Have you ever seen a problem child on the playground terrorizing other children and think to yourself “What is going on with this kid?”; only minutes later you meet the child’s parents and think to yourself “No wonder this kid acts this way, look at his parents”.
What about a time when you did something that made you think “Oh no, I’m turning into my mother!” The truth is that we are all subject to inheriting some of our parents’ traits and characteristics, and end up passing them down to our own children. No matter how hard we try to not turn out like our parents or pass down undesirable traits to our kids, it will happen anyway.
Let’s face it, our families have a HUGE influence on our lives and how we turn out as adults. Of course, life is about choices, but humans tend to gravitate towards what is familiar. You cook your meals the way your mom taught you to because it’s what you know, and you’re comfortable with doing it that way. You discipline your children with spankings because that’s the way your parents disciplined you and you turned out alright. You vote Democrat or Republican based on which party your parents voted for and so your children will probably vote the same way as you. Some of our traits and characteristics we want our children to have and others we don’t. How do we take more control over limiting the number of undesirable traits that we take from our parents or pass down to our children?
Here are some first steps that we can take to start breaking some of the undesirable generational cycles:
Determine what you define as the undesirable traits
You can’t change what you’re not aware of. Start to ask yourself questions like “Is yelling at my kids out of anger something that I’m okay with?” or “So I think that it is beneficial to be more involved in my kids’ school activities?” Noticing things that you can work on or change about yourself is the first step. The same goes for your own parents. If you notice something about your own parents that you don’t like, it is probably an undesirable trait that you don’t want to take from them. Try to pay more attention to some of the habits that you have and how similar those habits are to those of your own parents.
Communicate with your children
Ask them about what things you can work on to become a better parent to them. Yes, sometimes our kids will hit us with responses like “buy us more ice cream” or “let us watch TV till 10pm”, but it is still important to listen to them. They might actually provide some meaningful feedback. There is no such thing as a perfect parent so there is always room for feedback.
Get to know other families/familial practices
And not just the ones that you grew up with. Talk to some families that you might not normally talk to in order to get an entirely new perspective. There are many community agencies that provide parenting classes or parenting support groups and going to a parenting class does not reflect that you are a bad parent or that you lack parenting skills. It is simply a way to get different perspectives on how to raise children.
Get online and search your local Parents as Teachers Organization for classes and support groups near you. You can even start your own parent support group in your neighborhood or at your kids’ school.
Set up a family therapy session
Get a professional’s opinion about your current family practices and ideas about how to make positive changes. We don’t always know when we are perpetuating a maladaptive generational cycle and it can help to get an outside professional opinion about things that you are doing well and maybe some things that you can work on as a family. A therapist can also be a good resource for helping you to find parent support groups and/or classes.
We don’t notice harmful generational cycles until they have already been happening for several years; sometimes we don’t ever notice them at all. These cycles can result in problem behaviors in our children and we may not be able to understand why they have been having difficulties. Sometimes it comes out in multiple failed relationships and we can’t understand why the relationships don’t last. Occasionally, we do notice the cycles but don’t know how to escape them or do things differently. The steps above will help you to begin to take the first steps to breaking some of your family’s generational cycles. Be the first in your family to make a difference.
In my next article, I will take an even further in depth look at how generation cycles can affect your family and future generations for better or worse.