By the time parents reach adulthood, they have experienced a lifetime’s worth of relationships, both good and bad.These relationships exist with caregivers, siblings, peers, friends, and so on. A normal effect of having relationships is that they leave indelible impressions upon the psyche, which create templates, often unconscious, about how particular kinds of relationships are supposed to work. In a sense, people become “programmed” as to what to expect from others (parents, friends, partners, etc.) and how they feel about themselves based on previous experiences with people already in these roles, and the impressions start during even the earliest days of infancy.
new parents, these impressions happens all the time. The parents teach
more by doing and relating than they ever could by saying. Parents who
are supportive and encouraging, listen and reflect produce thoughtful,
intuitive, self confident children who have patience, develop (in time)
skills of good communication, and have healthy relationships.
relate to their children based on their own early experiences and what
has become an innate part of their personality. Child development
specialists and authors T. Berry Brazelton and Bertrand Cramer, in their
1990 article The Earliest Relationship, suggest
that parents have images and fantasies about themselves and their
families, their ideals, goals and values, and they have anxieties,
worries, and fears, many of which originated in their own childhoods.
Children tend to trigger some of these fantasies and fears in ways
parents cannot even imagine. When someone says things like, “She has the
same expression that my grandmother used to have” or “Just look at his
eyes; he’s going to be a wild one, that one,” meaning is being
attributed to certain characteristics based on that person’s
experiences. Someone else may see the same expression or the same look
in the eyes and interpret it very differently. In other instances,
parents sometimes say, “I can’t get her to settle down, she hates me” or
“He is such a charmer, he needs a lot of attention.” These parents are
experiencing something from the child’s behavior that is stirring for
them. Assigning intention or meaning to child behavior tends to come
from within parents and various others, and most often is a result of
personal histories and is not associated directly with the child or
child’s behavior. The behavior triggers a personal response. So, when
people have babies, their own histories are what they use to define,
defend and build their new roles as parents.Their own life experience
becomes their primary resource for how and what to do.
adult brings memories (both conscious and unconscious) from infancy and
childhood into their interactions with the world around them. This is a
normal and healthy part of becoming an adult. What is key is how
parents reflect upon their lives, as this helps them make optimal
decisions as they go along. Not only do parents pass along genetics,
moral standards, family values, cultural histories, and physical
mannerisms, they also pass along their own childhood experiences.
what does all this mean? It just means that it is very valuable for
parents to reflect on their past experiences and relationships -
positive and negative - and think about how those things played a part
in their development. Being aware of these things will help parents
better understand themselves and their emotional reactions, which
ultimately enhances their interactions and relationships with their children.
Stay tuned. The next post will discuss what parents can do when there are memories or experiences from
that past they would rather not bring into their current relationships
with their children.
Posted by Andrea Hohf, LSW