What would a good parent do?
This question has been on my lips for a few days, and I imagine it’ll stay there for a good while longer, because the topic of reparenting ourselves and taking care of our inner child is hot for me right now.
I’ve been aware of the concept of reparenting for a long time. As you’ll know if you’ve been following my journey on this blog or if you’ve read my book, I’ve been walking this path of self-discovery, personal growth and healing for many years.
In fact, it was more than 17 years ago when the penny first dropped and I understood that I had an eating disorder – I was addicted to the highs I got from binge eating on sugar, starving myself in between binges and racing around everywhere to burn off the food, and that these highs numbed my feelings and anaesthetised my emotional pain.
At 49, I’m a very different woman to the 30-something who’d walk from shop to shop buying chocolate bars and crisps, joking with the shopkeepers that she was having a big party that night, before dashing up the stairs to her flat, shutting the curtains and gorging on her sugary feast until her stomach hurt and tears rolled down her cheeks.
Or rather I’m the same woman at my core, but with a huge amount of recovery, healing and growth behind me (and more still in front of me) and much healthier patterns of behaviour.
The Inner Child Holds The Key
Understanding that I have a scared, wounded child inside who longs to be comforted, soothed and reassured has been a crucial part of my self-discovery journey. But despite all the work I’ve done to date, it feels like the concept of reparenting has only just clicked for me.
Or maybe the knowledge has moved from my head to my heart.
Or perhaps I’ve peeled off another layer of the onion and got closer to the core.
Whatever it is, I feel much clearer about what my inner child needs and how I can successfully reparent her.
My inner child needs clear, consistent communication.
She needs to know that there’s an adult in charge (that’s me, as there’s no other parent around to help and there hasn’t been for a very long time – and even when there were parents around, sadly they weren’t able to provide the best parenting).
She also needs my compassion.
While so much has changed in the past 17 years, I now see that my inner child has often felt like she’s stumbling around in the dark, navigating a grown-up world but with no adult at her side.
Who’s in charge here? Who’s taking care of me? What’s going on?
On the outside, I’ve done a reasonable job of being a grown-up. I’ve bought property, got married (albeit at the rather mature age of 48), managed my finances (sometimes by the seat of my pants, but I’ve managed them all the same), published a book and built a coaching, writing and speaking business.
Some of it might even look impressive from the outside.
But my inner child has remained terrified as I’ve taken these steps, which is why everything has felt so hard, so painful, so tortuous.
With every move, I’ve struggled with fear, indecision, second-guessing, procrastination, perfectionism and self-recrimination.
Frankly, it’s been exhausting.
And while I want to keep on learning, growing, expanding and stepping deeper into my true purpose, which includes writing more books and delivering more courses and coaching, I’m done with the exhaustion.
More Courage – Less Torture
So how can I continue to take courageous steps in my life and work without torturing myself so much?
How can I cultivate a sense of ease?
The answer lies in the question I asked at the start of this blog:
What would a good parent do?
If I can ask that question in every instance and then take the action I’m guided to take in response to it – the same action a good parent would take alongside a beloved child – I believe that everything will become easier and, who knows, my life and career might even flow.
Let’s take my writing as an example.
I have three books on the go – a memoir, a novel and a self-help book on emotional overeating. They’re in varying states, one half-finished, one just begun, one somewhere in between, and I’ve got myself into a pickle about which book to complete first.
I’m basically frozen and therefore not writing very much at all.
That’s because my inner child has been running the show.
It’s my inner child who flits from one project, one book or one activity to another, seeking instant gratification and emotional highs, that inevitably are followed by lows.
It’s my inner child who has a limited attention span, is prone to distraction and who reaches for her phone to scroll through social media in the middle of a writing session.
It’s my inner child who struggles to proceed steadily, with balance, and to stick with a project until completion.
It’s my inner child who is afraid of people and of others’ anger and who prefers to please others first before pleasing herself, thereby postponing the pursuit of her dreams.
And it’s my inner child who’s reluctant to finish what she starts because finishing another book and publishing it would mean she’d have to face her fear of rejection, criticism and humiliation, deal with her terror of getting something wrong and stand up to her chronic inner perfectionist.
I guess that’s why I wrote my first book, How to Fall in Love, so fast. The adrenaline I created as I worked to meet a deadline set by colleagues and reinforced by a writing coach numbed the fear I felt inside. And I rode that wave of adrenaline right up to publication day.
