Excerpted from "Making Healthy Families" Copyright © by Shadow and Light Publications (2000) and used with permission.
Healthy attunement or over-identification? Our ability to attune as parents depends not only on the child, but on his or her stage of development and on the emotional legacy of accurate understanding we received from our own parents. The ability to attune also depends on the personality and temperament of the child and how easy or difficult it is for us to relate to a particular child, given our own individual personality traits and family upbringing. Giving nurturance to a child includes identifying with the infant and later, the developing adolescent, enough to have empathy for their situation in the world and the control they have or do not have over it. It is sometimes easy for us to identify with wounds we had as children that we swear we will not do to our children. However, often we can over-identify, and actually be out of attunement with our children, in an attempt to heal personal wounds from our past.
Projecting our own childhood experience is a common pitfall conscientious parents fall into when they have difficulty separating themselves from their own offspring, who have not experienced the same childhood wounds. There can exist a subliminal drive to re-experience childhood through our own kids, but this time to have it "right." In an attempt to heal past pain, we may unwittingly project it onto our child's behavior because it "looks" similar to our pain, although the meaning for the child may be entirely or significantly different. In such cases, parenting reactions that originate to answer our childhood pain miss the real needs of the child who stands before us, a completely different person with a different set of experiences.
Naturally, it is true that we can repeat traumas to our children (such as child abuse) when we are unaware of our own pain. The old adage of "what was good enough for me should be good enough for junior" reflects the attitude in which these painful legacies are passed down through generations. By not identifying what was painful to us in childhood, we are more likely to repeat the damage. However, as parents become attuned to their childhood experience, they often try to heal their own early developmental wounds in ways that are inappropriate for their children.
....Whether we seek professional help along the way or not, most of us have come across these times in parenting where we identify our unmet childhood needs in the cries of our children. Getting help to sort things out with a spouse, a friend, a relative, or a professional means you are answering your need to reach out and depend on others. The following questions can help you reflect on the role your own projection of childhood pain may have in a situation, and assist you in sorting out what you believe is healthy attunement to your child, rather than a wish or desire to heal your own "inner child."