Monkey See, Monkey Do: understand your own childhood to better parent your children

My mother once casually mentioned to me that if she had had more money, she would have enrolled us in more extra-curricular classes when my sisters and I were young.

What the what?!

That statement completely upended my unconscious thinking that we were raised frugally in part due to some moral imperative — a principle that had inspired my approach to raising my own children. I had to reexamine what I wanted for my family and apologize to my older children!

Our own experiences being parented lay the foundation to how we parent so they are well worth examining.

1. You can change the way you parent. You can explore your attachment history through talking and writing about your childhood. Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Seigel and Mary Hartzell has many good suggestions for questions. For example: Think of 3 words that describe your relationship with your child. Same or different as the relationship with your own parent?

Dan Hughes suggests reflecting on these things in your own parenting: rage/despair; hopes/dreams; doubts; grief and; shame. And asking yourself the following about your relationships with your own parents: +/- in relationships with each parent; losses/changes; discipline/anger; sadness, crying & comfort; conflicts — too many, too few; repair (how were conflicts resolved); other caregiving relationships and; openness/secrets. Read his work or see a therapist if you would like to understand this paragraph more fully.

You can take this online questionnaire to find out more about your attachment style: by Chris Fraley, Ph.D. If you don’t have a secure attachment style, do some work and take it again! It is possible to become a securely attached adult even if you were an insecurely attached child.

2. You don’t need to be securely attached to both of your parents — you just need to have had one childhood relationship where you felt secure, understood and accepted to use as a model in your own parenting. Or work on creating this model for yourself — therapy can help.

3. Research shows that the most effective parenting is kind and authoritative.

4. Kids need us to be tuned into what they are feeling — not reactive to our own feelings. As Dan Siegel writes, “We often try to control our children’s feelings and behavior when actually it is our own internal experience that is triggering our upset feelings about their behavior.” Picture yourself yelling, talking on and on, isolating yourself, etc. and ask what feelings are you running away from? Are these about your child or yourself?

5. It isn’t always about you! Some children are more difficult to parent than others. If your child has attachment issues because of an early history of abuse or neglect, you might need help to develop a model that works after doing the work above. If you live in NYS, you can go to to find an experienced therapist, a support group and/or an annual conference that will help.

PS I recently asked my own mother about her attachment to her parents and why she choose to parent my sisters and I the way that she did. Very interesting! You might try it.

PPS Here is a great piece by a woman parented by a “mother-less” mother.

To receive future posts, subscribe via email here.

Like what you read? Give Sarah Gerstenzang a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.