There is so much information and advice given to parents about parenthood. Before their babies are even born, parents are hit with a slew of tricks, tips, and tactics to ensure winning parenting skills. Parenting magazines, websites, and coaches all have new and tried-and-true methods on winning parenthood. But what amazes me is that the most crucial, and deeply impacting part of parenting is never discussed, or even mentioned, yet is the most important of all:
The number one thing that we should be taught before becoming parents, and should continue learning after becoming a parent, is how to heal ourselves before having children and the importance of continued healing after our children are born.
When I became a mother I was shocked by how much fear I was suddenly overwhelmed with. It wasn’t your standard fears like, “I’m responsible for this person” like I had heard many other mothers say after giving birth, but some deeply painful fears for me such as, “How will I keep them safe from abuse?” Or “How can I keep them from bullying and torment?” I had those things happen to me, and the thought of them happening to my children was more than I could bear. And not only was I afraid of my children experiencing these same traumas, but I was reliving them as well! I would sit and reason with myself using my “logical voice”, explaining why those things wouldn’t happen to my children too. But overwhelmed with fear I would look at my children and how helpless they were and would cry with the prospect of my children being hurt. I began bargaining with God saying, “Please let the reason that these things happened to me be so that my children never have to experience them.”
But that’s when I realized something that completely changed my views and gave me the ability to conquer the fear: that is exactly the reason things happen to us. Everything that we go through is something we can heal, and in turn can assist other souls going through those situations, or aid them in avoiding those experiences altogether. We have the ability to heal our hurts, traumas and negative experiences to not only better our lives, but the lives of our children as well.
What no one ever told me about parenthood is that being a parent is a land mine of triggers. Being a parent brings up everything our parents did that we didn’t like or feel they should have done better. It triggers reminders of abuse, neglect, shame or absence that we felt. It brings up feelings of helplessness, bullying or resentments, embarrassment and rejection. It creates situations where we relive some of the best and worst times of our lives, and if we haven’t healed some of the big bad ones, we cannot control the triggers we step on.
Inadvertently Passing On The Trauma
I knew a woman who had grown up with eating disorders and was under constant pressure to be perfect because of her mother’s intense judgment of her. She talked frequently about the stress and lack of self-worth she had growing up with the harsh demands placed upon her and was still full of stress and anxiety every time her mother called or came to visit. When she herself had a little girl she spoke of how much she wanted to teach her good eating habits and to feel positive about food. But as her daughter got older she began eating a lot. While she had good eating habits and was not overweight, this woman would get nervous watching her daughter eat so much. A few times she made comments such as, “She never stops eating.” or “The doctor says she has a normal appetite.” She would say this with a nervous joking tone as if to put a disclaimer because her daughter ate so much. Despite feeling belittled about food and weight her entire life, she was unknowingly doing the same thing to her daughter because she had not healed her own issues with food, weight, self-worth and her relationship with her mother.
And this is how many of us step into parenting; with good intentions and a desire to give our children better than we had. But if we don’t let go of the pain surrounding certain people, topics, or situations, we cannot help but show our discomfort when they arise. Because this woman did not have a good relationship with food or know how to show examples of good body image, she was unable to display that for her daughter even though this is what she desperately wanted to do.
While we may believe we have dominion over our triggers, this isn’t the case. Without healing that which sets us off, we are essentially wearing beer goggles; seeing things through the skewed version of our reality, and unable to see properly. Without taking the goggles off, we will not be able to see things for what they truly are. But if we do some soul healing before we become parents or, for those who already have children, continue to heal our wounds while simultaneously raising our children, we can remove our goggles and avoid reacting out of our past negative experiences.
Many people tell themselves, “I won’t be like my parents, ” but people end up becoming their parents for the same reasons their parents became the way they were. It’s a vicious cycle, and without healing the patterns that perpetuate the cycle, we are feeding into the problem and essentially passing them on to our children. The other alternative is avoidance, where, in an attempt to completely avoid the possibility of becoming “what we hate”, some parents will do an 180 which results in a whole new set of problems. An example would be a parent who instead of being overly strict with their child like their parents were with them, now has no boundaries and lets their child do whatever they please, whenever and with whomever. While they are not passing on the same problems they had growing up, it is still negatively affecting their children based on a lack of healing their past.
The Holocaust Study
While it’s unfavorable to pass on our negative thought patterns or limiting beliefs, it goes beyond simply “bad programming”. New scientific studies are showing that the changes to genetics due to trauma can be passed on genetically. A new study conducted by a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital and led by Rachel Yehuda showed that genetic changes caused by trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors were being passed on to their children genetically. The study consisted of 32 Jewish men and women who had been a prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp, had to hide from the Nazis, or had been exposed to or been witness to torture during World War 2. Yehuda and her team studied the genes of the survivors and their children then compared the results with Jewish families who were not in Europe at the time of the War.
The results showed genetic changes including changes to the region of genes that directly affects the regulation of stress hormones, in not only those who lived through the Holocaust, but their offspring as well, and found epigenetic tags on the same part of the gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their children.
The results of Yehuda’s research have had a major impact on the scientific, psychological and even spiritual fields. “To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” said Yehuda.
The scientific results of this research further prove the importance and value we should be placing on our own healing. To heal, and continue healing ourselves, we are allowing healing for our children as well. And while not every parent suffers traumatic events, we all have a little something stored in our neurological and hormonal systems that could potentially have a negative effect if genetically passed on to our offspring.
Should We Wait To Have Children If We Are Not Fully Healed?
But we can’t be completely healed before giving birth, so are we supposed to wait forever to have children? Absolutely not! When I had children, I had already been in counseling for my past trauma and was well aware of how that might bring up fears after having children. Upon realizing just how much fear was still being internalized, I began working through what was coming up. And because I made my healing a priority, I was able to see clearly and distinguish my past and present fears, as well as own what was happening personally rather than placing those fears on my family. I was able to see properly and let those fears promote deeper healing rather than letting myself or my children become victim to them.
And this is one of the bonuses of having children! Our children are not just here to be taught; they come into this world as teachers. If we allow our children to be in a spiritual partnership, rather than a dictatorship, we are able to see what lessons they have for us. When a parent is aware of their triggers, it allows them to see when they are being triggered, how to take responsibility for what is happening internally and how to work through it.
Often we don’t see how our lives, experiences or traumas relate to others, but our children come to us because our soul has the experience their soul needs in this lifetime. Having negative experiences, and healing from them gives us the opportunity to assist their soul through difficult experiences or teach them how to avoid similar negative situations in a loving and peaceful manner rather than out of fear. Children are a constant reminder of how we can heal, and give us endless opportunities to make healing happen. By working on our own stuff, we allow room to give ourselves fully to our children’s needs. When we are living in a place of peace, harmony, and understanding, we give our children the guidance and support they require to thrive and flourish, which is all any good parent wants for their child.
To Your Parenting Journey!