There are many kinds of children and at least as many varieties of parents. When you think about the endless combinations, it’s a wonder things work out as well as they do. Sometimes our parents and their parenting styles are a good match for us and their influence on our lives is mostly beneficial. They are able to meet all of our basic as well as many of our higher needs. They are attuned to our unique physical, emotional and social cues and are willing and able to experiment with a variety of methods for meeting them. They act as positive role models demonstrating healthy behavior. Luckily, children don’t need two perfect parents, just one caregiver that is “good enough” for them.
Unfortunately, there are times when a parent is not a great match for a particular child or the situation is not conducive to an adequate parenting experience. In these cases, significant needs may go unmet or the child may develop unhealthy methods of coping with an upbringing that feels aversive or inadequate to them. This is not to blame either parent or child, as it is not a situation that is chosen by or under the control of either. Some parents find themselves responsible for children with very unique or intensive needs that would be hard for anyone to fill. Difficult childhoods do not have to be the result of abuse or neglect.
Our response patterns develop from birth as a result of our inborn character traits in combination with significant influences in our lives. We may initially respond though primitive instinct or reflex, such as crying when we are hungry. Over time our behavior patterns are modified through reinforcement and punishment. If a child’s response is not reinforced or if it is punished, it will often extinguish. Whereas, behaviors that are reinforced tend to be repeated. Through this, children start to develop beliefs and expectations about themselves, others, and the world: what is helpful and what is not, what works and what doesn’t, what is dangerous and what is safe, what we have control over and what is out of our control, what we can count on and what we cannot, who is good or bad, worthy or unworthy, powerful or weak, trustworthy or untrustworthy, competent or incompetent.
We can carry these foundational beliefs and response patterns into adulthood. For example, expressions of vulnerable emotions like sadness or fear may have been disapproved of, ignored or not modeled by parents while expressions of anger may have been attended to and modeled. The child may come to believe that vulnerability is unacceptable or their ability to recognize or appropriately express vulnerable feelings may become underdeveloped. In adulthood, this may lead to a pattern of coping with vulnerablility primarily through feelings and expressions of anger, which then gets passed on to the next generation.
Our parents were significantly influenced by their parents, they pass these beliefs and response patterns to us (sometimes inadvertently), and we, in turn, pass this on to our own children. Sometimes, parents vow to be completely different and they swing like a pendulum to the opposite pole of parenting styles. In either case, a parenting style that is rigid or otherwise unresponsive to a particular child’s unique needs, can be a problem regardless of the intention behind it.
When our needs have not been sufficiently met at a particular stage of our development, we can seem stuck there. However, it is possible to move forward by satisfying the unmet needs as an adult and making peace with our painful childhood experiences. We might call this “self-reparenting”. Self-reparenting can help us change maladaptive behavior patterns, grow in maturity and wisdom, and interrupt a possible cycle of transmission from generation to generation. Self-reparenting involves:
- Acknowledging and exploring your childhood fears and painful experiences without blame or shame
- Taking the time to get to know yourself and your unique needs and desires
- Being curious about yourself and noticing, without judgment, your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior
- Thinking things through rather than responding automatically (at first you may need to do this after the fact)
- Noticing when your thoughts or beliefs might be biased or when your actions don’t seem to be serving you in a given situation
- Asking yourself what any biased thoughts and beliefs might be about or where they come from
- Experimenting with new ways of thinking and responding
- Being compassionate with yourself and practicing good self-care (treating yourself like you would someone you really care about)
- Consistently attending to your own needs
- Comforting yourself in healthy and supportive ways when you are feeling bad
- Setting healthy boundaries and asserting yourself
- Working toward forgiveness of yourself and others
If you are interested in learning more about reparenting yourself or you suspect you may need some help or guidance in your own self-reparenting journey, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 913-735-5566 or schedule an initial appointment using our secure online scheduler to discuss your particular needs.