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From Generation to Generation… What Passed On?

Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

One day, two-year old Dahai suddenly mentioned that when he was one month old, his maternal grandmother had remarked that he cried too much! Indeed, Dahai was delivered by Caesarean-section, and cried frequently after he was born. His mother was startled to know that he still remembered events that had happened when he was only one month old. His maternal grandma had flown from Taiwan to the U.S. to help take care of the new-born Dahai and left shortly after. When Dahai’s mother asked him whether he remembered what it was like to be in her womb, he replied, “Yes.” When asked what he was doing, he replied: “swimming.”

According to Dahai’s kindergarten teacher, many children between two and three years old have memories of their time spent in the womb and when they were born, but they forget shortly thereafter. Parents can help them preserve these memories by recording them down. A three-year old girl in the kindergarten made drawings of her past life in a Chinese village.

Western medical research has begun to investigate children’s memories of the womb and of birth. A Japanese gynaecologist, Dr Akira Ikegawa, wanted to investigate whether Japanese children have these memories. Between August 2000 to December 2000, he surveyed 79 mothers and asked them whether their children had spontaneously mentioned about events relating to their time in the womb or at birth. Results showed that 53% of these mothers indicated that their children had memories of the womb, and 41% had memories of birth (particularly those who had difficult deliveries). His second survey was conducted between August 2002 and September 2002 and involved 878 mothers. Among the respondents, 35% indicated that their children had memories of the womb, and 24% of birth. These memories were mainly of the womb’s colour, temperature, sound, and feelings. One young girl recognised the park that her mother used to take walks in during her pregnancy. Another child remembered the T.V. program that his mother watched during pregnancy.

What was more surprising to Dr Ikegawa was that some two- and three-years old children could see the foetus inside the womb. For example, these children knew that their mothers were pregnant or had a miscarriage even before their mothers became aware of it. If their parents did not talk to the foetus during pregnancy, these children felt very lonely in the womb and were in a hurry to get out.

These memories of young children provide more evidence that the foetus and new-born children are conscious. Psychologists who specialized in issues related to the foetus and new-born indicate that the nine months in the womb and the first year after birth provide the body-mind blueprint for the child’s entire life. For children under two years of age, their frontal lobes and hippocampus at the back of their brains are not fully developed, so they have memories of the sub-consciousness, but not of the self.

These memories of sub-consciousness are the sources of natural instincts, likes, and automatic responses of the child. While bringing up their children, parents activate their memories of the womb and of early childhood. This explains why adults who were abused as children are easily prone to abusing their children. The pain and wounds of the previous generation gets transferred to the next generation. These pain and wounds have a way of replicating themselves and being passed on.

How does one prevent these negative childhood experiences from being transmitted to the next generation? Two specialists have summarised their professional expertise in a book titled “Parenting From the Inside Out”. One is Dr Daniel S. Siegel, a specialist in child psychology and neurology; the other is Mary Hartzell, a specialist in early childhood education. These specialists advise parents to first clear the source of their emotional responses, which generally originate from their childhood. In particular, when they are very angry, they must not hit their children. Let the emotions settle down, and then recall what memories provoked one to react so strongly. For example, if we had been beaten and scolded before as children, our habitual tendency is to also beat and scold our children.

Parents who were not respected when young are less likely to respect their own children. Likewise, parents who did not experience warm parent-child relation as children have difficulty establishing warm relations with their own children. Psychologists can ascertain the relation between parent and child by getting the parents to narrate their childhood experiences. In general, there are four kinds of parent-child relations: warm and secure, avoidant, anxious/ambivalent, and disorganised. If parents can provide children with a warm environment that satisfies the children’s needs, the children will feel safe. If the children’s needs are frequently not met, parent-child relation will not be close, and there will be avoidance. If the parents sometimes understand the child’s needs but sometimes not, the child feels unsettled and parent-child relation is one that is ambivalent and characterised by anxiety. If parents do not heal their own childhood wounds (e.g., fright or sorrow), they may have unpredictable reactions when they interact with their children. They may have rages or lose control of their senses. If parents get drunk and lose control of their actions, they can cause confusion in their children’s consciousness. This causes long-lasting harm to the children’s body and mind.

An infant first develops the right brain. Before the child turns two, the major stimulant for the development of the right brain is the emotional face of the mother or caretaker. Communication through contact with the mother’s skin is very important. Some doctors recommend that in the infant’s first nine months, parents should have maximum skin contact when cradling the infant. This will have very positive impact on the infant’s development. In 12th century Europe, King Frederick of Sicily wanted to know what language would be spoken by infants who never heard the voices of people. He selected some infants and, other than during feeding and cleaning, prevented them from receiving human touch or hearing human voices. None of the infants lived beyond a year.

Orphanages have also found that death rates are high among infants who are unable to bond with their caretakers. Hence, these orphanages have since changed to an arrangement where each infant is under the charge of a specific individual caretaker.

Children who are adopted or brought up by nannies may also experience a break in personal ties, which may influence their subsequent interpersonal relationships. If separation is an early childhood experience, it will be more difficult for such children to establish personal ties later on in life.

A healthy start to correcting such deficiencies is to understand our own childhood and familial histories. For example, people who lose a parent early in life, or who is adopted can use the power of the mind to re-establish such broken family ties. The following is one such method: In a relaxed manner, breathe in to the pelvic bone area, and then gently breathe out. Repeat this a few times. Then, count to eight when you breathe in, hold for eight counts, breathe out for eight counts, then pause for four counts. Repeat this three times. When the brain waves enter into a relaxed state, visualise a horizon, and recall the imagery of your last encounter with your parents. If you don’t have such memories, simply think about the encounter. Observe the reactions of your physical body. If there is any uncomfortable feeling, fully experience this feeling. At this time, you can rotate your eyes to ease this negative feeling. Then feel that your heart and the heart of your loved one are connected, and that you are sending love to your loved one. You are also re-connecting to the love of your loved one, and receiving love from him/her. Connecting each other’s heart transcends time and space, and it doesn’t matter where our loved ones are in the universe. We can still love them and wish them happiness.

Specific features of a culture can also have far-reaching influences on future generations. Consider a child who grows up in a polygamous family with one father and many mothers. What will the child learn from his/her mother? What will be passed on to future generations? Will the child have a sense of safety? What about the child’s self-esteem? Competitiveness? Hatred? Jealousy? Rage? Feeling of inequity? Scheming for power?

What about cultures where one’s land has been invaded and occupied by others? What are the special features of such cultures? If old wounds perpetuate new wounds, is it possible that people who grow up in a repressed environment may also have tendencies to invade and control others? Will people who have experienced poverty be particularly anxious about money matters and obsessed about earning more money? As the author of the book “Parenting from the Inside Out” says: only if we deeply and thoroughly understand ourselves will we be able to do a good job in educating and raising the next generation. If every mother and father were to first heal their own wounds, they will together create a peaceful and happy society, and bring up a happy and healthy next generation.


IkegawaAlira. “I remember when I was in Mommy’s Tummy”: Lyon Co. Ltd, Tokyo, Japan, 2002.

Siegel, Daniel, M.D. and Hartzell, Mary. “Parenting from the Inside Out”: Jeremy P. Tarcger, Putnam, New York, 2003.