But it wasn’t an entirely healthy way to manage my workload. I wrote late into the night and got up at four in the morning, replicating the adrenaline-fuelled years I spent as a Reuters news journalist. And I didn’t lay the groundwork for publication. I didn’t do any advance marketing. I simply hit ‘publish,’ breathed a huge sigh of relief and then went on a ski trip!
I also abandoned other areas of my life to get the job done – my social life and my relationship. Fortunately, no long-term damage was done. My partner stayed with me, supported me throughout and even proposed after I’d published the book, despite barely seeing me for weeks (or perhaps because of that!) and having to cook all the meals.
This Is What Good Parents Do
Going forwards, I’d like to do things differently, with more balance, more self-care, more flow and more ease.
Which is why this question – what would a good parent do? – is so important.
A good parent, I feel, would encourage a child to choose one project and see it through to completion, surely and steadily.
A good parent would gently guide the child back to her main focus when her attention wandered off or when she wanted to throw in the towel.
A good parent would give the child a manageable deadline and draw up an achievable writing schedule that allowed the project to be completed while making time for self-care, fun and love.
A good parent would soothe the child when her fear of criticism, judgement and humiliation rose to the surface and threatened to derail the entire project.
A good parent would ask for help and support from appropriate quarters – a writing coach and an editor, perhaps – just as a parent would bring in a maths tutor or a sports coach.
A good parent would bring consistency, clarity, compassion and would let the child know who is in charge, helping the child to come down from her flighty, unfocused, adrenalised and panicked state and proceed with balance.
I don’t have my own children. I’m not a parent. But I’ve been parented, I’ve observed parenting and I know and love a number of children. I also think we instinctively know what children need, whether or not we are parents.
Children love to play. They can be spontaneous and chaotic. They can leave a mess everywhere. They prefer instant gratification. A good parent can teach the importance of order, cleanliness, balance and delayed gratification.
In what areas of your life do you need a good parent? In what areas are you prone to instant gratification or magical thinking? In what areas do you need some balance and order?
When The Inner Child Goes Dating
Since I’m a love, dating and relationships coach, let’s explore the topic of dating for a moment.
If your scared inner child is in the driving seat when you go dating, she might reach for instant gratification and she might overstep healthy boundaries. She might end up texting late into the night, losing herself in fantasy thinking, abandoning self-care and sleeping with someone before she’s ready.
She might end up staying in a relationship that isn’t right for her because she’s scared of abandonment or rejection, or she might push a good person away because she’s terrified of getting hurt.
On the other hand, if our loving inner parent is running the show when we go dating, we will proceed steadily, we’ll delay gratification, we’ll set and respect healthy boundaries, including around our thinking (my book has a whole chapter on boundaries) and we’ll act in our best interests, choosing to stay or to go based on our inner wisdom and intuition rather than our panic and terror.
All that said, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re human, we make mistakes, we get over-excited, we let our emotions run away with us and we get ourselves in a pickle, especially where love and sex are concerned. And that’s OK. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We simply pick ourselves up afterwards, brush ourselves down, learn our lessons and move on. Self-compassion is critical to the whole process.
But if we can keep coming back to the question, what would a good parent do?, and if we can keep soothing and reassuring our inner child and giving her clear direction, then we’ll set ourselves up to succeed in relationships rather than fail.
Putting It Into Practice
I hope this question – what would a good parent do? – helps you in life and love. It’s already helping me.
When I feel tempted to flit to a new task before finishing what I’m doing, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I reach for my phone to scroll through social media rather than getting on with my writing, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I want instant gratification with food rather than cooking a healthy meal, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I’m procrastinating over life admin, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I’m working myself into the ground and depriving myself of play, I ask, what would a good parent do?
So, dear reader, take your quandary and ask, what would a good parent do?
This blog was inspired by a wonderful experience I had recently doing equine therapy with my incredibly insightful therapist Paul Sunderland. There’s a separate blog brewing about the equine itself, or perhaps a media article, so I won’t write anymore about it now. Suffice it to say that I learned how important it is to communicate clearly, consistently, in a commanding way and with compassion when around anxious horses or humans (including our inner children).
How To Fall In Love Courses Starting Soon & Prices Going Up!
One of the results of all this inner work I’ve been doing is a realisation that it’s time I increased the prices of my How to Fall in Love courses, Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence. This is what a good parent would do. I have understood that I cannot fulfill my true purpose in this world while charging my current fees and while I struggle with marketing, selling and charging certain rates for my work, I need to practice what I preach and value myself and my expertise.
The good news is I’ll be running both courses starting in November for one last time at the current prices. Click here to explore my courses and email me if you’d like to join: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also book a free discovery call here.