If you’re like most people, you tend to think of childhood as an innocent time full of sunshine and happiness. However, your personal story might be very different. Instead of reflecting this perfect image, your childhood memories might be marked by abuse, anger, and neglect. Unfortunately, this traumatic experience — and associated pain — can manifest itself in the way you co-parent your kids.
Heal Your Personal Traumas
For example, if you grew up in a high-stress or abusive environment, you’ll be more likely to become agitated with your own children. While you may not go so far as to physically harm them, verbal insults will still affect your kids and perpetuate a vicious cycle of trauma and abuse. That is until you heal your personal traumas and move on. Only then can you hope to become a better co-parent, create a better life for your kids and experience some — if not all — of the following.
Emotional and Behavioral Health
Childhood trauma is a major risk factor for later physical and mental health problems in adulthood. So, if you’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD or a similar condition, your upbringing might have played a part in its development. Of course, these mental and behavioral health issues can negatively impact your co-parenting style and even cause your children to develop the same kinds of problems.
For instance, one study found that children of parents who experienced four or more childhood traumas were at double the risk of having ADHD and four times more likely to have mental health problems. A mother’s childhood trauma had an even stronger effect. These findings held true even when controlling for factors like family poverty and education level.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you work through your own trauma and mental health issues before trying to improve your parenting skills. Otherwise, your kids may develop the same problems and pass them down to the next generation.
Freedom from Addiction
Many people who endured childhood trauma also develop addictions and substance abuse issues. Whether certain triggers caused them to relapse or they gradually developed a habit of misuse, they now find themselves completely enveloped in their addiction with no plans to stop. Doing the work necessary work to heal your inner child is key to beating this addiction to become a better co-parent and healthier version of yourself.
Set a better example for your children by attending therapy and kicking addiction to the curb. Your counselor will work with you to understand old coping mechanisms and ingrained thought patterns, some of which you might not even be aware of. Then, you’ll focus on deconstructing those conditioned behaviors and responses to quiet your inner dialogue and unlock your true, original self.
In doing so, you’ll be able to live a sober life where you have the time, energy, and fortitude to maintain a schedule, be involved in your kids’ lives and make visitations.
Empathy and Patience
Childhood trauma may increase the risk of depression and co-occurring conditions like substance abuse. However, there’s also evidence that adversity can increase compassion and prosocial behavior in adults. In other words, because you had a difficult upbringing, you’re likely to be more empathetic when your kids experience distress or discomfort.
Healing from this trauma will also allow you to respond with sensitivity and patience. After all, deconstructing and loving your inner child back to health is a long, arduous process. Untangling all of those emotions and storylines takes time, and the same goes for your kids.
They’ll experience sadness, anger, and heartbreak, regardless of how good a co-parent you are. When they do, you’ll be there to validate their feelings, allow them space to heal, and patiently love them through it.
Selflessness and Strength
Providing a better life for your kids takes a certain kind of bravery, one of the most selfless variety. By healing your childhood trauma and ending the cycle, you choose to give your kids a better life than you had.
Of course, you want them to appreciate this gift, this right that should have been yours when you were young. Yet, they likely never will and they’ll never truly understand your world, either. Your experience will be completely foreign to them because you will have succeeded in giving them a happy, healthy childhood.
In this sense, parenting after trauma can be incredibly painful, especially as you watch your kids take everything for granted. At the same time, you’ll wonder if they’ll grow up without the strengths you gained from adversity. In these moments, you’ll have to remain strong and stay true to yourself, the version of you that’s untainted by trauma. Healing will help you hold these two vastly different worlds and respond from a place of peace and wholeness.
Healing for Your Kids
When you do decide to heal your personal traumas, do it for yourself. Do it because you deserve to be happy and whole. Then, allow your kids to motivate you. Let the prospect of giving them the childhood you never had inspire you to do the work and heal fully.
As you make progress, you’ll notice co-parenting become easier. Maybe you’ll find the strength to work with your ex without arguing. Or maybe you’ll start keeping appointments to see the kids. This way, you’re there for them when it matters most.