Re-parenting 101

At its origin, reparenting was a technique where a therapist would treat their patient as a child, literally – hold and rock them, speak to them as one would speak to a child, even bottle-feed them. It was understandably controversial, and is rarely practiced in this form today. Let's look at how you can move through this journey yourself or with the help of a professional.

By Abigale Johnson

July 19, 2023

Re-parenting is a powerful concept that holds immense potential for healing and personal growth. As a therapist (and millennial), I have witnessed the transformative effects of re-parenting techniques on people seeking to heal their inner child wounds. Giving yourself what you needed in childhood can not only improve your mental health, but build your self-esteem and foster growth and maturity as an adult. This tool can also be very helpful when becoming a parent yourself - altering generational patterns and being the parent you want to be.

Re-Parenting... huh? 

Re-parenting involves providing the care and support that may have been lacking during our childhood. It is about nurturing our inner child and addressing unresolved wounds to foster emotional well-being. Every generation has faced specific challenges due to the changing dynamics of parenting styles and societal influences during their childhood years. The impact of technology, social media, and the fast-paced nature of modern life has left many of us yearning for the nurturing and guidance we may have missed. The traditional conceptualization of re-parenting was the therapist taking on the role of a nurturing, loving parent to the client. As we learn more about the process, we find there are ways to facilitate re-parenting by assuming this parental role as a therapist or empowering the client to heal their inner child themselves.

Identify Your Unmet Needs

It is crucial to identify the unmet needs from your childhood. Emotional validation, unconditional love, and consistent support are common needs that may have been unfulfilled. By recognizing these needs, we can begin to provide ourselves with the care and compassion we deserve. Here are some common examples of unmet needs and how to re-parent:

  • Emotional validation - Being taught that what you feel is real and valid, no matter what anyone else thinks. Examples of this being an unmet need: You were told “Stop crying.” “That’s not a big deal.” “Why are you scared? It’s not scary.” In re-parenting, you would start to validate your feelings. Let yourself be sad. Or you’re feeling anxious about something - yes, something about this is hard for you. No need to pretend otherwise. Did someone offend you and your inner response is “You’re being stupid. It’s not a big deal. Why are you so upset about it?” - stop, validate that no matter how big or small, something about their statement struck a chord with you and you are allowed to feel whatever you feel. No judgment, no toxic positivity, just acceptance of the emotion.
  • Unconditional love: Knowing that someone loving you is not contingent on anything. This is your parents showing you that they won’t love you more or less if you win 1st place vs. 3rd. Examples of this being an unmet need: If you were taught (usually implicitly) that your parent would “love you more” if you followed the rules, got straight A’s, nailed the dance routine, etc. This comes out in adult life by way of people pleasing, the constant need to be perfect to be loved/accepted.  In re-parenting, you would practice self-compassion and acceptance. Sometimes creating a mantra can be helpful “I am not a bad mother. I am having a hard day.” “If I don’t get the job, it doesn’t mean I am a bad worker.” “Nailing this presentation doesn’t mean my boss will give me the promotion.” We must separate the idea that our actions (good or bad) equal our worthiness.

Develop Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is a cornerstone of re-parenting. It involves acknowledging and accepting our emotions and experiences without judgment. We often face immense pressure to meet societal expectations, which can lead to self-criticism and self-doubt. Cultivating self-compassion through practices like journaling, mindfulness, and self-care allows us to nurture our inner child and heal our wounds. 

Build Healthy Boundaries 

You didn’t think we’d get through this without the mention of boundaries, did you? Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential in the re-parenting journey. You may have grown up in an era where boundaries were blurred, especially with the rise of social media. Establishing boundaries with family, friends, and ourselves creates a safe and nurturing environment for personal growth. It allows us to protect our emotional well-being and prioritize our needs.

Boundaries are not used to control others, but rather identify internally or express your own needs and wants in a productive way to improve the relationship. See “Jonah Hill” for an example of what boundaries are not. Some simple examples of holding a healthy boundary would be taking time for self-care, even if it means turning down invitations or asking others to take on tasks. Or leaving a situation or conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. None of these boundaries are about controlling others’ actions, but rather your internal thermostat on making sure your needs are met.

Heal Inner Child Wounds

Inner child work is a vital. Through visualization, journaling, and creative expression, we can connect with our inner child. This process allows us to provide the love, care, and support that may have been missing during our formative years. Some of this work can trigger memories and emotions left untapped in childhood, so the opportunity to practice emotional validation and unconditional love lies here. Seeking therapy and professional guidance can be immensely helpful in navigating this part of the healing journey. 

Cultivate Healthy Relationships

Re-parenting has a profound impact on our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. By addressing our inner child wounds, we can break negative patterns and attract healthier connections. Effective communication, vulnerability, and setting boundaries are essential in cultivating healthy relationships. A negative pattern of communication may be resorting to anger and yelling in order to be heard, because in your home growing up this was the only way to get the attention needed to express yourself. In re-parenting, you can validate your emotional response to feeling unheard and practice expressing to others the emotion you are feeling (“I feel” statements). This may help change the negative pattern which allows for healthier relationships with others.

Embrace Self-Discovery and Growth

Re-parenting is not a one-time fix but a lifelong journey of self-discovery and growth. It requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and a commitment to continuous learning. By embracing this process, we can foster resilience, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Re-parenting allows us to rewrite our narratives and create a future that aligns with our true selves. If you are someone who is a parent yourself or may become one - this journey can be eye-opening in how you choose to parent your child. 

Re-parenting is a powerful tool. By understanding the impact of our upbringing, identifying unmet needs, and cultivating self-compassion, you can work to integrate your inner child to the adult you are now. Remember, you have the power to re-parent yourself and create a future that is authentic. Or come seek out a professional and we’ll walk you along the way.

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