Transcript for
Learning how to parent when you weren’t parented well yourself

Runtime 00:20:46
Released 22/11/22

Narrator (00:02):

Welcome to the Emerging Minds Families podcast.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (00:06):

Hi, I’m Alicia Ranford.

Nadia Rossi (Co-host) (00:08):

And I’m Nadia Rossi.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (00:09):

Welcome to the Emerging Minds Families Podcast.

Nadia Rossi (Co-host) (00:12):

As your hosts each fortnight, we look forward to sharing with you conversations with people from all over Australia.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (00:19):

Our guests will generously share with us their experiences and knowledge and the strengths and skills they’ve developed while navigating the ups and downs of parenting, and the trickier times that life can sometimes throw at us.

Nadia Rossi (Co-host) (00:31):

You’ll also hear from professionals who offer practical strategies to help you support the mental health and wellbeing of the children and young people in your family.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (00:41):

As a mother of two myself, I know how helpful it can be to learn ways to navigate the more challenging parenting moments, and I’m looking forward to sharing these with you over the coming months.

Nadia Rossi (Co-host) (00:51):

Like Alicia, I’m also a mum of two and I so look forward to being on this journey with you. Today, we are excited to present to you the first of our family’s podcast series, which looks at how to parent when you weren’t parented well yourself.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (01:06):

As we know, we all become parents without any formal training and it’s one of the things that makes parenting so hard. We don’t automatically have great parenting skills just because we have a baby. There’s no manual. And for those of us with more than one child, we know that each of our children is certainly unique, and arrives into this world with their own strengths and temperament.


One of the main ways we discover how to raise our kids is by modelling and learning from our own parents, working this into our own style and routines. Many of you listening today might have had parents who were able to provide a safe and secure upbringing for you. Sadly, for many it’s a very different story.


Joining us today is Flick, she’s a mother of four and we are going to talk about how you learned to parent when you weren’t parented well, yourself.


Welcome Flick. Thank you for spending this time with us today.

Flick (Guest) (02:00):

That’s okay. Thanks for having me.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (02:02):

Flick. Can you start by telling us a bit about your own childhood and what it was like growing up in your household?

Flick (Guest) (02:09):

Yeah, I guess what it was like… I guess, the first scenario would be like my mum was in care when she was six weeks old and met her birth family at 21. So she didn’t have the best role models and I guess brings that into my family. So my mum didn’t raise us in the most appropriate ways, like she’d done what she could, but her household was full of forever moving homes, moving schools, domestic violence, drug and alcohol, and a lot of my brother raising me and my sister.


So there wasn’t too much guidance and my mum was in and out a lot. But I guess for me that just become normal and I thought I’d just lived in a normal household, I guess.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (02:50):

Yeah. And did you see your friends having different experiences or did you really not think about it and just, like you said, see your home life as normal?

Flick (Guest) (02:58):

Because I lived most of the time with mum, so when I was with mum it I’d just really seen things as normal. But then more when I’d spend a weekend here and there with dad when he was allowed to have us, I guess that’s when I got to go to friends’ houses and see something completely different you know stuff, like sit at the table and eating altogether, having your own bedroom with your own things and that stuff.


I started thinking… Not thinking, I guess, feeling I wish I had that, but then that moment would go back once I was back with mum.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (03:30):

So then if we move forward from that time to when you had your first child, what was that like for you as a new mum?

Flick (Guest) (03:39):

Yeah, so I remember it, clear as days when I was about 12 years old. I went to a program, Youth Off The Streets, ran by Father Chris Riley and I lived there for a couple of years. And when I got home I’d just turned 16 and got back into a relationship with this man that I met at 10 and I fell pregnant.


I remember when I found out I was pregnant, I rang my caseworker from my old program going, “What am I meant to do?” And I remember her advice to me was just do everything different your mum done, do the total opposite and you’ll be okay.


And I was just really scared, 17 years old, having a baby, I was just really scared, and didn’t know what to do. And plus there was DV involved as well and to remember giving birth and a nurse had handed me a DV card a couple hours later and I didn’t even know what she was giving me, because she had a couple of seconds while my partner was out the room.


And so I just threw it away and didn’t even know. And then I didn’t even know how to change my child, how I couldn’t breastfeed because I didn’t understand, struggling just to bottle feed, I just didn’t know what I was doing. But in the back of my mind, all I knew I just had to do things different to my mum.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (04:48):

I guess thinking about what that caseworker said to you in that moment of “Just do everything different,” it’s easy to say that but knowing what that different is must have been quite difficult.

