Is today one of those days when your child is having a meltdown over every. single. tiny. thing? Her dress is too itchy, her sandwich doesn’t have enough peanut butter, her sister looked at her for too long, and her left kneecap inexplicably hurts? And with every complaint comes the flushed cheeks, the high-pitched, nasally voice, the instant flow of tears?
Yeah, it’s one of those days over here. And by the time we’re on complaint number five in less than hour, I can feel my gentle parenting skills quickly cascading into a pile of useless information. I become angry–I find myself thinking, “what could you POSSIBLY need, AGAIN, right now?! Your belly is full, you’re not sick, you’re doing the very activity you asked for? WHY ARE YOU CRYING?!”
Then I remember. I remember being four. I remember crying and having a bad day, but I didn’t even know why. Heck, I still don’t know why I have bad days ninety percent of the time. Bad days just ARE sometimes.
I remember just wanting a hug. I wanted someone to recognize I wasn’t okay, and I needed a hug. A connection. I needed grounding. Guess what? I still feel that way as an adult.
So in that moment of anger, I remembered four-year-old Cailin. I remembered her ache for connection, and her hurt and confusion when she couldn’t find it. And I gave her what she wanted by getting on my knees and wrapping my child in a hug. Within seconds, she stopped crying, and my anger faded away. It was replaced with compassion, and I was able to hold space for both of our emotions at once.
I learned this in therapy: reparenting yourself through your child is how you heal your inner child. You become the adult you would have felt safe with as a child, for your own child. It is hard work, but it is work worth doing with the guidance of mental health professional. Not only will you heal your own wounds, but you will also prevent yourself from potentially passing down those wounds to your own child.
Taking care of your mental health is essential in your parenting journey. My mental health care involves weekly talk therapy, EMDR, medication, journaling, and yoga. Of course, my routine isn’t going to work for everyone, and not everyone has access to therapy. Other forms of taking care of your inner child/mental health can involve exercise, art, music, writing, baking/cooking, animal therapy, etc., whatever makes Little You happy. Whatever makes your brain light up and your heart swell, or whatever brings you to your knees with emotion and allows you to process it healthily.
Something my therapist tells me: Next time you’re experiencing strong emotions (rage, anger, sadness, etc.), ask yourself, “how old do I feel right now?”
And talk to Little You. Thank them for bringing these emotions/previous experiences to your attention. Tell them they’re safe now, and you’ve got this. Tend to them with love, so you can tend to your child tenfold.
What does your mental health care look like?