Not a secret: Parenting is hard. But it’s even harder if you’re raising a little human while recovering from the trauma of the way you were parented.

If you are an adult who has had a childhood, then you’ll be carrying something from that childhood that continues to hurt in some way. Oh wait, do I hear a chorus of older generations of parents saying, ‘Well, you turned out fine?!’ Did we?

We’re the children that are unsettled in peaceful environments because we were raised in chaos. Our bodies are in perpetual fight/flight mode, seeking out drama because it’s what we know how to navigate. Our psyches are anxious, depressed, traumatised. Our sleep is non-existent, we can’t regulate our emotions, we rely on others for validation of our own worthiness, and respectful conflict resolution and relationship repair are terms that belong to weird people who know how to say sorry without thinking that person will now hate you forever.

We’re the ones who have been so accustomed to abrasive environments that receiving compassion feels not just foreign, but cloying, smothering even. It feels like if we were to relax into being loved, we’d be compromising everything that has kept us safe up until now, like the false sense of security offered by a duck whistle that leads us directly into the line of sight of a hunter. A duck is a duck until it’s not, remember. We are absolutely fine.

The thing is, loads we carry are so often carried on the shoulders of the people who gave them to us, and before that, on the backs of the people who passed it to them. And it impacts the way we parent our children, especially if we’re not aware of it.

Our adult load starts with the loads our grown-ups carried for themselves and whether they were capable of shielding us from the impact of those loads. Everyone has ‘stuff’. When we become parents, it is our responsibility to process and integrate our stuff so as to prevent it from leaking out into the family system and onto our children. This isn’t me advocating for a case of ‘everything is your parents’ fault’. Instead, it’s me inviting you to put down the load you are carrying that doesn’t belong to you. Instead of blaming yourself, this is your chance to break the cycle by understanding how these loads are passed down through generations and choose that it stops with you.

The parent who was shamed for having feelings as a child grows up to keep their emotions under lock and key (in which case, they spontaneously erupt, or they implode and wind up in cycles of self-loathing). The parent who was criticised and shamed as a child grows up to be perfectionistic, rigid in their expectations, and unrelenting in pressuring themselves to be not just good enough, but perfect. The parent who was seen and not heard as a child grows up with a hardened exterior, viewing softness in others as weakness. You get the point.

It’s one thing for an adult to struggle with these issues for themselves. It’s quite another thing for that adult to then repeat the same cycle in parenting their own child. This cycle might be even more destructive, lapsing into dangerous. It could involve abuse, neglect, and/or exposure to such unpredictable and unsafe environments that a child has no option than to be traumatised. The parent’s parent used alcohol or throwing objects, or infidelity, or working all the time, or emotional absence to cope. That parent then models exactly the same behaviour to their own child. It becomes a cycle of emotional incompetence, poor coping skills, and unprocessed pain that go on to compromise another child’s emotional development, because their parents’ parents didn’t know any better and no one in the generational line has had the capacity to take responsibility to contain and heal their load.

How did your parents parent you? And how does that influence you in how you parent your children?