“Here’s Looking at You, Kid” : Parenting Your Inner Children
It’s 8pm and I’m driving home from a long day at the studio. Crossing the majestic Golden Gate, uplit against the eggplant sky, I begin to exhale, symbolically leaving that part of my world behind me. Winding through the Waldo Tunnel, I drop down into the green-hilled bosom of Marin County. Suddenly there is a small finger lightly tapping my shoulder whispering “What treat can we have when we get home?” I ignore it at first, but that finger becomes more persistent as I speed past two golden arches calling to passersby like twin carnival barkers.
“Absolutely not!” I say being the good mother.
“Ohhh…come ON!!” the tiny voice pleads.
“No way! Besides they’re not even made of real potatoes.” I rationalize.
I’ve learned rationalization doesn’t work with a five year-old, nor a seven year-old, or even a nine year-old when they reaaally want something. But I’ve resolved to be strong over the years..especially when it comes to food.
Now you may be asking why I had a car load of kids on my way home from work? I didn’t stop at a soccer practice or ballet class, or even daycare. These were all my children…my sweet, lovely, innocent, partially neurotic, and sometimes exceedingly annoying children. They are in fact my inner children. There are many and gratefully easy to keep track of, since they all bear the same name. Now before you roll your eyes and close this browser window, hang with me and read on because this is not your typical ’embrace your inner child’ namby-pamby post. It’s about to get real!
It took me a long time to reckon with these kids. They ran amok for so long, dictating my every move and reaction like I was some subservient nanny. And just like any other child they were just trying to get their needs met, afterall it was essential for their survival. It was on my path to waking up that I imposed martial law on the little rugrats. Do you recall this old nursery rhyme?
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Yikes! Sounds like a job for Child Protective Services. Not only was I pushing them away, but I was trying to exorcise them out of my body. Yet, as children are wont to do, they met my hostility with love and a longing to be accepted.
Whose kids are these anyway?
Within each of us are tiny voices ranging in age and informing our reactions to various daily triggers. We know we’re acting irrationally towards food or a relationship or work deadline, but we can’t seem to curb the behavior. Why? Because we’re not acting as adults. We’re re-acting as the age that is being triggered.
Here’s an example: That voice pleading me to stop for french fries on the way home isn’t my 43 year-old self. It’s my 5 year-old self who learned that after a day of toiling away in kindergarten, learning my numbers and ABCs, I’d be rewarded with a hard-earned order of McDonald’s french fries and milkshake. Granted these were happy memories. There was one McDonald’s in town and it was located on a hill which overlooked a lake. My mother and I would sit out on the patio and feed french fries to the hopping wrens and blackbirds and talk about our day. It was a very nice memory until the guy dressed up as something called a “Grimace” lumbered toward me with a balloon. Balloon or not, I never enjoyed that “Grimace” dude. I digress. Outside of that purple guy this wasn’t a traumatic experience, it was the way a mother would bond with her daughter after her own long day. However I did develop a fondness for fast food as a result, moreso I developed a habit of using junk food as a way to calm after a long day. So this child comes forward now asking about treats doing a playful dance within me, much the way our actual seven year-old daughter does when she inquires about dessert.
The others aren’t as playful, in fact one who I’d say is seven years-old tells me to run away outside or into a corner of the bedroom when she hears someone slamming doors or pots and pans being thrown about. In present time these sounds are heard from innocuous sources such as my beau rattling around the kitchen when he gallantly decides to make Saturday morning brunch! But there was a time when this seven year-old inherently knew these sounds were not harmless, in fact they were an announcement of an impending threat, so retreat was imperative. My heartbeat still elevates to the sound, my shoulders still tense, but if I suddenly ran outside or into the bedroom, my beau might think it was a statement about his frittata rather than an internal flare. I tell that little girl within there is nothing to be afraid of now, hold her a bit closer, let her know she’s safe.
Sound the Alarms
The triggers pulled by our inner children are like old alarm bells embedded in our cells. Some are more dormant than others depending on the issue or event. These alarms inform our emotional and physical responses. We often experience an old reaction to a traumatic event over and over without fully realizing it. Again, remember the 90-second rule. When the body experiences emotion it only takes 90-seconds to flush it out of its physical system. It’s when we employ the stories over and over that we experience the emotional triggers. It’s the inner children who have their fingers on these triggers and it’s up to us, as adults, to let them know that they no longer have to be so vigilant.
When we’re spiritually asleep, we are in constant reaction with the world around us. As we begin to open our eyes and rub the sleep away, we see what’s not working and we want to immediately eradicate it by pushing it far away from us. But that doesn’t really solve the problem either. In the case of reckoning with your inner kids, it’s simply bad parenting.
Being the Parent
One of the enlightening moments of my life was when I heard one of my teachers explain that we simply cannot push away these fractured and scarred pieces of us.
I remember him saying and here’s the truth mantra:
“Why is it that we push away the most precious, tender voices of ourselves, when all they want is to be cradled and heard?”
If you were faced with a two year-old throwing a tantrum what do you do? Those of us who have faced this delightful display know the only appropriate response is to practice patience, acknowledge, be compassionate, empathetic, regroup, scoop them up and move on.
The same thing is true for these small, young pieces of you. As they speak up, rather than acting upon these triggers, pause. Acknowledge which child within you is raising its hand. How old are they? Visualize them, you at this age. Then, instead of regressing back to that age, be the parent. You get to choose this now. You get to choose to be the adult and have an adult experience rather than the six year-old within you. But even before you choose that behavior, hold that child a bit closer. Cradle them. Let them know their fear, their needs are important and this time you’ve got their back. This practice empowers you to truly shift the patterns which quickly follow the triggers.
So as I drive around this carload of nagging children wanting to stop for french fries, ice cream, potato chips or even wine. I take my seat as their mother. Gently remind them that they are loved, they will be nourished with a hot shower, a cup of tea, scented candles and a good book instead. They seem to be pretty ok with that as they settle in to the backseat of my being.
I always envision myself as a running back football player scooping up these lost kids and charging into the end zone for victory. I know it’s an odd image, but I’d rather be running down that playing field instead of that grumpy old woman stuck in a shoe.
Ready to charge into the endzone? Work With Me!
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