Parenting Through a Broken Childhood. Can You Be The Mother You Never Had?

Can you be a good parent even if you had a broken childhood?

I don’t often talk about my mother. In the language of a Facebook relationship status, “it’s complicated”. Other people talk to their mothers every day and share photos of their children’s basketball games or report cards. My mother and I haven’t spoken in years. When I’ve tried to reach out, it just devolves into screaming and name calling.

I try not to dwell on it or think too much about it, but once you become a mother, motherhood is the lens you view the world through. And so much of our own idea of what a parent is and does is based on our own parents.

Can You Be the Kind of Mother You Never Had

I don’t mean to compare. And I want to move on but reminders of my own childhood constantly reappear. 

There are so many school events that I go to for my daughter. I’m so happy to be there for her but so often it brings up my own lack of parenting. School plays, PTA events, teacher meetings. So many times I wished my mother could have been a “regular mom” and just shown up for me.

How do you parent when you don’t have a parenting role model?


I went to therapy starting in my early twenties and have gone off and on since then. That helped me work out lots of my own issues. When you’ve had an “unusual” childhood, you need to figure out your own inner crap lest you unknowingly foist it off on your children.

Parenting classes.

I’ve taken parenting classes that helped me figure out some parenting best practices, and I’ve read parenting books too to help me have a vocabulary to work with, a road map to follow.

Watch Mothers I Admire.

I ask mothers who seem to have happy, well-adjusted children how they manage situations. (If you are a parent and I’m questioning you, just know it’s ’cause I’m doing my research.)

What Would RoRo Do?

Thank God for my grandmother who raised me for much of my life. When I’m not sure, I usually think to myself, “What would RoRo do?” How would she help with homework? How did she handle teen attitude? Channeling my unflappable grandmother usually works well.

Do the Exact Opposite.

Many times I do exactly the opposite of what my mother did for me as a child. With my history, that’s usually the right direction, and probably the best idea for anyone coming from a broken childhood.

When in doubt, I go with my gut. I don’t make the choice guided by my anger, or my fear, but my true gut feelings that are usually based in love and compassion.

Parenting thorugh a broken childhood

So that’s my parenting magic for the thirteen years I’ve been blessed to be a mother to my daughter.

It sounds so childish at my age to discuss these things, to still long for the kind  of mother that I never had. But I’ve learned our longing for love never really go away no matter our age.

Maybe by being the kind of mother I never had for my own daughter, I can find the love I always wanted too.

If you had a difficult childhood, how do you handle the impact on your own parenting?


  1. says

    It’s never silly or wrong if you feel a negative emotion. Own it. I do feel for you with family problems and when it’s your mom it must so difficult. But my gut tells me you’re a wonderful mom and I think we all get our mentors from different walks of life. Not everyone has a June Cleaver type mom in their lives! I’m glad you had an incredible grandmom. That means so much! Big hugs to you.

  2. says

    Lovely post. And quite resonant. Congratulations to you for finding a way to be a good parent despite not having that as a child. I know just where you’re coming from. My goal as a parent was to do the EXACT opposite of what my mother did. Still follow that rule. It’s worked well for creating and maintaining positive, loving relationships with my three baby girls, now 30, 32, and 33.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart.
    Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs recently posted…Weekend movie review: Eddie the EagleMy Profile

  3. Jackie says

    I didn’t have a broken childhood. In fact, I had a great childhood. Mom was a stay at home mom and Dad was a teacher. They were able to be at all of my school events and I never realized how rare that was until I became an adult and saw how hard it is to balance a career and family, especially as a single mom with a demanding career. Differences in parenting styles is the main reason I got divorced, which is difficult on my daughter. Conscious Parenting has been my go-to source for parenting advice and it has made me a better parent. I can’t say enough good things about it.

  4. Patricia says

    Thank you for sharing! You were such a beautiful teen that I had no idea. Love cover a multitude of sins. I’m sure you are a great Mom. I was 33 when ain’t started and my Mom was great at keeping our household going but we didn’t emotionally connect the way I did with my Dad. I learned nurturing from other Mothers I observed. It did not come naturally to me. So many times even now I also do the opposite of many Moms of that generation. I want a up close in my face love with my kids. I want them to see me fully and to live knowing I think they are amazing just the way they are. Looking back on my life my parenting hasn’t been perfect but it has been all me. Not much has come from my Mom. I made my own way. We think the grass is greener but sometimes the things we don’t have are actually blessings too. They build our character. Make us stive for more. I see that in you! Your daughter is blessed to have you Bella!

  5. says

    Hey Rosemond,
    I understand in part because my parents divorced when I was only 11 months old. My father and I have had an off again on again relationship. Currently it has been off for about 25 years. What I found helpful has been therapy and years in Al-Anon. I made peace with my relationship or lack thereof and also forgave him recognizing that people cannot give what they themselves never received. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t still times that I wish I could have received some things from him that I never did. Just the other day some one said that my mother, who has been dead for almost 30 years, would have been so proud of me for so many reasons including the publication of my book this year. I commented and how ironical that she who could have appreciated it is long dead and my father who never appreciated me is still alive and my accomplishments probably wouldn’t be acknowledged by him!

    Fortunately, I did have the gift of grandparents, my mother, and parenting classes to learn some very valuable things about parenting from. Don’t know whether any of this is helpful other than to say you’re not alone on the journey!! Hugs to you my friend.

