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Why We Shouldn’t Let Our Past Define Our Children’s Future

Why We Shouldn’t Let Our Past Define Our Children’s Future, Dreamstime
October 2021
Reading time 5 Minutes

Living North’s columnist Dr Maurice Duffy on why we should not let an imperfect past hinder our, and our children’s, future

A trip around the world where I stopped off in five countries and spent 10 days advising the Mongolian government resulted in me being stuck in self-isolation in a single London bedroom for 10 days, with nowhere to go other than to my imagination. I had plenty of time to think. When should I eat? What should I drink and what is life all about? I think the eating and drinking won!

Self-isolation can be hard, especially when you can’t leave your room or meet up with others, and you are left solely with your thoughts. You don’t have to control your thoughts, but you have to stop them controlling you. 

Every week I do a BBC slot and while in isolation I also did a couple of leadership development virtual sessions where one of the questions, which I am often asked, was ‘Why can’t I break free from where I am?’. 

My response? Life is too short for you to play small or weak with all the talents you have been given. You were born into a life where there are so many opportunities for you to be legendary. Each of us has a calling in this life. The question is, who is really answering that call. Are you?

No one reading this article needs to stay frozen in average forever, as the limitations we create for ourselves are mental constructs of our own making. We need to remember that our excuses are seducers, our fears are liars, our doubts are thieves, and our opportunities sit on the other side of our excuses, fears, and doubts.

‘Our kids’ environment – at home or at school – must be about passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and grit’

I know you have difficult times in your life. We all have. I get it that some things have not turned out like you planned back when you were a child full of fire, desire and wonder. The question is why?

Before I answer that question, let me share some passions of mine. One of my passions is children’s education and the adults we are creating tomorrow. I believe the adult you are today is a result of the parenting you received and the educational environment you grew up in.

Our upbringing and education shaped us, and yes many of us are a mess of insecurities, inhibitions, imposter paranoia and dark behaviours. We live a life of repeating patterns of yesterday, and constantly worrying about tomorrow.

Now the world has got crazier, and I want to break the cycle of generational dysfunctionality where we deposit into our kids, through parenting or education, the hang ups and behaviours that have not served us so well, and are stealing our dreams. For me, our kids’ environment – at home or at school – must be about passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and grit.

Yet tell me where we teach that. We know that many children who watched an adult become aggressive with a doll imitate that aggression in their interactions as well. We know children who watched adults treat the doll kindly imitated that kindness as well. You probably don’t need a fancy science experiment to see that kids mimic their parents. You probably notice it every day. 

Kids repeat what they hear, and they mimic what they see. For this reason, you need to be mindful of the things you’re inadvertently teaching your child. So why am I so scared about our children’s education? I am scared as I see so many adults failing to achieve their ambitions or happiness, and who followed the same route as their kids are now.

My research shows:

• If your parents/teachers encouraged you do chores, you likely take on tasks independently.

• If your parents/teachers taught you social skills, you were more likely to have a good career.

• If your parents/teachers told you lies, it may

• If your parents/teachers spoke negatively about weight, you were more likely to have low self confidence.

• If your Mum and Dad went to university, you were more likely to do the same.

• If your parents taught you to verbalise your feelings, you were less likely to get divorced.

So being an adult in today’s world carries a huge responsibility. No matter what pathway you are on, as an adult or parent, do not let the pain of an imperfect past hinder your future. You are more powerful than you currently understand.

From a young age we mimicked our parents, and were taught clever things at schools that served a world now past. Our children learn through play and experimentation, but this approach quickly gives way to measurement and testing in schools today. As the testing increases in intensity and pressure, the school curriculum becomes narrower and more siloed, and the present repeats the past in schooling that will not serve us well tomorrow. 

Probably of greatest concern to me is that today’s schools squash the originality from most children. I’m reminded that ‘the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea’. I would love to know where we pursue crazy ideas in our schools. Where do we foster imagination? We must move away from lecture‐based, teacher‐centred instruction to a more group‐based, free-wheeling creative hub. 

The answer to the earlier question of why some things have not turned out like you planned back when you were a child (full of fire, desire and wonder) is that the fears, doubts, insecurities, and your past are more important than your dreams. You know that the beliefs that disturb you, the feelings that threaten you, and the projects that unnerve you are exactly what you need to lean into now.

Walking into the things that scare you is you taking back your power/control and will propel you to a better life, and create the platform for your dreams to flourish. Allowing our kids to learn these lessons, that the world needs their passion, creativity, energy and free expression, not our fears, insecurities and rule-based thinking, will allow them to grow into more stable adults, and us into better parents. Sometimes we make things more complicated than they really are. Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.

Dr Maurice Duffy is Visiting Professor at Sunderland, consulting coach to the NHS, the Australian cricket team, Durham Cricket Club, international golfers, rugby and many sports people, and also coaches many senior FTSE 100 business leaders and politicians around the world. Find out more at or follow him on twitter @thebeaksquawks

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