Monday, May 10, 2010

Self Parenting Part I of III - Learning From Good Parents

Hello Friends:

Part of my healing investigations include learning about how to self-parent. For those of us who did not have a nurturing childhood, learning how to self-parent your own inner child can be a key to developing needed skills for life. Or at least that's what they tell me.

I've done a lot of poking around for resources and ideas, and figured I'd put them up in a series of posts here on the blog. Note, that some of the places I link to here are not big favorites with me - they might be religious sites or have an agenda to sell something. But I want to give credit where it is due, and not just claim ideas that are not mine. But don't assume that I'm endorsing any of these places. There be weirdness out on the intarwebs.

The first thing I thought to investigate was ideas of a 'good parent.' I didn't want to rely on my own dubious internal models for such a thing, so I went digging around and created the following (long) list of what a good parent is/does. It is combined from Buzzle
, Cutekid, eHow, and Myyoungchild. It is hardly comprehensive, but it gives a good idea of what a 'good parent' might be.

Tops on most every list is Unconditional Love. I think I'm going to have that be a topic for another entire post, but will put it here along with the rest for now. The first category is what a 'good parent' would do. In parenthesis is my 'translation' for a good self-parent.

1. Love your children unconditionally (Love your inner child unconditionally.) For children, this means saying it to them, hugging them, kissing them, telling them how much they mean to you and how unique and wonderful they are. Words have to be backed up by actions to be believed however, and everything else on this list is how to back it up. The same is true for dealing with our inner children. We have to tell ourselves we have our own unconditional love, be there with 'hugs' for ourselves, and tell ourselves we are unique, wonderful, and valued. We may just start to believe it when those 'words' are backed up by the actions.

2. Make your children a high priority (Make your inner child a high priority.)  We have to make caring for our inner children a priority. It can be easy to ignore them or turn away, so we have to make a commitment to keep them in a high priority position.

3. Understand how your children grow (Understand the development and needs of your inner child.)  We need to understand how our inner child came to be, what it needs, and how it will change over time. That way we know what to provide for ourselves, and what are realistic expectations.

4. Provide Encouragement/Never Criticize (No translation needed.) Every child needs to feel like their parents are their best cheerleaders and biggest fans. Inner children also need encouragement, not criticism. Learn as you can from mistakes, and then move on to the next item that you can use to encourage your inner child.

5. Spend time with your children (Spend Time on your Inner Child.) Your inner child needs you to spend some time with it, learning and playing, as well as comforting and nurturing. At times, set aside the constant need to judge, weigh, and analyze, and let your inner child have some simple fun. Spending time builds trust and love.

6. Listen to your children (Listen to what your inner child says and thinks.) Your inner child probably has a lot to say, strong opinions, and some very clear ideas about things. Your inner child might also have questions. Listen to what that person is saying, and respond with straightforward and genuine answers or the care that is needed.

7. Accept and acknowledge your child's feelings and desires (No translation, again.) It is okay to feel sad, scared, angry, jealous, or confused. Acknowledge the feelings of your inner child, don't dismiss them or judge them. Ask the inner child to find out why it is reacting the way it is.

8. Give safety to your children (Create safety for your inner child.) Everyone needs to feel a different level of safety, and this changes with time. Find out what your inner child needs to feel safe. It might be something surprising, like a stuffed animal, a separate room, or a pet. Or less surprising, like a better lock on the front door or an investment in better tires for the car. Find out what your inner child needs, and then explain to the inner child how you are meeting (or will meet) that need.

9. Model Good Behavior (Show, Don't Just Tell.) Children watch, listen, and learn. They do not do what they are told, they do what they have had modeled for them. If you want your inner child to believe you, to trust you, you can't say "I'll take care of you" and then eat pizza every night. Your inner child sees you are not sincere about care. This goes the same for proper expressions of emotions, standing up for yourself, and meeting daily needs for food, sleep, health, etc. Nurture yourself in adult ways, and when you go to nurture your inner child, the inner child will believe your good intentions.

10. Set reasonable expectations and express them clearly (Know what to expect from your inner child.) You can't expect your inner child to respond like an adult, to be perfect, or not to have needs. You have to be realistic based on what you learn about the development of the inner child, and by listening to yourself. Be ready to counter unacceptable behavior when your inner child pushes you to act out, "I know you are angry and sad, but you can't self harm by punching walls or not eating for three days. Is there something else you can do for relief? A distraction, a bath, a nap?"

