childhood. This kind of reflection yields ninja parenting chops. That doesn’t mean your home doesn’t look like a madhouse at times. When kids aren’t afraid or neglected all of their feelings are out in the open. This is a good thing. And because you know what it is like to hurt as a child-
You can see beneath the surface.
You see that…
- The quiet, obedient child is not always a happy child. When a child feels despair or shame, she tends to constrict, become quiet, and draw into herself. You know that a child may be overly compliant out of fear, not confidence.
- Bad behavior is not always what it seems. The acting out child may be misbehaving because she cannot contain an upsetting feeling, and is working to discharge it or push it away. The out of control behavior is sometimes a cry for help. A cry for an adult to help her get control of her impulses or process overwhelming feelings.
- It is not necessarily a good thing when your child tries to take care of you. Although it touches your heart when your child shows concern for you-you know no child should feel responsible for her parent’s happiness.
Because of your own painful childhood, you know when you see these outward signs to look more deeply, remain curious, and approach your child with compassion. Perhaps your greatest gift can be summed up in a word- empathy. Because every child struggles with powerful emotions, even those in functional homes with good mothers. Your empathy makes you a better mother. At the opposite end of narcissistic and other rigid defenses, that are at the hallmark of dysfunction lies empathetic attunement. You know maintaining an empathetic connection with your child ( no matter her behavior in the moment) paves the way back to good relationship with you. And relationships that are alive, flexible, and loving keep families functional.
Connection, not perfection, is the key to good mental health and a happy childhood. Even as you discipline your children, you are empathetic to their need for structure, as well as his/her need for an adult to stay in control when doling out the consequences. You can measure how your momentary withdrawal of approval lands with your child. You are careful to invite her back into your good graces as soon as possible rather than shaming and banishing her. And when all goes well- you kick back, a smile of delight spreading across your face, and feel that little catch in your throat as it registers deep within you how grateful you are your child feels loved, protected and cared for.
You know, really know, that the safe loved feeling your child feels… is anything but guaranteed. You work hard to make sure she will never know the pain you’ve felt.
Not only can you use your childhood pain to inform your parenting today, but when you give to your child the love and compassion you never got from your own parents you can start to heal that place within yourself.
If you were the daughter, who took emotional care of mom chances are you are suffering from the “Good daughter” syndrome. To find out-go here.