Breaking Family Cycles and Building Bonds - Six reasons why people avoid exploring their family cycles (2/3)

May 25, 2024

Does the idea of exploring your family cycles make you go eeeeek? Well, I get it! Exploring the unknown can be super scary and a little more than unsettling. It can also make us feel really vulnerable. So, often, we just shut that stuff down, as who needs to know anyway. Generation after generation has done just fine, so why do we even need to do this?

Well, because YES, generationally, our families have got by, but with the ever-changing landscape of human development, technology, science and beyond, not to mention the mental health crisis that we are experiencing, with over 86 million prescriptions being administered for antidepressants in 2022/2023, we have to seriously start looking outside of the box, because what we have been doing for decades, as a society has not been effective. Sadly, we have spent so much time in pain, and our focus has been on the cure that there are few statutory funds even to consider focusing on how we can prevent the blight of poor mental health from developing.

However, if we start at the beginning and get brave, we have a greater chance of improving the mental health of future generations.

So let's get started.

Family cycles are a complex cocktail of genes, environment, values, beliefs, and behaviours passed down through the generations, from great-grandparents to grandparents to your parents to us. It’s hard to believe that we could possibly be parenting our children with a sprinkling of how our great-grandparents parented, but the reality is that it is true. Each generation passes down not only eye colour and hair colour but also beliefs, values and behaviour, and here we are, possibly 100 years later, repeating some of those parenting patterns.

Although we can't turn the clock back, we can take steps to heal today's generational patterns by creating emotionally healthier environments and reshaping our parenting beliefs and behaviours that are not simply a hangover from our parents and grandparents. 

It’s important to acknowledge that in the past, we had little information or consideration for children's emotional development, in the same way that we had little information about the dangers of smoking or eating unhealthily. So, like everything, how we parent our children also needs to move with the times. 

Before we go any further, I want to make one thing clear. This is not about criticising our parents or their parenting. Most parents want the best for their children and simply do what they genuinely believe is best for them. Some may also think that the only people who need to explore their family patterns are those who have come from ’ bad homes’. Family patterns are within all of us, and even if we come from good homes, inevitably, there will be things that didn't prepare us for the big wide world. We will likely not fully prepare our children, but we can raise them with awareness and with that, we have a choice.

Many of our parenting beliefs, values, and behaviours are steeped in our subconscious mind. So, we often repeat our family cycles without realising it. Understanding those subconscious patterns enables us to make the changes needed for our children's futures. Every tiny positive shift and change can make all the difference in our lives. 

When you think about ‘breaking family cycles’, which of these best describes you?

I had a ‘Normal’ Childhood.

This is a sentence I hear A LOT in my work. But what does that even mean? 

We identify our lived experience as ‘our normal’. Often, it's not until we are moving into adulthood that we start to compare our lives with others and are able to see that not everybody's childhood has been the same. However, most will describe their childhoods as ‘their normal’, and it is what it is, and may struggle to identify any challenges they may have had as a result. 

Normal is familiar; it is all we know. But do we want the same ‘normal’ for our children?

Getting curious about our family cycles enables us to create an intentional path for our children rather than repeating what was ‘our normal’.

Do you welcome the idea but have no real idea what family cycles even are?

Many people can identify that they don’t want to raise their children in the way they were raised. However, they may repeat some of their parents' traits and do things they swore they would never do with their children. 

This can be really disempowering for some. Yet because our parenting values, beliefs and behaviours have all been uploaded by our parents, and most of them live in our subconscious, it can be challenging to access them. Therefore, they find themselves repeating the cycle. This is not our fault as we often don’t know what we don’t know, but with some gentle exploration and awareness raising, we can all access these beliefs and attitudes, and as a result, we can shift and change them if we want to.

Do you believe that you are parenting very differently and have broken the cycle?

Some can identify that they don’t want to be the parents that their parents were, and they often can see key areas that they want to change. For example, they were smacked, so they NEVER smack their child; however, they may shout at their child or inadvertently restrict their child in another way (usually not physically but maybe emotionally or psychologically). So, although they have removed the behaviour they didn’t like, it can often be replaced by an alternative behaviour. 