  6. Lisa stern says

    Beautiful article Rosemond, as always. You’ve been a terrific mom since day one (and I’ve seen you in action 🙂 Knowing that you needed guidance and support is evidence of your humility. As you know I had wonderful mom. But my mom was just like you. She didn’t have a loving or generous mom so she went to therapy, found wonderful friends and mentors, and raised me doing the exact opposite of what her mom did. Now I’m trying to emulate channel her, but sometimes I find myself acting more like my difficult grandmother! Oh hell, this is “complicated.” Keep up the great work Rosemond!

  7. says

    This was a great piece and great tips about a rarely discussed topic. I had a complicated relationship as well and you do still yearn for mothering of your own well into adulthood.

  8. says

    Hi. I found this through the blog promo group. I wanted to comment because I am glad that there is someone else out there who talks about how our experiences as children affect our parenting, and advocates for healing from our own baggage so we don’t pass it in to our children.

    I think that is so important, and I write about my own experiences and about healing from them, too.

    I really feel that healing is a vital part of parenting, especially if we want to parent our best, and of course we do.

    Great post. Thank you.
    Juana recently posted…“Bringing Back the Rubies” Becomes “Silver Slipper Revolution”My Profile

  9. says

    I don’t think it is ever childish to talk about your feelings Rosie. What an inspirational mother you are and look at the wonderful woman you are despite your lack of ‘mothering’. Thank you so much for your honesty which I admire. It isn’t easy talking about private matters especially in the blogosphere so I want you to know your thoughts and words are truly appreciated. Thank you.
    sue recently posted…Embrace Failure Take a Chance on LifeMy Profile

  10. says

    A lot of this resonated with me. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and I have blogged about a big chunk of it. For me it was a matter of getting the poison out. I blog under a fake name because it is so intense and I need privacy for my family. That said it has been therapeutic. I think it is natural to glance back when your child reaches a milestone to remember what you were like at the same age. Honestly I think that is what has spurred my “urge to purge”. I have done all the things you have mentioned (sans RoRo) and I have a great network of mom friends that I can tap into. I also apologize to my kids when it seems appropriate. There is no veneer of perfection in my home.
    Bryce Warden recently posted…Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……My Profile

  11. says

    I’m a school counselor and a huge believer in therapy/counseling. It makes a great difference for sure. I agree with your list. Thanks for your honesty and great ideas!

  12. says

    I’m not a parent, but I barely talk or see my mom. I don’t want to go into details (don’t know who might see it), but it is what it is. My husband knows about it and if he sees me exhibiting a moment of having one of those traits, he’ll call me out… Because I wouldn’t want to be like that.

    • says

      Faye, thanks you for your comment. I do agree that we can learn from these times if we can look back and take an honest assessment. Thank you for your kind words, I truly appreciate it.

  13. says

    Ooph. The feels. I wouldn’t say I had a BROKEN childhood per say but I definitely don’t have the relationship with my mother that I hope to have with my daughter. It’s strained and at times very hard not to judge her for her choices. Nevertheless, I use it as a learning experience and can only grow to be better, right?
    Amber Temerity recently posted…Make Money BloggingMy Profile

  14. says

    Like you, I also have a complicated relationship with my mother. My grandmother was a huge influence in my life, and she helped show me what a mother ought to do. I also had a wonderful aunt who stepped in and spoiled me whenever possible. For those reasons, I’ve managed to do a decent job raising my boys. But don’t ask my teen, he’ll probably tell you otherwise. 😀

  15. says

    You have such keen insight and understanding into complicated matters. I had some mother issues myself–you NEVER outgrow that longing for her unconditional love and approval–and I can tell you you’ve hit the nail on the head with your last line. What I found was the wounds that my mother was too limited to acknowledge or help to dress after the fact were magically healed in the day-to-days acts of caring for and loving my own daughter. It’s as if you’re parenting both your child and yourself without realizing it. This was an amazing piece of writing, Rosie!
    Lee Gaitan recently posted…No Free LunchMy Profile

  16. says

    I love how you’ve transformed your relationship with your mother into a positive force. Thanks for making yourself vulnerable to help others!

    • says

      Thanks Nate. I do hope that others can find some comfort in knowing we can be good parents even without having that role model for ourselves.

  17. Angie says

    Hi Rosie, I’ve been searching for this recently because I’ve always wanted to hear your side of the story, so here goes –
    This post resonated with me deeply – I disagreed with almost everything and every way my mother brought me up and I grew up knowing how NOT to treat my children. In that way, this post spoke to me and I found myself agreeing with you. However, I’ve had the good fortune to meet your mother and I don’t doubt that her side is very different from yours, that I can’t go on listening to her one sided tirades; however do you know how hurt she is by you and your sister(s)? (I forget whether you had one or two). I pray for the brokenness on both sides. I might be a hypocrite in saying the above, because I know exactly how hard it is to fix a broken relationship. And I’m not asking you to fix it, far be it, only that you (and she!) stop and consider the other party? I don’t even know what I’m asking, I’m just a silly old mom here haha xx

    Whatever the case, I can tell that you’ve both gone through a lot of hurt and I wish only the best for you. And I’m glad your children have such a loving mother themselves!

    xox Angie

    • says

      Thank you, Angie, for your kind words. Parenting and family dynamics are never easy. I’m so thankful that my daughter is now 15 and growing into a beautiful, kind and intelligent young woman. She is my world and my focus. It is so sad when families are torn apart and can’t find a way to reconcile their differences. My extended family has a long history of fractured relationships and dysfunction (like so many) that seems to have been passed from generation to generation. I pray that one day that will change.
      Rosie recently posted…3 reasons why relationships after divorce feel so different.My Profile

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