The children come first:- parenting the 'inner child' in intimate relationships

These days, as parents of young children, we emphasise the importance of putting the children first - their needs take priority. And rightly so! Children are not able to care for themselves; we need to attend to their needs and in doing so, teach them that it's OK to have their needs met - physically, emotionally and developmentally.

This can be a challenge for parents who may not have had all of their own needs responded to when they were children. If as a child, you were given the message (either directly or indirectly) that your needs were a nuisance, or attending to them was unimportant to the adults caring for you, you may have learned to disconnect from the part of you that longs for nourishment, comfort or mental stimulation (and of course this is by no means an exhaustive list).

You may have even learned to have an attitude of dismissing or being contemptuous toward the part of you that needs these things. You may wish this part of you didn't exist - want to lock it away somewhere out of mind, rather than have to attend to it. We faithfully mirror within ourselves the parent-child relationship we experienced in early life - I treat myself the way my mother or father treated me. This is not to say that our parents may not have done a fantastic job of raising us, but if at times they did not have the resources (emotionally or physically) to meet our needs, we might have concluded we are too demanding, needy, difficult etc.

What does all of this mean when we become partners and parents? It may mean that it's difficult to respond to your child's 'unreasonable' expressions of need - emotional outbursts, constant bids for your attention and care, incapacity to not need you when you're exhausted and stressed.

It may also mean that you become dismissive of your own or your partner's 'unreasonable' needs for nurturance, comfort and connection. After all - the children come first, right?

What happens to us when we deny our own 'childish' needs? Like our actual children, our 'inner child' can become more and more desperate when his/her needs are not attended to. S/he may become depressed or anxious, unable to eat or sleep (or eat/sleep to excess). S/he may even develop unhealthy habits such as using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to soothe the inner self.

If you recognize yourself  and/or your partner in this description - it's important to acknowledge that if you don't care for each other's 'inner child' it becomes much more difficult to care for your actual children. Attending to this part of yourselves needn't be overly demanding of your time or energy. It may be as simple as - telling your partner you love her or him on the way out the door, asking for a hug in the kitchen before dinner, really listening to each other talk about what's going on with the TV off before bed.

Perhaps the most important thing you can teach your children is that you don't grow out of needing to be cared for, and that's OK. That healthy adult relationships involve attending to the vulnerable, emotional and 'little' parts of ourselves and each other.

Till next post, Vivienne


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