How to Not Be Like Your Parents (12 Lessons)

So much can be said for not wanting to be like your parents.

However, we could probably agree that they must have done—or been—something bad to warrant such a feeling.

At the bottom of it all, they must have been terrible, abusive, dysfunctional, toxic…or however you’d want to call it. Whether that’s a subtle or in-your-face kind of conundrum, you have established such truth—that you have horrible parents capable of incapacitating those around them to thrive in the future.

This post is for you especially if you’re already a parent, but this can also apply whether you’re not, or are still planning to have a child.

There’s just one thing that I hope is clear before you go further: you have a strong desire to veer off from the path you’ve seen your parents are taking. There must be something wrong.

A child doesn’t just one day, out of the blue, decide to become a person different from his parents. Years or even decades of unfortunate experiences—and then enlightenment—must back that decision up.

how to not be like your parents

How to Not Be Like Your Parents

1. Acknowledge and come to terms with the pain you experienced in your childhood.

This may be hard, but the sooner you can do this, the better. Anger, which can be a symptom of pain, can bring about denial:

  • Denial about your tough childhood
  • Denial about the shame inculcated in you
  • Denial about your need for help because the pain is interfering with your daily adult life

Acknowledging the reality of your painful past can pave the way to healing. With healing you can find the self you once lost due to your chaotic upbringing.

Related: I Don’t Want to Be Around My Family Anymore

2. Strive for self-awareness.

You have developed unpleasant and probably harmful behaviors because of the way your parents raised you.

Self-awareness is a crucial skill to have in seeing those behaviors and quirks “from a distance,” allowing for better headspace to deal with them. You can also call this mindfulness.

For example, if you grew up in a super-authoritarian household, paired with corporal punishment, then you could be getting too lax and permissive with your child, but the latter could cause Childhood Emotional Neglect. Your kid then starts acting out.

By refusing to replicate the unhealthy things your parents did, you may be introducing side effects that ironically may also be bad for your child.

Be aware of scripts. Scripts are the routine dynamics, behaviors, reactions, lexicon, and all the other little things that collectively made up the theme of your household and, therefore, your childhood.

Unconsciously following these scripts may bring more harm than good. Instead, try to question and improve upon them.

Related: My Parents Make Me Feel Worthless (14 Lessons to Contemplate)

3. Prioritize your relationship with your child and their wellbeing.

By definition, you likely are not like your toxic parents if you’ve decided to make your child one of your top priorities.

You know that every day you sacrifice a piece of yourself just so your child can grow into an able and happy adult even far after you are gone.

Let’s take the case of disassociation. Disassociation happens when the mind of the child becomes fragmented. This fragmentation can be a product of the child wanting to run from his parent’s terror while longing for an attachment figure, which unfortunately is also the same source of threat.

4. Be a role model for your child—walk the talk!

You’ve probably heard a parent talk about some “lesson” but their way of life is just contrary to what they say!

Your kid seeing you do what you say gives him the impression that you stick to what is right, even if it’s difficult. You also facilitate an avenue for both of you to grow together, which means you can celebrate each other’s wins, or call out who’s going off the rails.

Let all the doing speak for itself. After all, love is an action word—your kid will feel it more with your actions!

5. Keep educating yourself.

This is especially true if you are still in your younger years (a young adult or even a teen!).

Because of the internet we are now forever in the information age. Sure, there’s a lot of noise, but one thing’s for sure: good information is out there—you just have to look for it!

Because of your toxic family, you were robbed of the opportunity to learn how to become a fine adult, let alone raise a child of your own.

Related: Why Do I Feel Like a Failure to My Parents? (How to Stop It?)

6. Stress management.

Know yourself and how you react to stress. You may need to declutter your mind so you can focus only on what is essential and let go of distractions while treating yourself and celebrating for a job well done.

Stress can cloud your mind and even blind you to see that you are reenacting your parents’ patterns and behaviors.

Raising a child can be stressful on its own, but nonetheless you owe it to yourself and your kid to manage your triggers. Love yourself so you can love, enjoy, and protect your loved ones.

7. Focus on the person you want to become, rather than that which you don’t want to.

It can be hard to become a different person than your parents.

But you can take solace in the fact that by becoming a good person and exercising fair judgment in everything you do, you eventually turn “different” from your parents.

What you focus on is what you will become. Might be easier said than done, but you can take that direction henceforth.

Sometimes you will hear your parents’ voices in your head, especially the times you’re stressed out, but make it a point that they only become reference points, nothing more.

8. Look for other parental figures.

Pro-tip: Look for parental figures with whom you don’t share 50% of your DNA. If, say, you choose an uncle or aunt, chances are they also possess toxic behaviors you’re trying to free yourself from in the first place.

