And, moreover, this grief and mourning can be triggered again and again, long after we think we’ve done the bulk of our grieving.
Specific to the abstract grief of our painful, adverse, and lost childhoods, I’ve written before about what small moments and experiences can unexpectedly trigger us, but in today’s essay, I want to explore what, perhaps, the biggest trigger of grief about our own lost childhoods can be: becoming parents ourselves.
Why is becoming a parent triggering my own sadness about my childhood?
“Why is having my own child making me feel so much more rage and anger towards my parents? I thought I was done feeling angry but now I can’t even answer their Facetimes because I feel so much anger. What’s wrong with me?”
If you’ve felt surprised by the resurgence of your sadness and anger towards your own caregivers after becoming a parent yourself, there’s a very good reason for this.
Most people who become parents experience a sense of unconditional love, devotion, and fierce protectiveness towards their child – feelings that, hitherto in life, nothing has ever rivaled.
Becoming a parent is a profound experience.
To love someone so much and to feel the gravitational orbit of your psyche and life shift from wrapping around you, to wrapping around them, it’s literally life-changing.
Becoming a parent is the biggest and richest human experience many of us will ever have.
And for many new parents, the love and devotion that they feel for their own child can kindle within them a greater appreciation for their own parents and how well they were loved.
But for those of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds, this experience of loving someone else so wholeheartedly can sometimes trigger different feelings for the people who raised us: renewed anger and grief.
Because our love and devotion and self-sacrifice for our child can more sharply contrast what we ourselves didn’t receive.
When you feel such profound respect, care, and concern for your child and attempt to do everything – literally everything – in your power to make them feel loved, safe, accepted, respected, and well-cared for, this can evoke explicit and implicit memories about how you yourself didn’t have these very things you’re working so hard to provide for your child.
And as these memories are evoked, as this contrast is highlighted, thoughts and questions may bubble up:
“How on earth could they have possibly done that? I would NEVER let my child experience that.”
“I don’t remember her ever cuddling with me the way I cuddle him – that’s so sad.”
“In a hundred years I would never leave my daughter alone with a strange man in a room. Where were they? How did they let that happen?”
“If this is what love is, did they even love me?”
Experiencing love, devotion, and fierce protectiveness for our own children can painfully, acutely highlight the difference between what we experienced and what we hope to give to our children.
That contrast, that deficit, those questions and thoughts, all of it can trigger renewed sadness, anger, and anguish about our own dysfunctional, neglectful, or outright abusive pasts.
Grief that we honestly thought we were done feeling.
(I know this renewed grief well myself.)
But being triggered, having this resurgence of grief, of anger and sadness, doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
In fact, I think it can be a very good thing.
Being triggered isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Being triggered after becoming a parent, having a resurgence of grief, of anger and sadness about your own childhood, may be uncomfortable, but it’s actually very important for your own healing.
Because experiencing a re-trigger and resurgence of grief and anger invites you to go a layer deeper in your healing process.
Back to the top of the essay, grief isn’t linear and it’s not one-dimensional.
At different points in our healing journey, we access grief in ways and layers that we have access to and that we’re equipped to confront at that time.
Becoming a parent and feeling a resurgence of your grief and anger is you at a different stage in your healing journey, being invited to dive a layer deeper into your grief again so that you can feel all your feelings, metabolize them in your mind and body, and heal even more from your painful past.
It’s a therapy cliché: we cannot heal what we cannot feel.
And so when renewed grief is evoked – as it so strongly is when we become parents ourselves – this is your portal, your doorway into feeling more and thus healing more.
When you can support yourself to allow these feelings and appropriately express them, you can free up more somatic, mental, and emotional energy for yourself, allowing you to, perhaps, feel better in your body and mind, see reality more plainly, and make any choices and decisions you need and want to make to protect you and your own child now.
Feeling and experiencing a strong resurgence of grief – of anger and sadness – after becoming a parent is, of course, uncomfortable and painful.
And I have to mention that you’re probably feeling this emotional pain about your past in tandem with the physical pain so many of us new parents experience – pain that comes from sleep deprivation, vaginal birth and c-section recovery, breastfeeding, pumping, and other biological deprivations and strains.
The emotional pain on top of the physical pain of new parenthood can be a lot to handle.
The physical pain parts of new parenthood are fairly inevitable, and they will pass.
But I honestly genuinely wish that you – like myself and so many others – didn’t have grief about lost childhoods on top of that unavoidable new parent pain.
If I had one wish from a genie I would wish that every child on the planet had the experience of a safe, stable, loving, and emotionally nurturing childhood.
But the reality is that many of us didn’t get that kind of childhood experience.
And now we have to grieve that now and for as long as it takes.
Doing this – actively grieving our past – will better equip us to give ourselves the best adulthood possible (despite our adverse early beginnings).
Moreover, this will better equip us to show up for our own children with more regulated nervous systems and more capacity to act from a place of choice versus emotional reactivity as we parent them.
One of the things I’m most passionate about in the world is supporting those who come from relational trauma backgrounds to heal from their adverse beginnings so that you can have a beautiful adulthood, yes, but also so that the next generation of children after us doesn’t have to experience what we ourselves went through.
So if you live in California and you’d like my support in your own healing process, please reach out to me here.
And if you live outside of California, please explore enrolling in Hard Families, Good Boundaries – my signature group coaching program designed to help those who come from relational trauma backgrounds finally get the trauma-informed, comprehensive support they need and want to live a beautiful adulthood, despite adverse early beginnings.
And now, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
Did you relate to today’s essay? Did your sadness and anger about your own childhood get triggered/re-triggered when you became a parent? What helped you cope with those big feelings?
Please, if you feel so inclined, leave a message in the comments below so our monthly blog readership of 20,000 plus people can benefit from your wisdom and experience.
And please, remember this:
If you came from a relational trauma background and didn’t have a good childhood yourself but are doing everything in your power to give your own child a childhood they won’t need to recover from, you’re a hero in my eyes.
So until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.