The Number One Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Kids

When my daughter and I were traveling to Illinois to visit family, we spent time in several airports.

There was a moment when we had just gotten off of one of the planes and we were using the bathroom. A mom and her 6-year-old daughter were in the next stall and the tone of voice that the mother used literally made me want to crawl out of my skin. I wished my daughter had never heard anyone use that tone and my heart went out to the young girl who was on the receiving end of her mother’s wrath.

Essentially the mom was having a tantrum and was directing her anger and frustration at her child. It hurt my heart to listen to the way she spoke to her daughter. Where was the respect and compassion?

Look, I get it, sometimes we all get frustrated and lose it with our kids. I guess I just hope that we can notice ourselves getting upset and have the wherewithal to process those feelings on our own, rather than dumping them on our kids, at least some of the time.

I know not everyone shares my values. Not all adults want to treat young people with complete respect and offer them as much love and compassion as possible. But I’m sure grateful that you do.

Maybe that mom in the airport hadn’t yet processed her own childhood trauma and so she was repeating the pattern with their own kids. Right now I’m feeling very glad that I have chosen to actively process mine and to forge a new parenting path for myself.

So what’s the number one most important thing you can do for your kids?

Heal your past and become more available for connection.

I’m curious, have you unpacked your own childhood? Do you know what happened to you growing up and why things were the way they were?

I recently remembered one of the core concepts of “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Siegel and Hartzell. The research they wrote about showed that the greatest predictor of a healthy attachment between parent and child had nothing at all to do with the child.

His sex, personality, disposition, and even attachment style were essentially irrelevant to his ultimate connection with his parent. Instead, the attachment between parent and child had everything to do with the parent and how well he or she had processed their own childhood. Yep, that’s right,

Our own ability to process our childhood predicts how connected we’ll be with our kids.

Siegel writes about how having a “cohesive narrative,” which means being able to make sense of our past and creating a story for ourselves about what happened, why, and how we’ve emerged as a result of our past experiences is actually the most important predictor of attachment. When moms (and dads) have a cohesive narrative they end up being far more connected with their kids. And that’s better for the parents AND the kids.

To give you a more personal example of what this “cohesive narrative” might look like, I’ll share a story from my own life.

When I was five my parents divorced and a year or so later my dad and I moved from Champaign, IL to Collinsville, IL about a 3 ½ hour drive south west. I stayed with my dad for the school year and my mom drove down for every other weekend visits. I also stayed with my mom in Champaign for the summer. As a child I made up a story that my dad “took me away from my mom.” And even though I loved and appreciated my dad, I was angry with him for taking me away.

I held on to that story for many years, into adulthood and looking back I can see that that particular story was one of the things that kept me emotionally distant from my dad.

As an adult, I decided that perhaps my story about what had happened was incorrect, or at least incomplete, so I sat down with my dad and asked him about it. I was terrified to have the conversation, fearing that he would get angry and defensive, so I learned some Nonviolent Communication skills, practiced with a friend, and processed my own pain so that I could go into the conversation with an open and curious energy, instead of blaming or shaming my dad.

During the conversation I got a whole new perspective on what was happening for my dad at the time when he decided to move. I realized that his intention was to move closer to his family for additional support. I learned about some things that were happening in his emotional and financial life that impacted his decision, and I finally understood that while the result was that we moved away from my mom, that wasn’t the driving factor in his choice to move.

Whew! Now instead of seeing his choice as an attempt to hurt me, I saw it as a desire to provide and care for me. And that utterly transformed my narrative and my relationship with my dad. I’m much closer with my dad now than I was during my teens and twenties. In fact, almost as soon as I changed my narrative and began to see things more from his point of view, our relationship became closer.

And I think my connection with my daughter is a testament to the inner work I’ve done to be able to come up with a story of my life that makes sense and brings me clarity and understanding. Do you have a cohesive narrative of your life? Are there experiences you had in childhood that still feel traumatic to think about?

If so, my invitation is to take a closer look at those experiences this week. Now is the time to heal your past and connect even more deeply with your child as a result. It doesn’t matter if your child is an infant or a teenager. You still have time to deepen your connection. And who knows, you might even get a closer relationship with your parents out of the deal.

I hope you’ll share your story with me too and allow this community to support you and help you heal. If not for yourself, do it for your kids. They deserve the best version of you that’s humanly possible.

Have a healing, freeing, super connected week, Shelly



yup, I've been that mom more than I can count on my two hands. I always try to apologize to the kids, but really wish I wouldn't "lose it" like that. A work in progress. =) 

Thanks for sharing! 

Amy Zoe
Amy Zoe

Hi Shelly,

Thank you for this was tough to read, as I recognize myself in some of it. 

I recently posted on my own blog about the challenges I face in this area and how I've come to deal with it as a parent. I've spent a great deal of time working through my childhood experiences and still have moments with my children when I'm less than civilized. 

When I fall short in my children's presence, I acknowledge my error and apologize. If nothing else, this provides me the opportunity to model the practice of seeking forgiveness. 

If I'm not able to show my children the best parts of myself when I'm upset, I at least want them to understand that the issue is mommy's issue, not theirs. 


You are so right on, Shelly. And you know what--this is also the Number one most important thing you can do for your partner/spouse. Sadly, my soon-to-be-ex-husband and I (and too many other couples out there) learned this the hard way. Thank you for your insight. And while I am still learning, I, too, have found Nonviolent Communication totally transformative.

AwakeShelly moderator

Hey @Amy Zoe, Thank you so much for sharing this! I love it that you're able to recognize and acknowledge when you're not at your best with your kids. What you've described sounds exactly like what my husband and I do if we lose our cool with our daughter. 

And I completely agree, it's very important to model what to do to repair the connection if it gets damaged. And reminding kids that not everything is "they're fault" is huge. Children are naturally self-centered and will take on just about anything that happens as some how their fault.

Just the other night I overheard my husband saying to our daughter, "You didn't do anything wrong, I'm just frustrated right now." And later, "I'm sorry I got so upset. Everything's OK. I love you." Maybe I'll write something about the art of apologizing :)

BTW, what's the link to your blog? I would love to check it out! Warm hugs, Shelly

AwakeShelly moderator

@r_dvoThank you so much for your comment. I just got a tough response on my facebook page: and was hoping I didn't alienate a bunch of readers with this super vulnerable share. I'm glad it resonated with you and would love to hear more about your story! Warmly, Shelly

Amy Zoe
Amy Zoe


Hi Shelly,

Thanks for the reply...I definitely feel mending fences is essential to the process with my kids. 

I remember having the sense as a child that my parents were perfect in everything they did because they were never willing to be vulnerable with me about their weakness. It's so easy in that environment to believe you (as the child) are responsible for the distress.  

I want my kids to know their mom, as a living, breathing human being. And I also want them to understand that navigating the emotional terrain can be challenging for anyone, at any age.

Here's a link to my blog post on mt own struggles in this area:

Thanks for all you do! Amy