” 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, which is the hallmark of dysfunction, lies empathetic attunement. You know, maintaining an empathetic connection with your child ( no matter her behavior at 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 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.
Will you raise your children differently? Let me know in the comments.
When you process the pain of your childhood you become a wiser and more compassionate mother. Click To Tweet Connection, not perfection, is the key to good mental health and a happy childhood. Click To Tweet 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. Click To Tweet
Hi there,I so deeply appreciate & am greatful for this. That someone knows about this thing that exists & is real. I have a son, & I’m trying to do everything that you say in this article to be a better mom for him. But I feel like a failure 24/7. I have no idea if I’m doing right by him. Everything just hurts so much. Please help me. I am consumed with sadness & heartache.
Lorean- Thank you for writing. My heart breaks for you. I have no idea what you have been through but it sounds like a lot. Although I can’t offer therapeutic advice over the intern ( in this form) or without knowing more about your situation it sounds like you might be suffering from depression.
It is not uncommon with empathetic mothers who want to be in touch with their children’s emotional lives are triggered and revisit their own childhood pain. It is a fine line to walk. Know this-getting help for and healing yourself is not selfish. It is the best thing you can do for your child.
I am working on a book or course that would help mothers who want to give their child a better childhood than they have had. Check back on this website for updates.
I just realized tonight that I might be a narcissistic mother. My oldest daughter (14) told me that she lived to make me happy and that now knows it’s never enough for me, so she stopped being the good daughter, but I happened to keep demanding and she feels guilty, and so on….
I come from a broken, dysfunctional home and absent parents. I am guessing every day how parenting works!! Is there any book or something that Incan read to stop doing what I’m doing wrong, and actually to find out what it is!?
Hi Kay- First of all I want to say good for you! It takes a lot of courage to wonder if you have been acting in a narcissistic manner and to be willing to change. Just the fact that you want to know the truth puts you head and shoulders above most. I too have acted in narcissistic ways towards my own daughters and worked hard to break the cycle. It isn’t easy. However, in the long run, it is worth it.
I hope to write a book on breaking the cycle. Here is a blog post https://daughtersrising.info/2019/02/14/how-to-listen-to-your-daughter-without-giving-advice/ that might help. Also, look at my video talk on How to give your daughter the self-esteem you never got from your mother on this site. Also, there are tons of freebies on this site. In a nutshell, you want to let your daughters life be just that- her life, not your do-over. Learn to listen to her and place her feelings above your need to be right. Since she is 14 you do need to set rules. Make sure those rules are clear and without too much emotion. I like the book How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen. Keep in mind I have taken and still take my own medicine.. and will say raising a 14-year-old is uber tricky. Sometimes a 14-year-old will just “hate mom” and you’ve done nothing wrong.
Her is a great bonus- when you break a cycle of narcissism and dysfunction you heal yourself and will be doing all you can to heal the generations to come. Thanks for writing and best of luck. Keep checking back for more material and updates.
I wrote a comment… then erased it realizing it was a super passive-aggressive comment about my parents (my therapist wants me to get in touch with my anger, at which point I… giggle nervously. But working on it!)
This article made me happy. I’ve got some things to straighten out before I have kids, but I do want to have them one day, and this is a reassuring counter point to my own narrative of anxiety surrounding my future parenting skills. I don’t know much about some things, but I know a LOT about other things, and my best just… has to be good enough. And my future partner, who will have to have a secure attachment style :), will be there too!
Good for you EM.
Yes you can use your past pain to help you navigate a thoughtful loving future for your children. Keep an open mind and continue to educate yourself and you will be fine.