Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of T. Suzanne Eller's book, The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future, (Harvest House Publishers, 2006).

You want to give your very best to your children. But if your own parents were inconsistent while you were growing up – or if they neglected or even abused you – you may never have learned how to be the kind of mom you want to be.

No matter what problems you experienced growing up, though, you don’t have to repeat your parents’ mistakes. God will help you become a healthy mom who can rise above the past to leave a legacy of love for your children.

Here’s how you can become the mom you want to be:

Seek to understand your own parents’ past behavior. Ask God to give you a fresh perspective on your parents, so you can look at them through adult eyes instead of the same way you saw them as a child. Get to know whatever you can about what experiences wounded your parents and contributed to their dysfunctional behavior while you were growing up. Ask God to give you compassion for their weaknesses, remembering that you don’t have to condone their mistakes to be compassionate toward them. Honestly examine your own life now to see if you’re repeating any patterns of dysfunction you learned from your parents’ examples. Consider how that behavior is harming you, your spouse, and your children. Think and pray about what kind of legacy you would like to leave to your children, and how you’d like that to be different from the legacy your parents have given to you.

Understand that, while you can’t change the past, you can choose to grow as a person and mom right now, and trust God to lead you into a better future. Embrace the unconditional love and unlimited supply of strength that God offers you as you begin your healing journey. Freely express all your doubts, fears, and anger to God. Invite Him to bring something beautiful out of the ugliness you’ve experienced growing up. Ask God to help you break the cycle of dysfunction in your family and learn new methods of relating to, disciplining, and encouraging your children.

Look at yourself in a different way. Ask God to show you what inaccurate ideas you’ve formed about yourself based on hurtful words and actions from others in your past. Then ask God to help you let go of those untrue perceptions and embrace your true identity in Him, as a valuable person who is loved unconditionally. Pray for the confidence you need to view yourself accurately, and to refrain from taking your children’s mistakes personally. Understand your value so you can show your children their worth, as well.

Pay attention to the words you speak and the actions you take toward your children. Try to make your words and actions as positive as possible, to encourage them.

Forgive. Realize that forgiveness is the foundation of your healing. Consider the impact that your anger, bitterness, or resentment from your past is having on your and your family. Then consider how your lives would change if you replaced those negative emotions with positive ones like joy, empathy, and gentleness. Understand that you’re powerless to change the past, but you do have the power to change the way it affects your present and future. Invite God to take the broken pieces of your past and put them together into something new and whole. Ask God to help you see the people who hurt you in the past through the eyes of an adult instead of a child, and to understand that they don’t need to control you anymore.

Don’t waste time or energy trying to make people pay for their past actions. Instead, give the situations that are troubling you to God, trust Him to work out justice in their lives, and reinvest your time and energy in productive ways. Know that, since God has forgiven you, He expects you to be willing to forgive others. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving, because you likely never will. Instead, make the decision to forgive despite your feelings and rely on God’s strength to help you do so. Understand that forgiveness is important to your freedom even if the people you forgive are deceased or unwilling to reconcile with you. Choose to be a healthy person who forgives, regardless of how others may react or not react.

Don’t forget to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made, and to learn from them, with God’s help. Realize that forgiveness is a process rather than just a one-time event. Keep praying for the courage you need to keep forgiving.

Break free of the past. Don’t let your past dominate your present life. Shift your focus away from dwelling on the past and toward living gratefully right now and eagerly anticipating the future. Understand that an opportunity to grow lies within every challenging circumstance. Ask God to expand your perspective so you’ll notice Him at work in your life every day. Don’t take any blessing – no matter how small – for granted. Make time to thank God daily for who He is and what He is doing. Instead of seeing your parents through the lens of your childhood, focus on the people they have become and form relationships with them based on who they are now. Let go of all that keeps you tied to the past, such as excuses, guilt, shame, and defense mechanisms. Recognize that your family is constantly learning and growing, and notice how God is working to gradually transform each of you.

If your parents are still stuck in old, harmful patterns, pray for them regularly. Don’t let your parents trap you into past roles. Instead, clearly define who you are now and how you want them to view you. Let go of your negative family memories and work on developing new, positive memories. Realize that there are no limits to what God can do for you, your parents, and the rest of your family. Trust Him with your future and look forward to it.

