Talia Levy

March 28, 2023

you are not your parents

How we’re raised has a huge impact on who we are today. It has a huge impact on our thoughts and on how we act. The ways our parents taught us to treat others, lessons they’ve instilled in us as important, fears and habits passed down—all influence how we live our everyday lives.

Some of us might see that as a good thing. We might think our parents have done a pretty good job and that we align with most of their teachings. Others of us want to do a complete 180. Most are probably somewhere in the middle.

Recognizing that we are influenced by how our parents have raised us, but that it doesn’t have to define who we are or who we become, is important. We don’t have to continue the same thoughts and actions as the people who have raised us. We can look critically at those thoughts and actions and decide if we’d like them in our lives or if we want to let them go.

Many people think they’re destined to a life of acting like their parents, destined to the same beliefs and habits they’ve always known. But they’re not. You’re not. You can change and make your life what you want it to be.

People can go through life, not realizing that the fears and dreams they’ve had, the goals and values they’ve held, have really been because of their parents. They might believe they’re thinking or acting originally, when really, they’re just living with what they picked up in childhood. With what they learned as a kid.

We might be conscious of some ways we’ve been influenced by our parents, but not others. Some connections may seem as clear as day, whereas other origins are a little foggy, requiring more time to uncover.

But know at a basic level, we all are indeed influenced by the environment we were raised in and by the people who brought us up. Many of our thoughts and actions were taught to us, and the same ones can be passed down for many generations.

If our parents expressed fear and anxiety over money situations, we could be more prone to stress and feeling scared in that area of our lives. If our parents had a negative body image and spoke poorly about how they looked, we may find it more acceptable to speak about our bodies in that way too, leading to a negative body image also.

If parents had optimistic visions about their goals and future, their kids could share those same sentiments. Kids watch their parents and they take everything in. They’re being formed into people through what they see and start to mirror and act like their caregivers in many ways.

Some actions and thoughts are taken directly from our parents, whereas in other cases, you may find the ways you think and act weren’t what they did, but were in response to what they did. Direct examples are easy; you’re a big saver because your parents saved a lot. You believe a good education is important because that’s what you’ve been told all your life.

The response ones can be more difficult to uncover because sometimes they don’t seem related to or can even be the opposite of how your parents were.

If you watched your parents spend a lot of money, get into large amounts of debt, and constantly worry about their finances, you may decide to save a ton of your money and be smarter with your finances because you don’t want to end up like them. Their ways have still shaped you; you’ve just done the opposite of them.

If your parents constantly argued, maybe you found yourself being the mediator in many situations. That might have led you to feel less comfortable with adding your opinions on things because you didn’t want to heighten the arguments even more by sharing your viewpoint.

Arguing and mediating may not seem like opposites—helping an argument isn’t necessarily the same thing as just being non-argumentative. But their arguing has affected you all the same, and now because of that, you still struggle with sharing your opinions today.

So, you may find yourself to be directly or indirectly influenced by your parents. That awareness is the first step. One, being aware that we are influenced by our parents. And two, being aware of how they’ve influenced us, so that we know when our parenting is the cause of the aspects we wish to change about ourselves.

Once we think more about what we want to change, we can then look at why we think or act in that way. Why you are how you are may stem from a multitude of reasons, but a common one that will come up, time and time again, is that it’s because of how your parents raised you.

To become aware in the moment about things we’ve taken from our parents can be difficult, because we’re not always asking the conscious question of “oh, did I get this thing from my mom and dad?” But thinking more about this topic will help create those conscious thoughts, and it’s an important step in the process of changing ourselves.

It’s important to understand why we do something because when we understand the source of something, we can better understand how to overcome it. It becomes less mystical, less “why is this happening?”, to a more understandable explanation, which can lead to less friction and uncertainty in the game plan of changing.

People trace back the ways they think and act to how they were raised, all the time, like in the examples about money or body image. People make these connections constantly, so you’re able to as well.

My parents opened my eyes to doing things differently than how one was raised, because of all the changes they’ve made. My mom grew up without being pushed to work and make money. Her parents wanted to provide everything for all of their children—that was one way they measured their success as parents.

