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How to Be the Parent You Wish You Had

shutterstock_195655586Some people learned how to parent by experiencing good parenting.  Some have learned the opposite (what not to do) because of the family they grew up in.   But there are particular challenges for those who were abused or neglected, once they have their own children.

Here are some ideas of how to face those challenges and become the parent you wish you’d had.

1)  Be honest with yourself about your past.

When your past has been painful, you might spend a lot of energy trying not to think about it.  This type of repression can be very draining, and it diminishes the resources you need to be a parent yourself.

Recognizing what you’ve been through and how it’s impacted you is a crucial first step to improving yourself, and your parenting.  You might want to enlist a therapist to do this, if you find it too frightening to go it alone.

2)  Notice if you’re overcompensating/overcorrecting in any areas.

Since you’ve chosen to read this blog post, you obviously care a great deal about your parenting.  And that means you’re probably already doing things on your own to be the best parent you can.

But sometimes when we want so much to be good at something, we overcorrect.  If your parent was very tough on you, you might be too lenient with your own children.  If you were neglected, you might make your life fully revolve around your children, to their detriment and to yours (they can become self-involved, while you’re neglecting your other relationships and your self-care.)

3)  Get other people’s opinions.

Think of that expression: Fish can’t see the water they’re swimming in.  So you might be too immersed in your parenting to be able to reflect on it productively.  So it’s helpful to ask people you love and trust what they notice about your parenting.

It’s very rare for people to be given the opportunity to comment on other people’s parenting.  Generally, we keep that to ourselves.  But because people don’t tend to ask or offer, we never really know what our blind spots are.  That’s unfortunate.

Hopefully, your partner and/or friends will be tactful in responding to this, because it’s never easy to hear any criticism of an endeavor that’s so close to your heart.  But any self-improvement starts with self-assessment.  How else will you know what to change?

You might be surprised by what you hear.  You might be hurt by it.  But recognize that it’s an act of love for people to be honest with you, to tell you what you aren’t comfortable hearing, in order to make your life (and your children’s lives) better.

4)  Know that good parents are the ones who admit their flaws.

What if your own parents had done this type of searing self-inventory?  Your childhood would have been very different.

So give yourself credit for asking these questions, and being willing to change.  You might find that your children really respect it, too, once they’re old enough to understand.  Apologizing to your kids, for example, is one of the best things you can do.  It models responsibility and self-growth.  It shows that strength comes through admitting flaws, not covering them up or denying them.

What you don’t want to do is continue to let your childhood determine your future–either because you’re doing things your parents did, or because you’re trying too hard to be what they weren’t.  You don’t want to let your kids walk all over you; you don’t want them to grow up self-centered and/or manipulative; but most of all, you want them to see you as a person to be respected.  You want to feel like that person, too.

5)  Design a clear plan for change, and carry it out.

You might want to write it down so that you can refer to it if you lose your way.  Because change is hard.  What you’ve been doing for so long will feel natural, and change will feel unnatural.  But you need to be sure in your own mind why the changes are important.

Expect some push-back from your kids.   In general, people try to keep things familiar; they behave in ways that will restore the status quo.   So you’re likely to find yourself challenged.  That’s why resolve and support from your co-parent/loved ones/friends is crucial.

You might need to change the plan but give it a chance to work first.  Change is hard, but you and  your family are worth it.

Boy hugging mother image available from Shutterstock.

How to Be the Parent You Wish You Had

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). How to Be the Parent You Wish You Had. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Sep 2014
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