For many years, I often read or heard – “You need to learn how to parent yourself.”
Parenting classes helped me raise my own children, but how do I parent myself? Isn’t there a book or a guide?
Nobody could give me an answer.
Finally, someone said to me, "There is no good answer, because the key to what
you lacked from your mother as a child is really locked within you. There is no universal template that fits for everyone."
As vague as that sounds – it made sense. I realized that in order to nurture myself, I needed to look beyond the actual abuse I experienced, and unlock the mystery of all that I didn’t receive. In other words, I knew what I did receive - the constant threat and reality of physical violence. It took many years for me to realize what I didn't receive - physical comfort and safety.
It is difficult to figure out what we lacked as children. How does one know what they never learned?
I let the comfort I give my own children guide me, by imagining myself loved in the same way. Sometimes, I’d watch other mothers loving their children. I’d mourn for what I lost, and then I’d mother myself.
I traveled back to visit the child me, and to bear witness to all that she missed: physical comfort, emotional reassurance, safety, self-compassion, and the ability to self-soothe.
During many instances, I visualized the little me – the hurting, frightened, alone, and damaged me. These occasions caused feelings of sadness and compassion for the little girl of long ago – feelings that although deeply mournful, were also compassionate, reassuring, and healing. I’d speak to and hold the “child me,” offering her love and protection.
Slowly but surely, I worked through a list of emotional necessities that I realized I didn't receive, and I modeled other parents behavior to figure out how to give these qualities to myself. This is a long, on-going process, but as I reconstruct these basic skills, I feel stronger, whole, safe, and free.