You may also want to forgo looking for those older than you. That may not be necessary.

What’s more important is you find someone you respect, who seems to have his life together, and from whom you can learn lessons, like a mentor.

Related: My Parents Make Me Feel Bad about Myself

9. Be gentle, patient, and compassionate with yourself.

In other words, don’t be too hard on yourself. You probably grew to be critical of yourself, which fuels your daily anxiety.

You can learn about all the things you can do to change and free yourself from the walls of dysfunction your parents have built around you.

But remember that everything takes time. If you find yourself slipping up by literally talking or reacting like your parents, know that it’s going to be okay. You’re aware of it and you’re working on it. That in itself is commendable!

10. Be the bigger person than your parents.

To be clear I’m not saying you should blindly forgive your parents for the horrible things they’ve done. Nor say they’re faultless.

I’m talking about working on your healing, accepting what is, and moving on to live the life of your dreams—it’s never too late!

I urge you to avoid blaming your parents. And maybe try to understand where they came from. Because I bet you they hail from dysfunctional families, too. They were once kids, too.

Choosing to be the bigger person means you’re putting yourself up as the top priority. You can do this without their help. It would be great if they acknowledged their sins and asked you for forgiveness. But the reality is that toxic parents rarely change.

Related: How to Be Good Enough for Your Parents (Maybe Not What You Think)

11. Your parents, at the end of the day, can serve as a reference point for either good or bad parenting.

Especially for parents who gave their children nothing but a traumatic childhood—beyond basic needs—we can just laugh at the fact they can become role models for how not to become parents. A blessing in disguise.

Just be aware that your parents could have done something right, but because of the overwhelming hurt, you might choose to ignore it, but your ignoring could affect your own child. You could become too permissive a parent, for example.

12. If you don’t have kids yet, consider the option of going child-free.

I didn’t understand this at first. But some people, because of their horrible upbringing, are without a doubt sure they would become terrible parents if they chose to bear a child.

They just know they lack the tools and emotional fitness to raise another human being. It must hurt because as a species we are wired to procreate. But they’ve accepted that. They have grieved.

And you know what? I am so proud of them for acknowledging that truth. That bearing no child would be the best for their wellbeing, the people around them, and as a result, society at large.

Going child-free is a huge decision. Only you can discern if it’s right for you. If you’re still sitting on the fence, I recommend you write down why you would and would not want to have a child. Take some time to contemplate this, maybe months.

It might sound ridiculous that the answer to this problem is to simply not have kids but, as absurd as it may sound, you can be happy without kids!

Related: Nothing I Do Is Good Enough for My Parents (What to Do)

Why am I so much like my parents?

We started inheriting attributes of our parents as early as the day we were born. We then learned further by social learning—we mimicked how they essentially lived. Our survival—and thus, our development, too—heavily depended on them. Add genetics in, and we end up just like our parents.

I would argue that’s true pretty much across the board, whether you’re now a parent, too. The parenting style by which you were raised, you’ve likely adopted them with your own kids.

For the genetics part, your parents could share genetic traits with you such as variations in self-control, levels of irritability, ADHD, and depression.

Whether you like it or not, or perhaps unfortunately, your parents have a huge influence over your life even if you’ve been on your own for long now.

For that, the better questions to ask yourself would be, “Do I acknowledge my parents’ influence over me? How should I use that to navigate the world and live the life I aim for?”

It becomes an issue of acceptance. You can’t change your past. You can’t change how you’ve grown into the adult you are now.

But you can be smart by working with what and who you are right now. It may not necessarily be easy and you might need some healing work. But acknowledging reality allows you to have the right tools, mindset, and attitude in moving forward.

Related: Not Everyone Should Be a Parent: 21 Lessons to Ponder

Is it okay to not want to be like your parents?

Yes, it’s okay to not want to be like your parents. This desire likely follows the realization that you have toxic parents and that you’d rather embrace the future in ways that foster good health, accountability, and happiness. It’s okay to move on from what could even be harmful to you.

That said, be aware of three coping mechanisms you might fall into: surrender, avoidance, and overcompensation.

Believing that one is destined to repeat their parents’ toxic behavior leads to stagnation and hinders progress towards personal goals in life. Avoidance can lead to emotional numbness and isolation, and the underlying belief that one is unlovable or toxic remains unaddressed. Overcompensation leads to burnout and prevents one from living an authentic life.

(Source: “Overcoming the Fear of Becoming Your Parents,” Psychology Today)

As I said earlier, focus on the person you want to become, rather than that which you don’t want to. Your parents can be a huge part of you, but you can also see them as mere goalposts by which you are reminded of how to become a good person. Or not.


Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels

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