How can I be a better parent than my own parents were?

If you want to change the pattern in your family of origin, the fact that you are conscious and aware of the issue tells me you are already most of the way there. It’s hard (but critically important) to be aware of the psychological baggage we bring to our parenting. If we’re not aware, we’re likely to do one of two things: Repeat the same negative patterns as the generations before us, or overreact in the opposite direction in an attempt to “correct” the wrongs of our parents. So if you were neglected as a baby, you might find yourself either automatically leaving the baby alone too much…or being a “helicopter parent”; hovering every second, not allowing the baby any room to be alone. Conscious awareness of our ingrained tendencies makes it possible to move past them.

Once you’re aware of your tendencies, you can react less to your own inner demons, and respond more to the unique baby in front of you. What does she seem to need, today? What are the patterns you notice in her temperament? When is she most responsive to interaction and “play”? When is she content to be left on her own for a bit while you get something done around the house? There is no magical formula that tells us how many minutes per hour or day that will be optimal for her development. She will “tell” you, through her behavior. Babies are all different. You’re best off trying to “read” yours from moment to moment.

Instead of looking at being a "better" parent than your own parents were, how about viewing it from the perspective of being a "different" parent. For those who grew up with a positive parenting and family history, duplicating a similar parenting experience for their children is common. However, when a past family history was filled with angst and despair, we try to make a pact with ourselves, to do it "better" than how we were brought up. But doing it better always leads to comparisons and stress. By choosing to parent in a different way, you free yourself of the pressure of competing with a memory of "bad" parenting and allow yourself to learn new parenting strategies that are far more satisfying.

Your question leads me to think that you are ready and willing to be a different parent than the ones that brought you up, so congratulations on taking the first step of awareness! We can only be responsible for changing things in our lives that we are conscious or aware of. One of the ways to be a different parent than yours is not to recycle your own beliefs and attitudes that caused you difficulty in the past and then end up "transferring" them onto your children. For example, if you were someone who has perfectionistic tendencies, without awareness, you might end up expecting your child to be and act perfect.

As a parent, by being aware of old painful behavior, beliefs, and attitudes, one can make a conscious effort not to transfer them or have them influence our children. What a tremendous gift we give our children by doing this. Why should they have to replicate our past experiences, disillusionments, and attitudes because of ill-suited beliefs? Look at parenthood as an excellent opportunity to try to change those old patterns. Trust me, you'll end up being a different parent than you had and get a lot more enjoyment out of being a parent!

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