How To Use Generational Trauma as an Unexpected Guide Toward Empowered Parenting

Unresolved childhood trauma often exists whether we realize it or not. Parent coach Destiny Bennett says we have the power to use our trauma as our guide toward being the best versions of ourselves for our children.

Image of a mother and her three sons sitting on the grass smiling and laughing
Photo: Destiny Bennett

In Kindred's column "Parenting on Purpose," parenting coach Destiny Bennett focuses on intentional parenting techniques, stories, and experiences for moms and dads (as well as grandparents, aunts, and uncles) wanting to grow as kinder and more mindful care takers.

When you become a parent for the first time there is unfortunately no official guide or rulebook on how to raise happy children. In fact, in the early years of parenting most of us are so caught up in the details of how to get the baby to latch and the best brand of diapers that we don't even take into consideration the difficult task of ensuring that we are raising trauma-free humans.

It isn't until our kids' behavior starts making us question our own sanity and capabilities that we realize how ill-prepared we actually are and how much we genuinely could benefit from having that non-existent guide.

One thing my children taught me about myself early on was that I definitely had some unresolved childhood trauma that was reflected in my own parenting. It's wild how interacting with little people will bring up parts of ourselves that we never knew were there. I never considered myself a candidate for trauma. From what I could remember, I had a great childhood. In my mind, you had to either be abused or abandoned to experience trauma. Because I didn't fall into either of those categories, I thought I didn't qualify. I later learned that everyone's trauma looks different, and it can be created by even the most well-intended parents. My personal trauma caused me to be impatient, easily frustrated, and lack proper communication skills with my children. I often found myself feeling guilty about how I responded to their behavior and again wishing I had that guide on how to be a better mother for them.

The good news is I did find a guide, and I found it in the place I least expected.

We usually look at our trauma and think of it in connection with all of the dark parts about ourselves and all the reasons why we're broken. However what I learned is that we as parents have the power to spin that narrative and use our trauma as our guide toward being the best versions of ourselves for our children. Yes you heard me right: You can use all of that negative trauma towards a more positive outcome. This is exactly what I did when I started pursuing a journey toward being a more kind, mindful, and intentional parent, and this is what that looked like for me.

Turn the Don'ts into Dos

There's one important gift our trauma gives us that we often take for granted. While we may not know exactly what we want our child's upbringing to look like, trauma gives us the power to know what we don't want it to look like. Most of us can trace back in our minds to significant moments in our childhood when we said to ourselves, "I will never do this to my kids." I can distinctly remember being a child and telling myself on several different occasions that I would never yell at my kids because I didn't like how it physically and mentally made me feel. Still, early in my childrens' lives I often found myself yelling at them out of pure frustration.

When I decided to turn my don'ts (the things I experienced that I don't want my child to experience) into dos (doing the opposite of that action) I was able to go back and collect all of those memories and moments and use them as mental instructions on how to keep my children feeling safe, happy and healthy by not repeating those actions that made me feel anxious and scared.

A Good Ol' Dose of Reparenting

Reparenting is a huge topic of conversation these days, and people all over the world have been using this technique as a way to heal their inner child. In simple terms, reparenting is a process of honing in on and healing our abandoned wounds in an effort to positively impact our mental health and the way we function in everyday life. When I was able to identify my trauma, I realized that I had the power to undo it.

Obviously I'm no longer a child, and I can't undo my childhood or the way my parents raised me, but I do have the power to redo the parts I want to change. I identified that I was never taught proper communication, but I also acknowledged that I wasn't obligated to live with that nor pass it on to my children. One of the amazing things we have that most of our parents didn't have is access to unlimited free information and resources to aid us in making better choices. I used this to my advantage! I took the things my parents never taught me, reparented myself and changed my own fate.

Where There's Trauma, There's Healing

One of the last but most comforting things for me about having trauma is knowing that where there is trauma there is healing. Recognizing that you have trauma as a parent is a scary thing and it often feels never ending. The constant triggers and failures can make any person feel like a burden on their entire family. However, the beautiful thing is that we all have the choice and ability to heal. An important saying that helped me through my moments of hopelessness is, "I have power over my trauma, it does not have power over me." If I have trauma that is making a negative impact over my life, then I also have permission to dismiss it. I found that by not giving it power, I was able to embrace my freedom to heal.

There's a quote by Oprah Winfrey that says, "Whatever you fear most has no power, it is your fear that has the power." I remember hearing this quote at a peak point in my transition and it really spoke to me. My trauma only had as much power over me as I allowed it, because the real power wasn't in the trauma, it was in the fear that I would never recover from it. The fear that I would never be good enough for my children. The fear that my husband would leave me because I was too damaged. These are the crippling thoughts that fueled my trauma and made it feel so overwhelmingly powerful.

I changed my narrative by not only pursuing a journey to heal from the trauma, but by talking about it too. For me and my own personal journey, this is where my deepest and most fulfilling form of empowerment came from. We are programmed from a young age to be light, happy, and positive. We are most often taught that our problems and emotions are not big enough or important enough to need to be discussed. However times have changed and we are now living in a generation that Embraces the freedom to be vocal about our past and our trauma as a means to connect and heal as a village.

When I started talking about my trauma, I realized how many other people needed to hear it in order to validate and begin healing from their own. I realized that despite what my trauma wanted me to feel, I was not alone in this world. While in an ideal world it probably would have been nice to not have experienced it to begin with, I can honestly say that my trauma guided me toward becoming the person I am today, and I think this person is pretty amazing.

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