Flick (Guest) (05:00):

Oh definitely. Well at first I thought, “Oh, I’m quite intelligent, I’ve got this, I’ve just got to do it different.” But I guess that led up from 17 with my first child to 23 with my third child. I just thought I was doing everything different. But it turned out I was doing everything the same without even knowing the ingrained behaviour.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (05:18):

How would you describe your parenting style in those early years?

Flick (Guest) (05:22):

I guess I’d describe it as my mum doing the best I can. So I had an alcoholic mother and I had a father that was passing from emphysema, leaving a DV relationship. And I just thought simple things like feeding my children, bathing them and sending them to school was all that was needed.


And I thought if I tick them boxes, I’m this great mum. Obviously now looking back, a child needs more than that, and my children were neglected in certain areas and I say that as in it was so ingrained in me, I thought I was doing the right thing, I didn’t even know I was neglecting my children.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (05:54):

Well it must have been a very difficult time for you. Did you feel alone or did you feel like you had supports that you could go to ask for help?

Flick (Guest) (06:03):

Definitely alone. I didn’t have a constant GP, I didn’t have a therapist, social support. My supports were just other alcoholics and drug addicts, I guess, living a very unhealthy lifestyle the way I was and they had no better knowledge than me. So there was no actual great support.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (06:22):

As you moved on to have more children, did your experience change, or did it remain the same for your latter children?

Flick (Guest) (06:30):

It was the same for my first and second child because I was still with the same partner. I guess after my second child though, I grew some confidence and realised that living in this DV relationship wasn’t healthy.


Even though we had the nicest home and the expensive furniture and bills paid, I guess come to terms with this is not okay. And so I left to live with my father that was parting. So I just went on to have my third child. So that was a little bit different because I was doing that in my father’s home and he was supporting me in a more loving way, helping me to feed the children if they didn’t want to eat their vegetables, pop would take over and have that done.


And I felt like the world wasn’t on top of me then. It was a little bit easier, but I guess the easier it become and the more help I got, I drunk a lot more. So it still was this unhealthy way of parenting.


So, my son, my last child now is eight this month. So, I guess, fast forwarding to him being my last child, things were a lot different. I was clean and sober, I was reaching out to parenting groups, support services, therapists.


So as much as things were changing and I was able to get up for them feeds and I wanted to interact and wanted to teach my son stuff and take him for walks, it slowly changed.


My son has autism, so that was a whole new ball game, learning how to parent an autistic child. So I think it wasn’t until then, starting to do therapy around that stuff did I realise that my parenting with my other three children needs to change again.


There’s still healthier ways to do things, but I do believe from all the knowledge I’ve got from them, support services and rehabs and all that, parenting today’s a lot easier and I can’t really put my finger on where my children have been neglected in any areas. It’s all getting covered and I understand that. And I don’t have a sense of detachment anymore. I’m now attached and present. I’ve learned some skills.


But I guess, too, in the long run parenting there is no book and it’s about learning as we go, but I’m more confident to continue parenting and learning.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (08:39):

That’s fantastic, Flick and shown a lot of resilience to get to that point. It’s a real credit to you. Do you think that there was a turning point when you did think to yourself, “Things have to change” for you and your children?

Flick (Guest) (08:53):

Yeah, definitely. So, well I was about 23 years old. I had three children and at this stage my dad’s in hospital and terminally ill and my mum’s babysitting my 11 month old child. And then I had my daughters with me five and six and a child protection come and removed my baby from my mum and I was horrified. I just couldn’t understand what’s going on. I thought I was this perfect mum and doing everything and I got to be out to school with my daughters and the principal gave me some time, and the turning point was my children crying saying “If we be good can we come home?”


And my heart just broke going, this has nothing to do with them as in their behaviour, this is me. And yeah, and I can see that clear as the day 11 years ago now. And it was that moment I was just like, “Something’s got to change.”


And it did. Within a month I was in detox and then I was into rehab and just started looking at self-help programs because I believe I can do all these parenting programs and it can teach me some skills, but until I work on self they’re not going to match up. I had to do a lot of self-help stuff.


I just realised that I wanted to be a parent and I just worked out I just didn’t know how to be. It’s been 11 years of changing and growing and trying different tactics and I guess the biggest thing was I was scared to ask for help from somebody. I thought if anyone knew how I was feeling and coping, my kids would just get taken.


