Not the way you think.
That’s not to say that inside of each of us, there’s a biological yearning to have our own children, to guide the next generation, to build life out of love and carry on our own legacies (though there is certainly something to be said for that wide-ranging impulse.)
No, instead, inside of each of us, there is the potential to be for ourselves what our parents couldn’t have been.
To be our own parents.
In modern psychology, it’s called re-parenting.
Re-parenting: the act of giving yourself what you didn’t receive as a child and still crave as an adult.
Most people experience a level of dissatisfaction with the way their parents did things. That’s understandable – our ideas about how to behave towards children, how to instill values, and even what kind of world to prepare our children for have shifted formlessly and rapidly throughout the 20th century.
We can probably assume that before the 20th century, child-rearing looked a lot like making sure there was food on the table, a trade they could learn, and a dowry that might entice a potential mate. Not so anymore.
Whether or not we can forgive the mistakes of our parents is almost irrelevant to the concept of learning to live with the consequences of those mistakes.
That’s where re-parenting comes in.
So much of our subconscious – our outward personality expressions, our attachment styles, our hopes and goals, our inner tectonic friction, our handling of emotions and failures and successes – is developed in our childhood, and aided by the people who influence us the most: our parents.
We learn to water our life gardens before we learn to prioritize our crops.
As adults, practicing active re-parenting can be very helpful not only in combating childhood trauma, but in teaching ourselves our own worth.
Especially if you want to treat the people in your life better – we can only treat others as well as we treat ourselves.
Instead of feeling protective, defensive, or guarded about the experience you had being parented…
Use these tips to try reparenting yourself every day.
Ask Yourself What Triggers You?
Specifically with regards to your parents – what are you quick to defend? Being spanked? Being left alone? Being micromanaged? Being leaned on for emotional support? Being asked to choose sides?
It’s reasonable to want to keep your parents in a position of respect in your mind. There’s always the possibility that if you really begin to examine how some of those events made you feel, your relationship with your parents will have to change.
There’s no judgment being made here – but whatever it is about your childhood or your parent’s behavior towards you that makes you the most prickly, is probably where you require extra attention now.
From There, Make a Daily Promise to Yourself
Since your parents had no way of knowing what kind of needs you’d have or disciplines you’d prefer, feeling angry at them for not meeting you where you wanted to be met isn’t entirely productive at this stage.
What can be productive is using your answer from step one about what triggers you and inverting it so that you can do for yourself what you wish had been done for you.
Did you wish you’d been physically touched more – hugged, snuggled, kissed, patted on the back? Promise yourself every day to show yourself some physical affection.
Did you wish that you’d been given a break and allowed to quit, fail, or mess up? Promise yourself every day that you’ll actually listen to how you’re feeling about performing tasks – is everything on your list necessary or were you just taught that your list must be full?
Did you wish that you’d been rewarded for good behavior instead of just punished for bad? Promise yourself to notice your tiny, daily successes and reward yourself accordingly!
Nurture Your Inner Child
That disappointed, confused, wounded eight year old is as alive today as they were way back when.
Speak to them. Listen to them. Write a letter to them as the adult you are today. Write a letter from them the way you imagine they’d see yourself now.
Give yourself a day when you do things that feed your child-self’s soul – read Nancy Drew books, or wander through the woods collecting sticks, or go to see a movie and stay after to catch the next showing.
Tell them they’re enough. They’re loved. They’re special and wanted and their feelings are valued.
(Even if it all feels a little silly.)
We don’t have to bemoan our childhoods and parents’ shortcomings, or try to find faults in childhoods that were great.
We just have to notice the gaps between what we wanted and what we got, and try to fill them in ourselves as best we can.