Reparenting oneself key in healing your inner child

Wednesday, May 10th, 2023 11:00 | By
Millicent Ngugi and her daughter Ayanna. Reparenting herself has made her a better parent. PD/courtesy

Many people are protective and defensive about their childhood experiences, but the truth is that all have a unique opportunity to heal and consciously choose different behaviour as adults, regardless of what they experienced in the past. This process is called reparenting.

For Millicent Ngugi, discovering reparenting was a game changer.

“From the social set-up where I grew up, I wasn’t fully equipped to handle a child’s emotional needs. This left me helpless as a new mother because the only way I had been socialised to get a child to behave was by pinching or talking to them harshly, sometimes even resorting to using ‘slippers’ to beat them,” says Millicent.

But when her child was handed to her in the operating room, she instinctively knew that she didn’t want her child to fear her the way she feared her own caregivers.

“So I went on a research journey. And I discovered that I didn’t have to change my parenting techniques. What I needed to do was re-parent myself. Reconnecting with my own emotional needs made me less inclined to yell or pinch. I started seeing myself in my daughter. Her naughty little acts stopped being rebellion. I saw them as her way of making sense of the world around her,” she explains.

Reparenting changed parenting

Ayanna was about one and a half years old when her mother started re-parenting herself.Discipline became all about explaining the dangers of something such as climbing on top of tall furniture or letting her mess the floor with her paint and modelling clay, then inviting her to clean up together.

She offers: “This child-centred parenting style has helped me raise such a courageous little girl. At the age of six, she is a school prefect at her school, always exceeds expectations in academics and has been voted most well behaved student countless times in school. Hence the further I move away from authoritarian parenting, that is punishment, grounding and yelling the smoother our mother-daughter bond gets and the less effort I have to use disciplining her.”

Naomi Wangui-George, a mentorship coach shares how she once met a woman who mentioned that she was extremely neat. She liked having everything in place and this was what she had modelled to her teenage son as he grew up, or so she thought. One day she got into his bedroom and was shocked. He had just gone back to school (boarding) and had forgotten some books that his mother needed to take to him. When she opened the bedroom door, dirty clothes were all over the floor, muddy shoes under the bed, a dust bin that had not been emptied for weeks and there was a horrible stench that almost gave her a headache. She had modelled something different. Did she need to rethink her approach? Is watching what your mother does and doing the same thing not common sense?

“I could see the wrath and pain in her. I was curious to know how she was brought up. Her parents had divorced and her dad always complained that her mum was ‘untidy and dirty’. She may have unconsciously related the painful separation of her parents to dirt and untidiness. That could be why everything in her house had to be perfectly placed and very clean. The secondary school teenager may have been going through so much emotionally; holiday homework pressure, teen pressure and so on. Neatness was not a priority at that moment. There was no harm reminding him time and again that he needed to clean his room. Or better still, have a reward system that he would associate with tidiness (positive reinforcement),” explains Naomi.

Wounded by  parent’s divorce

In this case, the mother who was deeply wounded by her parents’ divorce seemed to have carried the pain into adulthood. Neatness is a great thing and teenagers need to be neat and tidy. However, Naomi should have dealt with her unresolved pain in order to patiently train her son how to remain neat and tidy. Her pain may have made her believe that modelling neatness was sufficient and was common sense. 

“Unfortunately, there is no parenting manual that would fix it all for all. We have to figure our way out. Our children have different personalities and cannot all be parented in the same way.  Even for siblings, a parent may have to get different strategies to parent each sibling,” says Naomi, a mother of two teenagers aged 19 and 14.

As a mother who has mentored many youths, Naomi says many children and youths feel like their parents don’t listen to their inner needs. 

She offers: “Children may have a challenge expressing these inner needs clearly (at times it may come out as arrogance or disrespect) but if parents listen keenly to what is not being said… there is something right there that needs to be addressed in love.”

Susan Catherine Keter, a transformational life coach, shares how what is shaped by prenatal (circumstances before birth such as what happened in the womb), perinatal (circumstances around the birth process such as a traumatic birth experience) and postnatal factors(circumstances after birth such as childhood experiences and nurturing).

“The issues adults struggle with such as addiction issues, emotional stability struggles, low self esteem, an unhealthy relationship with money, fear to take risks and much more are just, but symptoms or the fruits of what prenatal, perinatal and postnatal factors instilled in them. Turning the spotlight on your parents and analysing how your adulthood struggles have something to do with their parenting skills is not exactly something many look forward to, but it is a ‘necessary evil’ if you desire to really turn your life around,” explains Keter.

Release negative experiences

The expert says reparenting oneself refers to the process of focusing on your roots instead of the symptoms or presenting problems.

“You acknowledge the fact that your parents are human beings with weaknesses and imperfections. Every skill has to be learnt and that includes parenting. Reparenting yourself means revisiting and understanding your roots as the first step to healing from your baggage and becoming a healthier you,” she says.

What damages a child is not the experience per se, but the child’s perception of what is going on, for example, ‘mum is always ignoring me because I am a bad child.’

Keter offers: “It is not possible to recreate the memories that are responsible for one’s adulthood struggles, but the body has record of all of them. This is, therefore, important on the reparenting journey. We are able to release negative experiences from childhood that contributed to our adulthood struggles without the need to try to remember what actually happened or to try and recreate those experiences. This can be achieved simply by doing body work such as using deep breathing exercises, Qigong, Yoga, massages, dancing among others, all done with clear intention. We make a conscious decision to exercise forgiveness and compassion, to stop holding onto the hurt and let it go.

We can release buried difficult emotions such as fear, anger, grief, shame, embarrassment, resentment or envy, all which contribute to our adulthood struggles. We can choose to have compassion on our parents for what they could have done better, but didn’t know how to forgive, release and let go.

We can change our roots and by doing that, the fruits change.

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