Guest Post by Sue Bryan of Inward Journey. Sue is a ICEA certified educator, studied with Magda Gerber and was the first Quality Parenting Instructor certified by Dr. Ilene Val-Essen. She is currently in private practice as a Personal Transformation Coach. Listen to my interview with her on Heart-Centered Life BlogTalkRadio.
When my daughter was a baby, just learning to pull herself up to standing, we lived in an old house – the kind where the rooms were all in a row and you could see all the way from the kitchen through the dining room and the living room.
Our daughter’s crib was in the living room, up against the far wall and one day when I was in the kitchen, she woke up from her nap and pulled herself up in her crib and called out to me. We could see each other down the passageway.
I called out an answer, “I’ll be right there!” and looked over to her and smiled. I finished what I was doing as she watched, then I started towards her, to pick her up. As I passed through the dining area, our phone rang and I decided to stop and answer it before I got all involved in diaper changing and snack activity. So I took a turn, out of my daughter’s line of sight to pick up the phone.
I heard her happy gurgles turn to protest from her crib. Where had Mommy gone? From her point of view I had disappeared for no reason. She was not too distressed; she seemed more curious than anything, but this incident got me to thinking about all the different ways she could have perceived and interpreted this occurrence.
She could have responded with curiosity, which she seemed to have done. She could have reacted with fear – oh no! Mommy, my safety, can simply disappear without warning. She could have been upset – Mommy cannot be relied upon. Or she could have turned the incident into a message about her self-worth – Mommy always thinks other things are more important than I am.
What struck me about this line of thought was how similar the reactions my daughter could have had, were to comments I was used to hearing from my adult friends about their own lives. It has been all the rage these past 50 years to trace each of our life difficulties back to some wound inflicted upon us as innocent children. Very often it is our parents who play the villain role in these stories – My mother was never there for me; my father cared more about his work than he did about his family, etc.
This made me think: What if all those wounds we so loved to blame, were merely stories we made up to explain something that we didn’t understand. What if each so-called wound also had a different, less hurtful explanation, like me disappearing from my daughter’s view, not because I didn’t love her, not because I care more about the phone, but simply because it worked better in my flow of getting things done to answer the phone first.
Kimberly doesn’t remember this incident, and she has never seemed wounded by it. By the time I got to her crib, she was sitting and playing happily. Nor does she remember an incident that happened a few months later that showed me how intricately we are entwined with our children.
I had asked Kimberly to do something; I don’t recall what, only that it was something she didn’t want to do. She was standing in our front hall and looking up at me. When I made my request, she scrunched up her face and blew a giant raspberry at me. Now this type of response looks amusing and cute in the movies, but when your real-life child does this, no matter how old he or she is, it is not funny at all. It is frustrating and insulting and feels disrespectful.
I felt a flare of anger, and though I held onto myself – and my parenting skills – enough to refrain from reacting from that anger, I was very surprised by the next response I did have. I flinched. I actually turned my face away and ducked as if I were about to be hit. It was as if I were the child showing my disdain for whatever I was supposed to be doing and there was a parent there who was sure to discipline me with a smack across the face.
I realized in that moment that there was a little girl still lurking in me who had raspberry-blowing feelings that wanted to be expressed, and who had learned that the consequences of expressing them were sure to include a face slap – a discipline method that was very common in the 1950’s.
We all have dozens if not hundreds of these little child aspects in our consciousness – places where little – or even not so little – wounds are stored, waiting for healing. These stored wounds might be from real injustices or they might be from perceived injustices, those instances where we interpreted a situation as hurtful, as my daughter might have done when I decided to answer the phone rather than continue on to pick her up.
Our parents and teachers were never perfect. They did what they did and they behaved the way they behaved and we cannot change the past. Fortunately, each of us also has, inside, a parent who is perfect. This parent knows us as well as we know ourselves. He or she knows exactly the right words to say, exactly the right gestures to make, to perfectly support our growth and maturation.
As my daughter grew and our family expanded, I watched my children carefully. I tried to discern what the needs were beneath their behavior. I tried to provide the individualized support I felt each of them needed at all the different junctures of their lives. As I did this I also learned more about my own inner child aspects and how to listen to them and support them in maturing.
This is the essence of re-parenting.