Dysfunctional patterns will happen in families. No family is perfect. Oftentimes parents will follow down the same path they saw in their family of origin without even realizing it. Some family traditions and patterns are great to pass down to the next generation, but some cycles should be broken.

As a therapist, I help people with breaking dysfunctional patterns in their parenting that can pass down over generations. Sometimes it’s the way a family handles conflict that needs to be broken. Sometimes addictions have been passed down. Other times it’s a family pattern of not being emotional or affectionate.

If you notice you’re following in the footsteps of the generations before you and want to start breaking dysfunctional patterns in your parenting, here’s a place to start:

Look back and wish

Have you ever looked back at the way you were raised and wished something would have been different? Becoming aware is one of the first steps to breaking dysfunctional parenting patterns. When you step back and take an honest look at the past, it can help you break the cycle for the future. It isn’t just about drudging up the painful times and getting angry at your caregivers. It’s about learning from them and their mistakes. Oftentimes when you do this, you gain empathy for your family of origin and the struggles they must have had to make those decisions.

Recognize your faults

This honest and humble look in the mirror can be hard. Once you’ve noticed your own family’s dysfunctional patterns, it’s time to look in the mirror and see if you have followed in their footsteps. We all have blindspots in life and you may need to ask a trusted person in your life to gently help point them out.  This is a humbling step, but one that is necessary for making change. Be aware not to defend yourself, but instead own your struggles and take a step to move forward down a healthier path.

Don’t just do the opposite

Many people with dysfunctional childhoods think they should do the opposite of their parents. However, doing the opposite can be just as dysfunctional. For example, if a family pattern was unemotional and totally hands off in guiding and raising kids, it would be just as unhealthy to be overly involved and a helicopter parent in a way that is overly controlling. Finding a healthy balanced place is the best option.

Commit to healthy change

Once you’ve established that something needs to change, it’s time to make a plan of action. Make sure you set realistic goals and know that you may slip back sometimes. Remember that long time habits can be hard to break.

Whether you get assistance from a professional or ask someone to be an accountability partner, it’s important to have someone come alongside you to help keep you on track and stay accountable. Breaking patterns is hard work to do all by yourself.

Keep checking in

As time goes on, it’s important for you to re-visit your progress. Checking in with yourself every so often can help you stay focused and measure your changes. This is not a time to beat up on yourself. Instead, take another glance in the mirror and look for opportunities for grow. Checking in can also help you celebrate your success and see how far you have come!

Pray for God’s help

Last and not least is to pray for God to renew your heart and mind as you break these patterns. God’s Word speaks to these types of generational patterns many times in scripture. Specifically in Exodus 20:5-6 when God is spelling out the generational impact of sin to those who don’t follow Him and the impact of the generational blessing of those who do. God alone can change hearts and minds in a way we can never “white knuckle”. Relying on Him for help in making these changes and breaking patterns will be the greatest strength you need to do it.

So tell me, what are some cycles you need to start breaking?