So it was a point going, “Now, well, they are taken because you didn’t ask for help. You need to learn to reach out and reach out to the appropriate people.” And I guess that’s what I do today. So it’s all about asking for help now and saying like, “It’s okay, I don’t know how to do this stuff, can you help me?” And we get by.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (10:32):

Absolutely. And so what would you say the biggest changes you made to your parenting style were? And you reflected a little bit on where you went to support, but where did you learn the kind of parent that you now wanted to be?

Flick (Guest) (10:46):

A lot of this stuff is just from other parents. I go to a lot of 12-step programs, stay sober and watching parents change their life and interact with their children, my own organisation that I work in helping other parents and seeing how they actually are with children.


I remember I reached out to a friend one day and I said, “Oh I don’t know what’s wrong with me, about when I tuck my son into bed, I don’t ever tuck him in and say I love you, I’m disconnected.”


And remember she just said to me “Just every night just tuck him in and say I love you until it becomes natural.”


So just having friends around to guide me in that way and really putting it out there and feeling a bit embarrassed and feeling a bit shameful that I don’t know this, but being open to learn this from them. And my motto is it’s the best to learn from someone else that’s been through it, or is going through it. So yeah, just watching other people interact and what they’ve had to do and just taking pieces that I think might work for my family. I’ll try it out. If it works, it works. If it don’t, we’ll try something new.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (11:47):

How powerful are those small moments, of just tucking your child into bed and telling them you love them? That’s really special.

Flick (Guest) (11:54):

Definitely and that’s what I had to learn. It’s not necessarily at the start about all the big things to change, it’s just even them little things, like when my children were in child protection and I got a visit for two hours, it was about how did I spend that two hours instead of just saying, “Hey, how was your day, how was school?” It was really getting in there and asking “How was school?” And then when they answer “Well, how were you feeling about that?” And really just diving into their moment.


So it wasn’t just watching the children kick the soccer ball, it was actually getting in there and kicking the soccer ball with them. So I had a bit of growth through that stuff, and my supervisor supporting and teaching me this stuff while I was actually interacting with the children. We just find what works.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (12:35):

I hear what you’re saying that it can be a learned skill. It doesn’t have to be something that you inherently know, you can learn to be a good parent.

Flick (Guest) (12:41):

It is all learning because you don’t just give birth and know what you’re doing. Nobody can say “I just gave birth and I knew exactly what to do.” You might have known some things how to change diaper and stuff like that.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (12:53):

Cross your fingers and hope you’re doing-

Flick (Guest) (12:55):

Hope for the best.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (12:57):

Flick, you’ve mentioned when we’ve spoken previously that one of your sons doesn’t live with you but that you’ve worked really hard to parent him from a distance. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Flick (Guest) (13:09):

Yeah, so when I said that my 11 month old was taken, he remained in care. So I guess for 11 years I just fought this system that I want my child, to fulfil my emotional needs.


And last year guardianship went through and I became okay with it because what happened was I went on a visit to see my son, and he told me this is what he wanted. He wanted to remain with his stepmother or a foster mother. And I heard him for the first time ever, and I think this is the most precious part about parenting, is actually hearing your children and taking yourself out of it. And I heard him this day and I got in the car and with my supervisor and I said, “Oh, what have I been doing for 11 years pushing something that I want and I haven’t heard this little boy.”


And what I worked out was I don’t get taken out of the picture just because I’m not a full-time parent, and that the father or in this case the foster carer, can actually parent him pretty great, actually. So what I realised is how do we still have our time and make the most of that staff though not too long ago we got to be together on the water and go paddle boarding together. And then that time, asking how he’s going. And I remember he said to me, “If I fall out of here, mum, will you save me?”


And I’m like, “Yeah, definitely. I’ll be in that water straight away.”


So there moments that I know that I’ve been able to build up this trust with him that he feels safe and that’s what it’s about. It’s not about having to sleep in under my roof. It would be beautiful, don’t get me wrong, all the kids together.


But how do we make the most of this stuff when we are living separate? And it is, it’s trying to have phone calls, letters, we’ve got social media now, we can have texts in private message and FaceTime and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been able to sit down with him and build his family tree at the park with him, and let him know who his family is and where he is from. And I didn’t need to do that from my own home.