Contrarily, mine have supported me working and making money from a young age. They’re incredibly supportive of all my entrepreneurial pursuits. My mom changed and raised me differently than she was.

Both of my parents were raised as Catholics, and they’ve gone a different route in religion. Their parents weren’t always home in the evening to ask how their kids’ days were and have conversation with each other, but my parents have made that a priority with their family.

Things with money decisions, jobs, and more—they’ve chosen paths for themselves completely different from the ones they were raised on.

The inspiration isn’t necessarily in what they did differently, though I am grateful for many of the changes they’ve decided to make, but it’s solely the act of doing something differently, that has inspired me greatly.

They showed me that I can take my own path. It’s served as such an inspiration to me because although I may feel more inclined to think and act as my parents did, because it’s what I’m used to or taught is right, it doesn’t
mean I need to think or act in those ways.

I can choose for myself how I think and act, keep only what I want from what they’ve passed down, and let go of all the things that don’t serve me. To let things go that don’t serve me isn’t calling them bad parents. It’s not necessarily saying they did anything wrong. I’m just creating my own life.

I’m not being told I have to live from a script. I’m making my life what I want it to be, and I not only can decide what to keep or let go, but I can also create totally new thoughts and actions for myself, from what I’ve learned through my life and experiences. That’s a very powerful thing.

So, how do you change? As said before, the first step is awareness. Become aware of how you’re thinking and acting and what the origins are.

Once you know what you want to change and its origin, the next steps in the process are simple, really. You have to believe you can change, you have to want to change, and you have to know how to and make a plan to change.

The how and plan to change will look different from situation to situation, but for your thoughts, repeating affirmations of what you would like to believe can help you shift your beliefs.

The brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what’s in your mind. You actually feeling you’re beautiful and you telling yourself “I am beautiful”, are no different to your brain. It sees it as the same thing, and it shifts its chemicals accordingly until you start to actually become what you believe.

For your actions, you can do affirmations for that as well, and when it comes to habit breaking and habit formation, the book, The Power of Habit, teaches those processes.

At a basic level, to break a habit, you keep the cue, craving, and reward of the habit the same, and change the response. To form a new habit, you ensure you have each of those aspects of habit formation: a cue, craving, response, and reward. I recommend the book to learn more about habits.

We learn things from our parents through what they teach us, but some science suggests that a part of how we turn out as humans is not learned, and that it’s because of our genetics. This is nature vs. nurture.

Nature is how we are because of our genetics. Nurture is how we are because of our environment and how we were raised.

For nurture, just as we learn things, we can unlearn them. Many of our thoughts and actions are learned, so we have the power to unlearn them and create new ones in their places. 

For nature, don’t think you’re doomed to a life of thinking or acting in a certain way because of genetics. Although we may be more predisposed to some things due to our genetics, that doesn’t mean it’s set and we can’t change.

You may just find that the origin might be nothing but nature, but you can make changes all the same. Nature doesn’t mean you can’t change. You can change all the ways you think and act. Every single one of them.

When it comes to changing how you think and act to parent your own kids differently, you have to do exactly that. You have to change too. You can’t just tell them to love their bodies if you still speak negatively about yours and expect them to listen. I mean, you can, the teachings may just not be as effective.

Kids learn more from actions and by their parents’ demonstration, as opposed to their words. You could tell your kids all day to save their money, but if you blow all your paychecks at the mall because you haven’t done the work on yourself yet, your kids are seeing your actions and they’re taking it all in. Your actions are stronger than your words.

And they’ll most likely be influenced by your actions. So, you have to change yourself before you try to instill that change in your kids. You have to live the changes before you raise your kids with them.

Look critically at how your parents raised you. Don’t take anything as set in stone and unchanging. You have the power to change how you think and act, and you can be different than your parents. You can reprogram your mind to learn thoughts and actions that you want to learn and create your own life that you wish to live.

About Talia Levy

i write about relationships, self-help, & other random reflections i have. new posts every sunday.