Another example may be that they felt super controlled by their parents, and they don't want their child to feel such restriction; therefore, few boundaries are introduced. This can result in feeling like the child has more overall control over the family dynamics. This, too, can be problematic because to feel safe, children need boundaries and structure but provided in a way that isn’t controlling. It's a fine balance when raising children. It can be really tough walking that line; however, it is really important to remember that although historically, parenting has often been a battle of power and control between parent and child, we know that controlling our children simply doesn’t work and doesn't provide them with the solid foundations they need to thrive. However, collaborating with them and supporting them does.

Another example is that maybe as a child, they rarely had sweets, so with their child, they implement few restrictions around sweets so that their child doesn’t feel the way they felt. 

It is not uncommon for parents to attempt to do the opposite of what their parents did. Although these changes are intended to provide their children with a brighter future, parents often find themselves questioning whether the opposite extreme is the right decision.

Do you struggle with questioning your parent’s actions in childhood, even if you can identify you were unhappy?

As parents, our spoken word and behaviour create a blueprint for how our children see themselves in childhood and adulthood. For example, if a child is consistently told that they are naughty, difficult, or bad in any way, the adult child will often define themselves in the same way and empathise with their parent. Therefore, they see no fault in how they were parented, as this was deserved. 

No child is born bad, naughty or difficult. Any parent who describes their child in any way that is detrimental is simply a projection of the challenges that they are facing. Parenting can be tough, and although there is no excuse for squashing a child's self-esteem, it is really important to recognise that when human beings feel out of control, they may try to take control of the situation, and parents are no different. 

Sadly, this can have a detrimental effect on their child's emotional development, but this is often not with the intent to harm a child; it is simply a lack of awareness of the consequences of their words and behaviour.

You have had a happy childhood.

Suppose somebody has seemingly had a happy childhood. In that case, they are very unlikely to identify that they need to explore the concept of breaking family cycles, as the narrative will likely be, “Well, I am fine, so if I repeat the same sort of parenting, my children will be fine’. In some cases, this may be true, but as parents, we still need to evaluate whether that form of parenting is fit for today's generation. 

An example of this may be that they felt safe and ‘wrapped in cotton wool’. EVERY child needs to feel safe. However, our role as parents is to prepare our children for this big, wide world, so it is essential to find a balance between preparing them and keeping them safe.

An example of where ‘wrapping them in cotton wool’ may be detrimental is that many people describe themselves as ‘shy’. Often, they may also have a ‘shy’ parent. As a result, the parent may have spoken for the child or gone out of their way to ensure they didn’t feel uncomfortable in any situation, maybe because the parent can identify the challenges that they are facing and how they feel. If this is the case, then often, by adulthood, they may not be equipped to navigate relationships or feel that they have a voice because they wait for others to speak for them and often go with the flow. This can play a part in developing a person’s self-esteem and confidence; if we don’t feel our voice is important or valid, we can often become a passenger rather than the driver in our own lives.

Again, this can often come from a loving place; however, in this ever-changing world, our children need us to really explore those patterns so that we can equip them for the future.

Do you have a deep loyalty and bond with your parent?

Regardless of whether somebody has had a good or bad childhood, adult children can often feel very wedded to their parents and wouldn’t question them internally or externally in any way. 

Statements such as ‘you must respect your elders’ play a huge part here because regardless of how an elder has behaved, they are RIGHT.

This can be really problematic, as there can be a huge internal conflict. It can prevent people from developing themselves personally and emotionally because they do not want to be seemingly disloyal to the people they love and admire. This can prevent them from allowing themselves to live their best lives because they find themselves locked into patterns that may not be serving them.

At this point, I really want to say that, remember, as human beings, we are all fallible, and we all get things wrong, and our parents, too, will have made mistakes. 

Identifying the challenges they may have faced is not being disloyal, and it doesn’t mean you cannot love them. It simply means that they are human, and as humans, we have the capacity to accept that we may not like what somebody has done, but we may always love them. 

This is a great message to remember as a parent because our children will not always please us with their behaviour, but it’s rarely in question that we love them.

As we can see, whatever our childhood, we all need to do a little exploration if we want to truly understand our parenting programming, which has subtly journeyed through the generations.