Help I'm a parent!

20 July 2017

“The single most important predictor of how you will behave as a parent is how you were parented as a child.”
– Harville Hendrix and Helen La Kelly Hunt

While we love our children, our children may not always experience us as loving. Even loving and well-meaning parents act, at times, in ways that children do not experience as loving such as when they are fighting, are stressed or going through a personal crisis to mention a few.

And as parents, we at times may experience our children in unloving ways too. Our children may seem distant, are being rebellious, in a mood or just plain uncommunicative.

But, our children are here to challenge us. They invite us to grow into parts of ourselves that were over- or under-developed in our childhood through our own experiences with our parents and generations before that. You see, we inherit a lot of our parenting skills from, yes you guessed it, our parents. Who in turn inherited their parenting skills from their parents who inherited their skills from their parents.

A quick way to test this is to ask yourself – has anyone ever told you that you sound or are behaving just like your mother/father? Or have you perhaps caught yourself in mid stride with the realisation that you are doing the exact same thing your mother/father did to you when you were a child?

Family is a child’s training ground for Life. Our formative years (0-7yrs) are the most crucial as we are highly susceptible and vulnerable to the influence of those around us, our primary caregivers, which is most instances are our parents. We model ourselves on their behaviours and how they interact with others and with us as children.

This then forms the foundation of our character traits, values and belief systems and becomes ingrained in us.

As we grow and evolve and experience life, these experiences together with our life stage experiences, shape who we become and is reflected in our adult perceptions, feelings and behaviours.

We are attracted to people that are indicative of the way they were parented and how we conduct our relationships. So yes there is some truth in that age old cliché’ that we marry someone like our mother or our father.

What we experienced and observed as children guides the way we treat one another, ourselves, others and eventually our own children.

The kinds of things we learn from our parents whilst growing up are:
  • How to resolve conflict 
  • How did your parents resolve their issues? In a constructive healthy manner or did it end up in a screaming match every time?
  • How to express emotions
  • How did your parents express emotion to each other and to you as a child? Were they warm and affectionate, or cold and distant?
  • How to demonstrate love
  • Both verbal and non verbally
  • How to talk to others (the language they used)
  • Was it positive and uplifting or negative and critical?

“You are the mirror within which your child sees his own worth.”
– Naomi Aldort (Raising Our Children, Raising Our Selves)

Parents provide the “wall” (i.e. boundaries) that children need to push against to grow and evolve as they discover their world and how to be in it through family norms such as bedtime, play, personal hygiene and social interactions.

Children feel safe when parents establish and maintain some predictable structure for family life and allow them to make choices between age-appropriate options. By giving children choices (e.g. would you like to watch TV for another 10 minutes and wake up 10mins earlier or go to bed now and sleep in an extra 10 minutes tomorrow?), we allow them to weigh up options, the outcome attached to each option and enable their decision making skills.

In a Study done by the National Association of Adolescent Health they found that: “Feeling loved, understood, wanted, acknowledged” was the best protection against “emotional distress, suicidal thoughts, and risky behaviours, including smoking, drinking, and drug use.” (7 Secrets to Raising a Happy Child, by Marguerite Lamb).

Parents fulfil their responsibility for guiding and socializing their children by attuning to their child’s:
  • age
  • stage of development
  • temperament
  • talents and abilities
  • referencing their social and cultural environment.

By developing conscious parenting skills, parents can understand that children need structure and that appropriate limits contribute to long-term happiness. If there is consistent, clear structure, this provides safety for growing children and that children who learn to cope with limits and setbacks become more resilient over time and can deal with life’s every day challenges.

Whereas parents who indulge children (e.g. material goods) to make up for their unavailability don’t benefit the child, instead it can actually harm them by enabling or substituting material rewards when what they really need and crave is emotional support and appropriate limits.

Paula Quinsee is a Life and Relationship Wellness Coach in Johannesburg. She teaches individuals, couples and organisations the importance of healthy relationships using emotional intelligence.
Attend one of her regular monthly workshops for great empowering tools. For more information go to

"A Message for My Child"
I gave you life, but I cannot live it for you.
I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.
I can give you directions, but I cannot be there to lead you.
I can allow you freedom, but I cannot make you believe.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot always decide for you.
I can buy you beautiful clothes, but i cannot make you beautiful inside.
I can offer you advice, but cannot accept it for you.
I can give you love, but I cannot force it upon you.
I can teach you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish.
I can teach you to respect, but I cannot force you to show honour.
I can advise you about friends, but cannot choose them for you.
I can tell you about drink, but cannot say NO for you.
I can warn you about drugs, but I cannot prevent you using them.
I can tell you about lofty goals, but I cannot achieve them for you.
I can teach you kindness, but I cannot force you to be gracious.
I can warn you about sins, but I cannot make your morals.
I can tell you how to live, but I cannot give you Eternal Life.
Author: Patrick Atkinson

Paula Quinsee is a Relationship Wellness Coach in Johannesburg. She teaches individuals and organisations the importance of quality relationships using emotional intelligence and Imago Therapy. Attend one of her regular monthly workshops for great empowering tools.

Guest written by Paula Quinsee from ATI2UD COMMUNICATIONS

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