At a conference recently, one of speakers shared a story about his two young boys. His own father and step-father had been emotionally, and sometimes physically, absent from his life. His story indicated that he had taken it in stride. Until, he became a dad himself. It is one thing to feel the rejection of a parent; someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally. It is quite another to feel that person is rejecting the people you love unconditionally.
His story resonated so much with me I could not stop thinking about it. It was a familiar story. My dad left when my sister and I were 4 and my brother 2. (My mom was expecting but did not realize at the time.) Until he died when I was 17, he would show up every couple years with a cloud of drama trailing behind him. My step-father came on the scene when I was 6 with his own dark clouds. Between the two of them I did experience love, but I also experienced addiction, mental illness, and inappropriate behaviour. I didn’t think too much about it. I seemed to take it in stride. Until, I became a mom.
My step-father did not make any real effort in the early years to see my son. At first, I took it personally. Any and every childhood hurt came rushing to the surface. Most I hadn’t realized were even there. Going back over my life, I realized this man did not deserve to know my son. He had not shown himself to be a person who could be trusted with the innocence of a child – unkind words, drunken debates, flying off the handle with little provoking. No. My son would not be subjected to a person so unworthy.
With that decision made I also decided that I would get a do over. I would rewrite my history starting with changing my surname. Becoming a parent gave me a chance to parent the little child still living in my heart. That little girl deserved someone worthy. I decided I would be that parent for her. By parenting my son the way my young soul longed to be parented, I began to heal. As time went on, I could feel myself changing in such a profound way it made me wonder: what if what I am doing today has a direct relationship to my past? What if I am healing myself in the present by loving my child self?
The idea of healing the inner child was introduced to me in the late 80’s when I was a student-teacher working with disadvantaged kids. I was fascinated with John Bradshaw’s writing, which focused on healing the inner child through grief work. This required working through the shame, remorse, and loneliness we may have felt as a child by having our adult self love, acknowledge and validate our child self.
Becoming a mom gave me a unique opportunity. As I loved my young son, I loved my child self. As I comforted my little boy, I comforted my little girl at the same time. As I validated him as a young man filled with strong opinions, I gave a voice to a young woman who had strong opinions of her own. As I protected him, I protected me. Early on, I vowed to surround my child (both of us) with people who would reinforce messages of love. Making that commitment to him meant loving myself more fully into the parent he deserved.