Set boundaries. Pray for the courage you need to set appropriate boundaries to protect yourself, your spouse, and your children from a parent who may be depressed, addicted, or mentally unstable. If one or both of your parents are harming you or your family, acknowledge the problem.

Come up with mutual guidelines for relating in healthy ways – not to fix, punish, or control your parents, but to conserve and deepen your relationships with them. Make sure your boundaries communicate clear expectations for both parties, such as “We will treat each other with honor and respect,” and “We will be honest in our relationships, not lying or deceiving one another.” Understand that progress may come slowly or not at all, but it’s vital that you stick to your boundaries to get your needs met and demonstrate healthy behavior to your parents. If they don’t comply, exercise reasonable consequences, always keeping in mind that the goal you hope to achieve eventually through your boundaries is reconciliation.

Break down walls around your heart. Identify emotional walls you’ve erected around your heart to keep other people out. Recognize that those walls are preventing you from freely giving and receiving love. Consider all you’ve lost from keeping those walls up. Pray for the courage you need to break the walls down and risk vulnerability. Consider the many benefits of doing so, such as maturity, compassion, emotional freedom and the ability to be genuine. Look forward to a new era in your life filled with fresh possibilities.

Take calculated risks. Don’t let fear hold you back in life. Know that taking calculated risks (as opposed to impulsive actions) is vital to finding fulfillment. Weigh the costs versus benefits of new endeavors, and consider your motivation for pursuing them. Then, whenever it’s wise, go ahead and pursue your dreams, put dormant talents to use, and reach out to form new and healthy friendships. Let go of “what-if” fears that are keeping you from taking risks that could bless you. If you sense God leading you to try something, do so despite whatever fear you may feel. Trust in something greater than yourself. Discover who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Make a plan to achieve each goal, and include a timeline. Look to the future with hope, remembering that you can count on God to help you along the way.

Shape your children’s memories. Recognize the incredible power you have to shape what your children will remember about their childhood. Know that the memories embedded in their minds will affect not only their lives, but also generations of people after them. Don’t underestimate the power of your words and actions. Ask God to help you use your words and actions to create good memories for your children – times of love, laughter, fun, and encouragement that will bless them with a legacy of memories to treasure.

Pray for the strength and wisdom you need to change negative patterns of relating to your children that are creating bad memories for them. Ask your children to tell you what specific things they enjoy about your home, and learn from that information to better create a healthy home atmosphere that will nurture good memories.

Set parenting goals. Think and pray about goals to set for yourself as a mom. Make sure they’re realistic. Have your list include both types of behaviors that you want to avoid, and kinds of behaviors toward which you’d like to aim. Remember that it’s never too late to improve your parenting skills.

Whenever you notice that you’re failing to meet one of your parenting goals, ask yourself: “What prompted this action or response?”, “Is there a better way to handle the situation?”, “What can I learn from this?” and “Did I resolve the situation with my child?” Don’t neglect taking care of your own needs (such as by getting enough sleep and exercise) so you can take care of your children well. Get inspiration and support from parenting mentors you admire. Ask for help from family and friends whenever you need it. Rely on God’s unlimited strength instead of your own limited strength to meet your goals.

Unpack your parenting baggage. Seek to constantly improve your parenting skills by letting go of ineffective methods you’ve picked up from your parents’ examples and replacing them with more successful methods you’re learning now. Ask your children to forgive you if you’ve harmed them through your words and actions; be proactive about healing the bond between you. Be patient and consistent as you implement new parenting strategies. Regularly pray for God to give you wisdom as you make parenting decisions, and be sure to pray for your children’s needs often, as well.


Adapted from The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future, copyright 2006 by T. Suzanne Eller. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., http://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/.

T. Suzanne Eller and her husband, Richard, live in Oklahoma and are parents of three twentysomething children. A speaker and writer, Suzanne is active in youth and young–adult/career ministry. In addition to her books, Suzanne also contributes to a variety of magazines, including Guideposts, Today’s Christian Woman, and Focus on the Family.