When raising children, parenting the way in which you were parented can feel instinctive. But what happens when you weren’t raised in a loving environment? So often, mothers who look like us are tasked with trying to raise emotionally healthy children after suffering physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment in their own childhoods. No one wants to perpetuate the cycle of unhealthy parenting, but it can be difficult to escape these hurtful behaviors when they’re the only examples of parenting you’ve ever known. According to Sara Elysée, psychotherapist and owner of the Soundmind Wellness Center in Florida, when it comes to breaking cycles, step one is being honest with yourself.
“You can hear other people say what you’re doing is wrong but if you don’t accept it for yourself, there’s not going to be any change,” Elysée told MadameNoire.
Coming to terms with the fact that you’ve been adhering to toxic parenting practices can be hard, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad parent. Sometimes, we only know what we witnessed growing up. For example, through their upbringing, some were taught to hold grudges against their children or withhold affection when they mess up.
“Sometimes, we do things to hurt other people out of ignorance,” said Elysée. What’s important, however, is that you acknowledge your issues and take steps to correct poor behavior.
“You have to recognize the issues that you do have. Don’t try to bury those issues when those come up,” the licensed mental health counselor advised. “When you don’t deal with them, they’re going to manifest in different ways in your life.”
Mothers who were abandoned by or did not have proper relationships with their own mothers may struggle to build healthy attachments. A prime example is JaKeita “Sky” Days from VH1’s “Black Ink Crew.” Viewers looked on in horror as the reality star told her 19-year-old son Des, whom she gave up for adoption, that nobody wanted him. Some jumped to Sky’s defense, reasoning that she never had a loving relationship with her own parents and thus was not able to give her son what she never received. Of course, there are mothers who were abandoned in childhood and are able to go to build healthy bonds with their own children but in order to do so, they must first acknowledge their own history and how it has affected them.
“It can be extremely hard to parent when you didn’t have a nurturing relationship with your own parents. Attachment plays a huge role. That’s the emotional bond that connects the child to the parent,” Elysée explained. “So it’s important for us to recognize our own attachment patterns and what has affected them.”
She went on: “If you were not securely attached as a child and you don’t deal with those issues, you won’t be able to provide for your child’s needs.”
It can be difficult to grapple with the trauma of your past while rectifying the present and future alone, which is why it’s ideal to seek outside help.
“Therapy can help,” said Elysée. “You can’t change the past but you can work on how it makes you feel now.”
We’d be remiss to have this conversation and not recognize the disparities that exist in this country in regard to Black women and access to quality mental healthcare professionals.
“Getting help doesn’t always look like seeing a therapist,” Elysée continued. “Read books. Do research. Ask your friends for help. Sometimes we forget we have resources right next to us. Talk to other mothers. You’d be surprised how many other parents are going through the same thing. You can learn from each other.”
Change is difficult and, unfortunately, some unhealthy practices can feel innate, but it does not mean that we have to accept defeat. Further, it’s important to remember that just because some practices are embedded in our culture, does not mean that they have to take place within our homes.
“As a mother, I chose not to spank,” said Elysée, “But my culture, growing up, they spanked. What I had to tell myself was that I can change this narrative. You can change the narrative of your life. Whatever you learned from your parents, the good stuff, you can keep that. The things that were toxic, toss them away. Even if it’s ingrained in your culture, understand that you don’t have to.”
And while we’re on the subject of culture, it’s also necessary to point out that not all problematic parenting practices are overt. Sometimes, they’re subtle, which is why it’s crucial to listen to be in tune with yourself and avoid doing things just because “that’s how big mama and them used to do. Listen to yourself. If you feel like, in your gut, something is saying ‘This is not right,’ don’t do it. Ask yourself the question,’ Why am I doing this? What am I teaching my child by doing this? Is it going to help?”
Finally, Elysée said be cognizant of the temptation to discipline from a place of fear. Respect from children to adults is a big deal in the Black community and some believe they need to go to emotionally damaging lengths to get it. Don’t allow people to use scare tactics to convince you to resort to parenting practices that you are not comfortable with.
“There are different techniques that you can use to teach your child discipline. And if you don’t know them, again, get the help.”