How to Parent When You’re Raised in a Dysfunctional Home
by Lyneta Smith
A parent raised in a dysfunctional home can have insecurities about their parenting abilities. We can find hope for healthy families.
I still wonder if I could have been a better mother, even now that our beautiful daughters are grown and productive members of society. Nothing pushes my insecurity button like parenting.
My doubts come from a rational place. I grew up in a dysfunctional and chaotic home, rife with neglect and abuse. Then I bumbled into an abusive marriage and had kids before I turned 21.
Needless to say, I didn’t learn by example how to be a wife and mother. Being a Christian didn’t automatically give me the skills I needed to succeed.
But God answered my pleas for help. (Don’t all the best stories start with “but God”?) With a little pluck and a lot of grace, I got a second chance at marriage with a wonderful, godly man. My children grew into Jesus-loving, stable adults.
If you’re unsure about your own parenting, regardless of where your doubts come from, here are some things I learned along the way that might boost your self-confidence and take some of the worry out of being a parent. (Not guaranteed to remove 100% of the worry! Uncertainty comes with the territory.)
Mentorship for the Parent
The best way to succeed is to find someone who’s winning and then do what they’re doing. When my kids were tiny, I surrounded myself with women who’d raised amazing families who taught me practical ways to grow past my insecurities as parent raised in a dysfunctional home.
I fostered relationships with them, and asked questions about anything from piano lessons and braces to puberty and boyfriends. I observed how they interacted with their kids and husbands. From them, I learned much about resolving conflict in a healthy way, making decisions, and using affirmation and praise for motivation.
Prayer and Scripture, Healing from a Dysfunctional Home
Since I grew up with my parents in a yelling home, the habit of getting loud in the midst of conflict (or disobedience) took years to undo. One of my go-to prayers was, “Lord, please make up for my lack.”
I mistakenly thought of my prayers as unwanted interruptions in a busy God-of-the-Universe’s day. But what I didn’t know is that God longs for His children to ask Him for help and to rely on Him for all the big, hard things, and even the small stuff.
We tend to project whatever perception we have of our parents onto God. If they’re distant and unconcerned, we’ll think of God as indifferent. If our parents are strict or harsh, we imagine God as an ogre-policeman who is ready to club us over the head for any infraction. Studying the Scriptures opened my eyes to the true character of God. Not only who He is in general, but how He thinks of me personally (Galatians 2:10). I began to look to Him as the ultimate example of a parent.
Healthy Affection Equals Security, Not Dysfunction
I’ve spoken with moms who endured a traumatic childhood and have trouble showing physical affection. They understandably associate it with horrible, dysfunctional experiences.
Studies show adult humans need eight hugs per day, and for small children, I imagine it’s even more. (I think that’s why God made them adorable!)
I recently asked my youngest daughter what stability felt like in our home when she was growing up and she said, “Lots of cuddling, like when you used to sit with me in the rocker.”
If you’re naturally inclined to show physical affection, you’re already doing something more important than you realize. And if it’s harder for you to dole out hugs and kisses, bless you, mama—your demonstrations of love are not wasted.
Parent’s Choices, Traditions and Home Culture
The little moments matter. If you’ve ever wondered what your kids were going to take away from their childhood, I assure you it’s not big gestures. A rented bouncy house in the backyard for birthday parties is great, but expressions of love they’ll most remember are the minutes before bed, reading their favorite book for the fortieth time. Or baking a batch of cookies together.
I’m known in our family for going all out each Christmas. I make a big deal of the holiday season even though my kids are adults now. But my daughters are quick to agree that their favorite Christmas was the year we created the nativity scene out of a shoebox, some scrap fabric, and Barbie dolls. Toss in some Lego farm animals and … Christmas is complete.
For me, that was the most stressful Christmas I can remember (especially financially). I felt like I’d failed them that year with no money for gingerbread houses and presents, but they remembered our time playing with the nativity set as the most precious.
Whether it’s a special breakfast for their birthdays or movies and pizza on Friday night, those moments create meaningful memories that make up the foundation of their childhood.
Seek Ye First…
For parents who may have come from a dysfunctional home or an unstable background, the most important component of creating a thriving Christian home is your willingness. (Obviously, if you’re reading this blog post, you already have that desire.) Our prayers for stability and godliness will be answered because that’s God’s desire for our homes too.
Lyneta Smith lives with her husband near Nashville, TN in their happy empty nest. Her greatest joy is watching God do amazing things with her adult daughters and their families. She is the author of Curtain Call: A Memoir, her story of God’s miraculous healing after a traumatic childhood