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Implicit memories—our memories that are not on a conscious level—cause us to form expectations about how the world works. These expectations are based on our previous experiences, and it is important for parents to examine how subconscious memories of past experiences influence the present.

Unexamined memories can be a special concern as parents care for their children. When children are very young, they can pick up on a parent’s feelings, such as distress or inadequacy, even if the parent is unaware of having these feelings. It is difficult for a child to be calm and content when he or she senses a parent is upset.

In addition, unexamined memories can cause adults to react rather than respond. Unexamined memories can influence us to act in ways inappropriate to a situation. For example, old feelings can be hiding in an unexamined memory. Old feelings of being excluded, abandoned, or criticized by parents or others can create roadblocks to the responses that we strive for as parents. Old, unexamined feelings can keep us from being the loving, respectful parents we want to be with our kids.

If you find yourself reacting strongly—too strongly—to a situation, ask yourself if your reaction makes sense in the present moment. If you are reacting in a way that you can’t really explain or justify, take a closer look. What specifically is going on? Does the present situation remind you of another situation involving another person? Is your reaction helpful in the current situation?

If you are willing to look at unexamined memories from your past, you can begin to identify how your past is affecting your relationship with your children—and others, for that matter—in the present moment.