But that’s the way I was thinking. I guess that’s the stigma on parents, especially women, that we have to be the primary carer and then that’s not the case. There’s other ways to do this stuff and everyone can remain happy.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (15:21):

And also that family can mean different things. We don’t have to be a nuclear family, do we? Family can be all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

Flick (Guest) (15:30):

Exactly, exactly.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (15:32):

I know that you are an advocate for parents navigating through the child protection system and I know you’ve had conversations before about your life and this journey that you’ve been on. Can you tell me why you feel it’s important to talk about these things?

Flick (Guest) (15:48):

Yeah, I guess the biggest part is that if I look back and if you hear back from what I was saying, there was nobody, I had nothing. I had nobody, even before the kids were removed, I had no one to say, “Hey, Flick, what’s going on?” So that’s where I love supporting parents just to say, “Hey, are you okay? What’s going on here?” And just listen because I’ve tried and work out when was I ever heard from a child living in a pretty hectic family, with child abuse and sexual abuse and all that kind of stuff. No one ever heard me.


Fighting with the department for my children back, I still wasn’t heard. And it wasn’t until actually my own work service, like “We’re listening, we’re here, how can we support you?”


And I guess that brought me hope. And I think parents just need some hope to continue on in their journeys. No matter if it’s up or down, you’ve got a bit of hope and someone to hear us, things will be okay.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (16:41):

You have showed such a lot of resilience through this journey, Flick and I’m wondering what advice you would give to others who perhaps grew up in a similar environment, that are either considering becoming parents or aren’t parents already?

Flick (Guest) (16:57):

I think just don’t forget, people are there, just about finding the right kind of people and just being honest on how you feel.


Some days it’s hard waking up six times a night to a baby to feed them, and that’s okay. We’re allowed to feel tired, we’re allowed to feel down. We’re allowed to feel happy and all this stuff is normal.


But the longer we keep it to ourself, we feel like it’s not normal. So it’s about just expressing that stuff to other people, and really reaching out when you’re not okay. Like my 16 year old just said to me the other day, I was in Melbourne because I’m on this journey of flying the country.


And she said to me, “Mum, I just want to let you know it’s okay not to be okay and it’s okay to say you’re not okay.”


And I was just like, “Oh, bless you.” It just melted my heart. So it’s about hanging in there, just one foot in front of the other, reaching out to help and just keep doing your best.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (17:49):

And as a mother myself, I think sometimes we try and portray this perfect image of happy, clean children. We’ve got a tidy home, everything’s put together. And more often than not, that’s not the reality of being a mom.

Flick (Guest) (18:05):

Yeah, and definitely like my autistic boy, he loves to smudge food all over his face before it actually goes in his mouth and only wants to wear certain things. And sometimes when he dresses himself, it’s very interesting and I had to let go of that stigma myself, too. And plus my trauma. If my house isn’t clean, my kid’s going to be removed.


So my son’s taught me how to let that stuff go, because anything may happen when me and him’s out and about. No one’s home is perfect. And if I’m walking into a perfect home, I’m wondering what’s going on. Walking to a home that is lived in, people are happy.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (18:40):

Is there anything else that you feel is important in this conversation that we highlight?

Flick (Guest) (18:46):

I guess just more that the remembrance that we’re all human beings, just trying our hardest and it’s okay to make the mistake. We’re still just trying to get through the day as best as we can. And part of life is making mistakes. It’s just that we don’t give up once we make the mistake, we change that and move forward. But I just think people forget a story like mine. I guess when my kids removed, people just thought I just didn’t love my children and I neglected them.


And I like to tell people I didn’t wake up one day and go, “You know what? I’m going to neglect my children today.” That was not the story. My family has three generations of child protection. I have multiple generations of alcoholism. There’s a story behind what went on with my children being removed. There’s still a story today behind the success I am in life. There’s always a story. And if we can just take a moment to ask people, are they okay and hear their story out, we might have more understanding of the person and how we can actually help.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (19:44):

Thank you, Flick, for taking the time to share your story with us today. It has been a fantastic insight into parenting and learning to parent when you haven’t been parented well yourself.

Flick (Guest) (19:55):

Thank you.

Alicia Ranford (Host) (19:56):

You have been listening to an Emerging Minds Families podcast. If anything spoken about today has been distressing for you or you find yourself struggling, please reach out for help. You can call Lifeline on 131114 or more resources for support can be found in our show notes.

Narrator (20:14):

Visit our website at for a wide range of free information and resources to help support child and family mental health. Emerging Minds leads the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. The Centre is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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