11. Keep a regular schedule for your children (Keep a schedule for your inner child.) Schedules help to develop discipline and responsibility, as well as create an environment with less confusion and more straightforward expectations. As an adult, you can easily bend your schedule, eat poorly, stay up all night, and do as you please. But your inner child might not be up to all that. Each day does not have to be totally planned out, but try to do some things consistently (other than work schedule).

12. Create togetherness through routines. (Engage the inner child in meaningful rituals and routines, alone and with others.) Daily, weekly, or even yearly family rituals create a bond between family members. It may be as simple as reading a book together every night or taking a yearly trip to the beach. Let your inner child get involved with family rituals now the way you did as a kid, even if (especially if) you are alone. Put up holiday decorations, go on a yearly vacation to a spot you love and watch a holiday parade. If you are separated from family, you can also engage in rituals with friends; like movie nights on Thursdays or a game every Sunday.

13. Create a consistent set of rules (Be consistent with your inner child.) Like a specific schedule and regular routines and rituals, consistent rules are necessary for structure. Don't change things on yourself after you have set a boundary or a limit. This is a part of understanding and meeting expectations for yourself and your inner child. The same goes for 'discipline.' After you have set the limits, rules and expectations, try to enforce them every time. Again, this builds trust and shows your inner child that you can build and respect boundaries.

14. Reward your children (Reward your inner child.) Give your inner child good things any time they 'do right' or for no reason at all. Rewards are the only real way to change adult behavior, and your child is stuck inside your adult body.

15. Don't spank your children (Don't hurt your inner child.) Spanking achieves nothing but fear. If you feel frustrated or angry take a break. This goes the same for that inner child. You might be very frustrated with yourself at times, and think some kind of punishment is in order. Punishment does not change the behavior of adults (or inner children). Learn from mistakes, disappointments, and failures, and then move on. Do not punish, harm, or self-sabotage.

16. Strengthen your team (Keep everyone on the same page.) Go ahead and share your plans for self-parenting with your spouse, therapist, or whoever. Let them know what you are doing, and how they can assist. They should also know about ways you are trying to develop more structure or routine for your inner child, so they don't end up making things more difficult.

17. Teach your children what you value (Not sure how to translate this ... but it was cool so I didn't delete it.) "It is crucial to show and teach your children the values that you hold dear. Discuss with your children the importance of being honest, of being fair, of being respectful, of caring for others, and of being patient and understanding. Model these values for them, as children are astute in watching how adults behave and imitating that behavior. Whatever your spiritual beliefs may be, teach them to your children in a way they can understand. By doing these things, you are laying an important foundation that will guide your children throughout their lives."

18. Parents need recharge time (Don't spend every moment obsessing about the inner child.) Parents need to take some time for themselves, or they risk being no good for their children or themselves. Avoid sleep deprivation, isolation and self-neglect. You are more than your inner child. You are a complex adult. Nurture all of yourself, not just the inner child part. Make caring for your inner child a habit or reflex, and your time being you, the adult, in a newly comfortable and nurtured way.

Now if that doesn't seem like a tall order ...

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: "Teardrop and Her Kittens" from / CC BY 2.0


Andy said...

That's a pretty exhaustive list! Are some of the items easier than others for you to accomplish? Had you instinctively been drawn to do some of them before doing this research?

Amy said...

Wow. That is comprehensive and very insightful. I guess it boils down to having a relationship with your inner child, in a full sense of the word.

Amy said...

Also: Kitties!!!!!

The Blue Morpho said...

Andy - I think the basic idea of listening to yourself was one that took the most time, and has been particularly profound. As an adult, we can be frustrated with that part of us that still wants to be treated like a kid. But if you never had those needs filled, you need to listen to that kid, and do some of what is being asked. Frustration is pointless, you have the needs, you have to fill them.

The Blue Morpho said...

Amy - Thanks for the many comments! And yes, that picture with the kittens is so cute. I love the sense of peace and happiness of the mother cat with her kittens. Also yes, a relationship with the inner child seems to be what we are striving for, but also a movement towards becoming a whole adult.

Kinder Brain said...

One of the most healing experiences for me is the acceptance I get in AA. For that reason, I am grateful that I had to seek help with alcoholism. During my first year of sobriety, I was aware that relationships I had with 3 women in AA my mother's age were healing me. Each was providing me a "missing piece" of unconditional love. I am still challenged with "barking up the wrong tree" and futile seeking. I think I was programmed to do this in my childhood. It leads to disappointment, frustration, and feeling like I am not good enough. However, therapy and working with my sponsor in AA has helped me become more aware of this.

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