When my husband and I decided to have children, we had many open conversations about our childhoods and how we would want to raise our children. Coming from a family with a lot of intergenerational trauma, I was nervous about what habits I might pass down to our kids. My husband had his own fears to cope with as well. Ultimately, we both loved our parents but knew that we would choose a different parenting style from how we were raised. But there were also so many moments from childhood we knew we would want to incorporate as well.
We both remember moments from our upbringings we wanted our kids to feel too, like the success of mastering a skill our parents taught us or having the support of a sibling. Learning from the good and the bad enabled us to pick and choose certain lessons that would aid our kids best as they grow. Here are six of our favorite parenting lessons we learned from our childhoods.
1. Show and tell your children they are loved—often
As a child of immigrants, I was brought up in a family who wasn’t very free with the words “I love you.” But while my parents may have seldom told me I was loved, I’ve always been very appreciative of how they showed they cared. My mother, in particular, would wake up in the morning and make me breakfast and lunch for school, my father would always keep our house in the best condition, and they both would take us on long car rides so we could spend time together.
But when my husband and I became parents, we knew that we wanted to incorporate more of his family’s very affectionate style. This meant that we would hug, kiss, and tell our children how important they were to us and that we loved them unconditionally.
2. Admit when you are wrong
Despite our best efforts in parenting, we will inevitably mess up now and again—it’s how we react and learn from those mistakes that matters. We can choose to be angry and defensive or we can remember what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that anger as children.
After many discussions, my husband and I knew we wanted to raise our children to know that it was OK to make a mistake and there were also valuable lessons in those moments. For our family, the best way to do this is to make sure that our kids can see my husband and I model this skill for them. We’re not afraid to admit when we do something wrong.
3. Pass down important skills
My father wasn’t the best at being affectionate, but he provided me with important skills to help in my day-to-day life. For example, he taught me how to drive, check my oil, and budget finances from a very young age.
My husband and I try our best to empower our children to learn life skills like cooking, managing money, putting laundry away, and other essential tasks so they feel empowered to be as self-sufficient as possible, and we know they can take care of themselves when they move out one day.
4. Talk about mental health (just as much as physical health)
Mental health is part of our day-to-day conversations with our children so we can teach them healthy coping mechanisms as well as normalizing this often taboo topic. My husband and I both have families who shield away from mental health care because of the stigma. We both vividly remember how difficult it was to seek help when we needed it.
Knowing our family’s history, our children have a higher predisposition of developing certain mental illnesses because we have them. It empowers us both to be open about our well-being so we can make sure our children have access to a vital part of health care as they grow up.
5. Know that family is everything
From a young age, my parents instilled the importance of family. From knowing where our ancestors came from to loving our siblings and caring for them, my mother and father wanted me to appreciate the people closest to me. My parents shared stories of their childhood and trials their parents faced and tried to nudge me and my brother to connect. While the latter part was a bit difficult in my family, my husband has so many beautiful memories of bonding with his sister thanks to his parents’ effort to encourage their relationship.
Now, I know that sometimes it can be difficult to maintain strong family bonds, particularly when boundaries need to be made, but I am so thankful that my parents instilled this in me. Family is important—it teaches us about our history and our culture, and it helps us develop into strong, appreciative adults.