Inner Child Healing Exercises For Mothers
When I’m alongside parents in playgroups or coaching sessions, at some point along the way, we begin to talk about ourselves as children. We talk about what delighted us: the creeks that winked in the sunshine, the music we danced to, the many adventures and mischief-making, how our summer feet were always tanned and calloused from walking barefoot all day every day.
We talk about one person in particular in our lives who we felt deeply connected with, whether it was a family member or friend. This person loved us just as we were. They didn’t ask us to jump through hoops to feel seen and heard. They would look into our eyes when we talked, and listened when we cried. They slowed down just to be with us.
We could all be our true selves.
Did you have a person like this in your childhood? Can you remember how you felt when you were around him or her? Take a few moments to remember.
I know for many of us, we think of this person and strive to bring this kind understanding and joy to the children in our lives now.
But of course, not every part of childhood was magical. Because as children, there were things that went wrong. We all have our stories.
Maybe we were teased by someone at school. Maybe we never felt understood or accepted by important people in our lives. Maybe we knew when to go downstairs, and when we felt safer in our bedrooms. Maybe we didn’t feel safe anywhere. Perhaps we had a happy childhood, but we were caught off guard by something that shocked us.
I have my own stories too. One of which was a neighbor who offered to watch my sister and I when I was about my daughter’s age. I had forgotten about what happened - the violations - until my sister called me one afternoon, asking me if I remembered.
These stories of ours stay within us, no matter how much we try to move on with our lives. It’s not wrong to admit that. Sometimes we need to acknowledge the truth of what happened to free what’s stuck underneath.
If you feel up for it, search your mind for the 1 or 2 stories in your childhood that might be coming up for you. Acknowledge its truth. Allow however you’re feeling to be. know that I’m sending a hug your way.
Inner child work is healing the wounds we experienced in childhood. These unhealed wounds can cause a great deal of pain, from self-sabotage, to our deepest fears of unworthiness. Some psychologists say that they are the subconscious software we run on 95% of our lives.
In his book, Reconciliation, Healing The Inner Child, Thich Naht Hanh writes, “we must listen to the wounded child inside of us. The wounded child in us is here in the present moment. And we can heal him or her right now.” Hanh guides us to say, “‘My dear little wounded child, I’m here for you, ready to listen to you. Please tell me all your suffering, all your pain. I am here, really listening."
For some of us, we carry our childhood wounds forward into our adult lives. We’re on pins and needles, expecting to be shocked again. We are fearful of criticism so we play small. Or we blame ourselves for the adults in our lives who never accepted us for the sparkly people we are.
We might not see how we’re continuing this cycle. Or we see all too well and feel helpless as we carry on some of our own wounding into our new families, even after the inner-work we’ve done. I’ve experienced both.
There is a considerable amount of research, and we can also use our personal experiences to know: when we grow up and become adults, we have a tendency to re-create the personal relationships and emotional environments of our early home life.
If we had loving and healthy relationships, and we were praised and encouraged as children, then we are likely to recreate these positive patterns as adults. If we were criticized, we seek out that kind of negative familiarity again.
In a coaching session, a mother said to me, “I truly believe my parents did their best, even if it wasn’t always so great. But I find myself repeating the same guilt trips and shame I was raised with. How can I be the parent I long to be?
I don’t believe we have to tear open a wound over and over in order to heal. Luckily, there are many roads to healing and letting it go.
Healing can mean re-parenting ourselves, to make sense of what happened and discover a new way that comes more naturally from within ourselves.
Child development expert Dr. Daniel Siegel writes in his book Parenting From the Inside Out, “We can all re-parent ourselves by making sense of our own early experiences. Our children are not the only ones who will benefit from this making-sense process: we ourselves will come to live a more vital and enriched life because we have integrated our past experiences into a coherent ongoing life story.”
So I’m here to tell you: sweet friend, since we all share some kind of wounding to our inner child, we have to take good care of ourselves. We can re-parent ourselves and reconnect with our inner child
We can begin some inner-child work whenever we feel called. We might say, “Hey, little one. I know you felt scared. Yes, what happened was wrong. I’m here for you. You’re safe. I love you.”
What might you say to her, in your own special way?
We can hold ourselves with tenderness, and say the very things we needed to hear a long time ago.
We can truly mother ourselves, whenever we need to.
Wholeness is acknowledging all of what happened, and allowing the feelings to be.
Motivational author Louise Hay, who often writes about loving our inner child advises, “we are all victims of victims, and they couldn’t teach you something that they didn’t know. If your mother or father didn’t know how to love themselves, it would be impossible for them to teach you how to love yourself. They were coping as best they could with the information they had.”
Let’s be honest, all the re-parenting and creating new habits with our own families can be so hard.
But you’re truly not alone.
What we can do is find opportunities for true connection in our families. As parents or as significant people in children’s lives, we are the people with whom they most need to connect. Instead of responding with our own point of view and failing to make a connection to a child’s experience, we can do more listening and validating.
If your child falls off his bicycle, and our instinct is to say, “you’re okay. You’re not hurt. Don’t cry. You’re a big boy/girl.” I think we should take a moment and get really curious about that.
Where is it coming from? Was that how adults responded to us when we were hurt? These answers can help shape the way we respond in the future.
Because essentially, we are telling him that whether his body or pride was hurt, that his experience wasn’t a valid one. Children learn to doubt their own instincts, and push down their natural emotions.
And I often wonder, if we tell them to stop their emotions, where does it all go?
Instead, the next time we offer a response that is contingent to his experience, and builds resilience. It’s not dismissive. It isn’t running over and scooping them up with a “poor baby!” either. It’s walking over with momentum. It’s looking them in their eyes and maybe saying, “I saw you fall! That bump surprised you. I see you’re upset! Are you hurt?”
When we see something in the news that upsets us, or we feel anxious about motherhood, this may be a call to nurture our inner-inner child a bit more.
We can start by acknowledging the upset and be present for the feelings that come. We might sit quietly and with our feelings, and let them be
Exercise: In your journal or in your mind, consider, what could you do for fun? What are some child-like activities that might delight you? Really take the time to think, and wait for an inspired answer. is it swinging on the swings? Running through a meadow? watching cartoons?
For every person who shrugs this off and thinks, “I don’t have the time for this!” I’ll tell you about a mother of 4 who makes time to go horseback riding. Or my Aunt who takes care of her aging father, but makes time to play golf. Or my sister who was a single mother for many years and discovered a passion for hip hop dancing.
For me, I take my shoes off and walk barefoot in grass every day, even when it’s raining. Especially when it’s raining! That’s when I laugh the most about how squishy the mud feels in my toes.
I loved playing in the mud when I was about my daughter’s age, and I find that very healing.
Thich Naht Hahn guides us to go back to inner child every day, and reach out to this little person, like we would a little brother or sister. He says so appealingly, “When you climb a beautiful mountain, invite your little child within to climb with you. When you contemplate the beautiful sunset, invite him or her to enjoy it with you. If you do that for a few weeks or a few months, the wounded child in you will be healed. Mindfulness is the energy that can help us to do this.”
I invite you to find that mindfulness, and begin a few inner-child healing exercises just for her. Let her know that you recognize her presence, and will do everything you can to heal her wounds.
I’d love to know, what might you do today and every day that nurtures the inner child inside of you? What might a mother lovingly say to you? I imagine it might be, “I love you, sweetheart. Do something you enjoy today! All is well, beloved.”
In the meantime, if you need me, you can find me barefoot in the grass and talking sweet to myself, just like my mother did for me.
As always, cheering you on,