Now that we’ve gone through your childhood story, and highlighted the 5 basic emotional needs of each human being (acceptance, appreciation, attention, affection, autonomy, and connection), we have also discovered some of the areas where your parents, for one reason or another, weren’t able to meet those needs.
The next step is to understand how those experiences in your childhood then developed into limiting beliefs that impact your relationships today.
What do I mean when I say the experiences we had in childhood between ourselves and our parents created limiting beliefs?
Let’s start by defining what a limiting belief is…
A LIMITING BELIEF is a reoccurring thought we consciously (or unconsciously) tell ourselves (often we can even feel it in our body) which is the result of an encounter we had that made an emotional impression on us. While this belief is untrue, it holds us back from our full potential. A limiting belief can be triggered by the words and actions of another (those we love most…like our kids and partner, do this best) and are reflected in the struggles within our intimate relationships, career, financial situation, basically any area of our lives.
Limiting beliefs are largely developed during childhood within the parent/child (or teacher/child) relationship. Since we are born completely dependent on our parents with an inborn, natural desire to please them, we have child-like trust and faith that what our moms and dads say and do (their responses to us) is “right.” Therefore, their words and actions (or the lack of either) are quite powerful and contribute significantly to writing the story of who we believe we are and how we operate in the world.
However, at some point (sometimes as early as pre-adolescence) we begin to understand our parents are not perfect, they sometimes make unwise or unhealthy choices, and they make mistakes; though they may not verbally admit these to us. But much of who we believe we are is established before we recognize our parents are human beings with flaws just like us.
Taking the step toward understanding, embracing, and reconciling that our parents did the best they could with what they knew while raising us is a powerful move to shifting the relationship you have with your child today. Your parent’s words and actions when you were growing up were largely based on their own childhood experience, residual emotional baggage, and the circumstances they were living in during that time of their lives. The same way you are learning right now about how your own background has an impact on your current parenting ability and experience.
This is not an excuse or a justification for anything you may have gone through as a child, especially if you were subject to physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. It is not to say you weren’t a victim of those circumstances, but it is to let you know that the bigger picture of shifting the parent/child relationship you are involved in today will be greatly improved when you can find space in your heart to forgive the challenges you faced while growing up that was a result of less-than-ideal parenting.
The challenges you faced have the ability to develop your character and level of resilience.
When contemplating forgiveness of your parents, know there are power and freedom in giving grace to others and to yourself.
What actually happened during your childhood matters less than your ability to understand the perception and feelings that have been left behind in your heart and memory.
“The way we feel about the past, our understanding of why people behaved as they did, the impact of those events on our development into adulthood – these are all the stuff of our life stories. The answers people give to these fundamental questions also reveal how this internal narrative – the story they tell themselves – may be limiting them in the present and maybe also be causing them to pass down to their children the same painful legacy that marred their own early days…
In other words, when it comes to how our children will be attached to us, having difficult experiences early in life is less important than whether we’ve found a way to make sense of how those experiences have affected us. Making sense is a source of strength and resilience.” ~Dr. Dan Siegel, an excerpt from Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, 2010, New York, NY: Bantam Books
A lot of emotional patterning and limiting beliefs are leftover from your past and locked in your brain. So noticing your emotional triggers (the moments when you physically/emotionally feel a negative change in your thoughts and response) is important. It’s in these moments you will get to and then be able to clear a limiting belief.
Let me share an example of an instance that you will likely be able to relate to…
Kate* is a friend of mine whose daughter Julie* is the same age as my son. She and I were talking outside of school one Tuesday morning when Kate happened to mention she was frustrated with her daughter because Julie had a big project due in science class on Thursday that she hadn’t even begun to work on it yet. Julie had extracurricular commitments both evenings leading up to Thursday’s project deadline. I asked Kate to describe more about what she was feeling and she said, “Frustrated and angry because I know Julie isn’t going to hand in the kind of quality paper I know she’s capable of, she’s procrastinated too long.”
Then I asked Kate what she might be feeling underneath the frustration. After a few quiet moments, she responded, “Disappointed. In both Julie and myself.” I asked her to describe the feeling to me. Kate said, “I am disappointed in Julie because at this point in her schooling she should know better than to procrastinate on such a big project. And I am disappointed in myself for not being a better mom and catching it sooner.”
Hmmm…interesting (I thought). So I asked, “Kate, do you believe your value as a mom is connected to how well Julie does on this project, or how she is doing in school in general?” Kate only had to think a second before she said, “Yes, I guess in a weird way, now that you say it, I do. How Julie behaves, in school or out, is a reflection of my parenting ability.”
Fearing judgment by others (family, friends, neighbors) about our parenting can influence the relationship with are developing with our teen who, during their adolescent years, need us to be stepping back a bit and allowing them to take increasing responsibility when it comes to their school work and social life.
Then Kate said something interesting, “My mom didn’t care at all about how I did in school, it always irritated me that she never seemed to care when I would show her a good test grade and she never took the time to comment on my report card; it was like she had no interest at all in what I could accomplish. That’s why I am so adamant Julie understands I’m on her side and want to see her do her best! And when she gives herself little or no time to do that, it means what I want for her isn’t happening.”
The keywords here: what I want for her
So the experience Kate had as a child (her mom’s not meeting Kate’s desire to be seen or heard about her school work) is now influencing the experience she is having with Julie. The limiting belief that is hampering this relationship is the quality of my parenting is contingent on how well my daughter performs.
Julie is not Kate, right? Who knows why, or under what circumstances, Kate’s mom was influenced by when she didn’t make her daughter’s school performance front and center. Maybe she thought Kate’s academic performance wasn’t that important to who she was overall, or maybe she was too busy in her own career to care, or maybe she just assumed Kate knew she was expected to get good grades and so Kate did that. Whatever the reason, is it true that who Kate is as a mom to Julie today should be based on how well Julie does on this science project, or in school in general?
Does that make sense?
Of course not.
There is a lot going on beneath the surface between ourselves and our kids. As Dr. Shefali Tsabary says in her best-selling book The Conscious Parent, “Our children are our greatest teachers.” because they reflect for us daily where we need to grow. Our children have the ability to trigger our anxiety, question our ability, and because we so want “what’s best for them” and to know that they “are happy” we often want to fix things for them, or because we get uncomfortable with their big feelings (like anxiety, depression, or temper tantrums) we tend to tamper/squash those feelings in them just so we don’t have to deal with our own discomfort.
We’ll do anything to make sure our kids experience life at least as happy, if not more so than we did. We sometimes intervene in uncomfortable situations (disagreements between their peers, coaches who don’t play all kids equally, teachers that won’t give a re-do on an exam, moms who don’t invite your child to the party) in order to protect or spare our kids from challenges. But, it’s precisely in these life challenges they too will grow into resilient, capable, independent, productive adults. Our job is to hold space for their emotions and support them through the process!
What we need to do is become aware of, define, confront, process through, and create new beliefs about ourselves in order to help us better raise our children. Better meaning we acknowledge our own feelings and help our sons and daughters identify and take ownership of theirs. New beliefs that honor ourselves and our children.
So let’s begin to look at the limiting beliefs that are affecting your parenting, and quite possibly other areas of your life as well. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and yes, we want a quick 3-step-process answer to better connect with our sons and daughters, but the change can’t take place without some acknowledgment and discomfort on your part.
THIS Mom is where you grow!
YOU GOT THIS. I’m right here with you cheering you along!