The technical definition of reparenting yourself is giving yourself what you didn't have as a child. While I agree, the journey to successfully giving your inner child what you didn't receive is not that cut and dry - you can think you've as Auntie Iyanla says "done the work," and then you're triggered out of nowhere and have to go back to square one. Wellness is a journey, and to successfully explore reparenting; you have to be prepared for those curveballs your inner child with throw at you.
Last summer, I went to visit my dad, stepmom, and my little brother. When I arrived, he told me my younger sister was coming too. I was excited because I hadn't seen her in years (there's six of us, I'm the second oldest.) My siblings and I aren't close, but I'm always optimistic, so I was excited to see her; but I'll admit, I just wanted to hang with my dad. We have a great relationship, but like any parent/child dynamic, it's had its struggles, especially when you consider that I'm his oldest daughter.
Overall, my takeaway from most older siblings I encounter is that there's often underlying jealously of their younger siblings, and resentment for their parents. Most of us are seeing them engage, show up, and overall navigate life differently with our siblings in ways that they never did with us. Not to mention the painful moments that our siblings either never experienced or are too young to remember that being older, we recount vividly. These aren't easy emotions to navigate, especially with people that you love deeply.
Moments like those, and what happened next can be triggering AF - but it showed me that I wasn't as past my childhood trauma as I thought, and it gave me the crash course in inner child healing that I needed.
The night my sister arrived, my dad told me that he was getting her a car because she was starting college. When I left for college, my father was in prison, and my mother was unemployed - it was rough, so it stung, but I was happy for her. Still, I knew I had to set boundaries and not physically be there when they went to the dealership. We spent every other day together working out, having family dinners, swimming in his development, etc. but that day, I made sure (without causing a scene, you can set boundaries and not be selfish) that I would be MIA. Before they left for the dealership, my dad dropped me off at Starbucks to work, I told him I missed writing, and that this was my Saturday routine at home (which is true) so he wouldn't suspect anything.
He never said anything, but my guess is he didn't buy it because he called several times to ask if I was OK, and I said yes every time. I had the best day to myself, the hours flew by, and once they finished, he showed up to get me. Minutes into the car ride, I realized they weren't finished; we were going back to the dealership - the same dealership I told him I didn't want to go to. They had to sign some additional papers, and when they got out the car and walked towards the convertible he was all set to purchase, I felt myself losing it.
I got out of the car, and I walked far enough so that no one could see me, and I called my mother crying hysterically. It didn't matter that I had a car that I loved, in that moment, I was 17, and even though my dad was in eyes reach of me, I instantly felt abandoned. The emotions that followed shocked me even more because out of nowhere, I started to get flashbacks about my ex. It was as if my unresolved trauma was like, "Wait you forgot something," and I cried even harder, thinking of all the ways my ex showed up for other women that he never did for me.
I was a mess, a complete mess.
As I dried my tears, my mom calmed me down, and reminded me of where we are now and that I was safe. She told me that had my dad been home, he would have been there and that his absence didn't mean he didn't care about my needs, it meant he was in prison - a place where he was suffering too. Once we got home, I went for a swim by myself and guess who showed up? My dad.
He told me that he was sorry if seeing him do things for my sister that he couldn't do for me was painful, and that if I wanted, he would trade in my car too. The 15-year-old in me who would've killed for a punch buggy convertible wanted to respond, "Hell yeah!" But the 26-year-old adult whose car is almost paid off knew that wouldn't fix anything. The car wasn't the issue, the feelings of inadequacy were.
Inner child healing is admitting what the issues are, even when you don't want to face what's underneath the surface. If you've ever had a moment like mine, remember these things as you embark on your reparenting journey:
Your parents were not born to be your parents.
Jada Pinkett Smith's episode of Red Table Talk on forgiving her father gave me the reality check I needed. Along with her brother actor Caleeb Pinkett, the talk show host delved into how she forgave her father - and the moment where she realized that she'd been emotionally dependent on him based on his title:
"I had the most startling realization that Rob's life wasn't about him being my father. It was about him being on his journey, and along the way, he just happened to give life to me."
Freeing yourself from this narrative in your mind allows you to not only forgive your parents, but anyone else who you arrogantly assume has to behave a certain way because of the position they hold in your life.
Remind yourself where you are now.
Trauma can't be all you set your thoughts on; you need to tell yourself good things too. Lately, I remind myself of the small things that are different when I find myself getting sad; I say things like, "I have a growing relationship with God. I'm loved. I'm maturing daily. I'm meeting my own needs. I live in a beautiful home. I'm kind to others."
Affirm the truths that reflect where you are now, not the hurt of your past. Also, enjoy the good parts of your childhood too. My parents passed down much more than trauma - they gave me an understanding of God, creativity, sass and whit, money to travel the world, intelligence, and the freedom to explore any career path that I wanted.
Give everything you ever needed to yourself.
Reparenting can bring up a range of emotions for people who were abandoned, adopted, had inconsistent parents, etc. but here's something that we can all universally apply - your parents don't owe you shit but life. In my mind, I thought my dad should have been as gentle as Woody Carmichael from Spike Lee's Crooklyn, or as hands-on as Flex Washington from the UPN show, One on One, but all of that was rooted in my childlike ignorance of how life worked.
Asking my dad to be anything other than who he was, a young father with minimal references of what a man needed to be for his children was unrealistic AF. Beyond that, wrapping my head around this freed me from looking to anyone to fill voids within me. No one can be everything for you, and embracing this, allowed me to tap into a level of emotional self-sufficiency (and accountability to myself) that I never knew I could.
Have a real conversation with your parents about your childhood trauma (if possible).
A turning point for my dad and me after not speaking for a while was sitting down and talking about everything we left unsaid over the years. He told me things from his childhood that hurt him and admitted that without even knowing he'd been parenting me through the lens of what he didn't have, completely ignoring what I needed and I told him how his behavior affected how I interacted with men.
For the first time, I saw that much of my sensitivity comes from him and that he held onto things just like I did. That conversation made it clear that we both needed to reparent ourselves, and for the first time, I saw my dad for who he was, as a person, and quite frankly, as a child. Additionally, that discussion showed me how important it was that I continue to heal, so my children won't need to have a similar talk with me years from now.
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