Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Becoming a Parent Can Trigger Grief and Healing

Parenting can remind us of our own childhood and caregiver relationships.

Key points

  • The experience of loving your child deeply can trigger anger and grief toward your own parents.
  • This is an opportunity to work deeper in your own personal healing.
  • Actively grieving our past will better equip us to give ourselves the best adulthood possible.

Why is having my own child making me feel so much more rage and anger toward my parents? I thought I was done feeling angry, but now I can’t even answer their Facetimes because I feel so much anger. What’s wrong with me?

If you’ve felt surprised by the resurgence of your sadness and anger toward your own caregivers after becoming a parent yourself, there’s a very good reason for this. Most people who become parents experience a sense of unconditional love, devotion, and fierce protectiveness toward their child—feelings that, hitherto in life, nothing has ever rivaled. To love someone so much and to feel the gravitational orbit of your psyche and life shift from wrapping around you to wrapping around them—it’s life-changing.

Becoming a parent may be the biggest and richest human experience many of us will ever have. And, for many new parents, the love and devotion that they feel for their own child can kindle within them a greater appreciation for their own parents and how well they were loved.

Renewed Anger and Grief

But for those of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds, this experience of loving someone else so wholeheartedly can sometimes trigger different feelings for the people who raised us: renewed anger and grief.

Why? Because our love and devotion and self-sacrifice for our child can more sharply contrast what we ourselves didn’t receive.

When you feel such profound respect, care, and concern for your child and attempt to do everything in your power to make them feel loved, safe, accepted, respected, and well-cared for, this can evoke explicit and implicit memories about how you yourself didn’t have these very things you’re working so hard to provide for your child.

And as these memories are evoked and as this contrast is highlighted, thoughts and questions may bubble up:

How on Earth could they have possibly done that? I would never let my child experience that.

I don’t remember her ever cuddling with me the way I cuddle him—that’s so sad.

In a hundred years, I would never leave my daughter alone with a strange man in a room. Where were they? How did they let that happen?

If this is what love is, did they even love me?

Experiencing love, devotion, and fierce protectiveness for our own children can painfully and acutely highlight the difference between what we experienced and what we hope to give to our children. That contrast, that deficit, those questions and thoughts—all of it can trigger renewed sadness, anger, and anguish about our own dysfunctional, neglectful, or outright abusive pasts—grief that we thought we were done feeling.

Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

Having a resurgence of grief, anger, and sadness about your own childhood may be uncomfortable, but it’s actually very important for your own healing.

Why? Because experiencing a re-trigger and resurgence of grief and anger invites you to go a layer deeper in your healing process. At different points in our healing journey, we access grief in ways and layers that we have access to and that we’re equipped to confront at that time.

Becoming a parent and feeling a resurgence of your grief and anger is you, at a different stage in your healing journey, being invited to dive a layer deeper into your grief again so that you can feel all your feelings, metabolize them in your mind and body, and heal even more from your painful past. It’s a therapy cliché: We cannot heal what we cannot feel.

And, so, when renewed grief is evoked, this is your portal into feeling more and, thus, healing more.

When you can support yourself to allow these feelings and appropriately express them, you can free up more somatic, mental, and emotional energy for yourself, allowing you to, perhaps, feel better in your body and mind, see reality more plainly, and make any choices and decisions you need and want to make to protect you and your own child now.

Feeling a strong resurgence of grief, anger, and sadness after becoming a parent is, of course, uncomfortable and painful. You’re probably feeling this emotional pain about your past in tandem with the physical pain so many of us new parents experience—pain that comes from sleep deprivation, vaginal birth and c-section recovery, breastfeeding, pumping, and other biological deprivations and strains.

So, despite the fact that it is uncomfortable to feel our old hurts and wounds re-triggered, we have to grieve that now and for as long as it takes. Doing this—actively grieving our past—will better equip us to give ourselves the best adulthood possible (despite our adverse early beginnings). Moreover, this will better equip us to show up for our own children with more regulated nervous systems and more capacity to act from a place of choice versus emotional reactivity as we parent them.

If you would like help from a trauma-informed therapist to support you in this process should you find yourself triggered by becoming a parent, please reach out to a therapist here on Psychology Today.

More from Annie Wright LMFT
More from Psychology Today