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What is Reparenting — And How Can it Help You?

Published:
January 10, 2024
October 30, 2023
Read this article to find out how reparenting can help you learn some of the lessons you missed growing up.|Read this article to find out how reparenting can help you learn some of the lessons you missed growing up.|Watch how the People's Market in Skid Row, Los Angeles, is building equality through quality food and jobs.

Do you have parents? Are they human beings? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, chances are you would benefit from the psychological work of “reparenting.”

Reparenting is when, whether on our own or with the aid of a therapist, we look back at our childhood from the lens of our adult experience and see where there are gaps in how our parents or caregivers taught us certain socio-emotional skills. With reparenting, we have the opportunity to work to fill those gaps ourselves through self-reflection and healing.

As we find ourselves in the new frontier of adulthood, independent from our families and forging a differentiated life, it is normal to realize that the way we once saw our childhood may not be how it actually was. Habits that we have developed or behavioral patterns in relationships can point back to how we were taught coping mechanisms as children. The reality is a vast majority of us were raised by parents who did the absolute best they could. Sometimes they were great, and sometimes they missed the mark, as we all do.

Before you continue, rest assured — this is not a bashing of our parents. (However, if this makes you uncomfortable, you are in the right place). Our parents are humans. We are humans. The unpacking of what we need to work on to heal various wounds is going to require compassion for ourselves and for others. It may also help us to better understand why our parents are the way they are, and it’s likely due to how their parents raised them.

For adults fearful of conflict, it may be that as kids, their parents never modeled healthy conflict or showed that disagreements are normal. They may struggle in relationships when there is a need for uncomfortable conversations. Arguments are going to happen in our lives, and if we never saw how conflict was supposed to play out, we will not be equipped to have a healthy relationship with differences of opinion in our friendships, marriages, or work life. Acknowledging that gap is the first step in reparenting ourselves.

“It’s like a script,” licensed professional clinical counselor Julia Hogan-Werner explains. “When you are a kid in a family, you are given a script: ‘This is what we talk about. This is what we don’t talk about. This is how we deal with things. Then you use that script throughout your life, and then you get to these points where you have these moments of disconnect like, ‘This script isn’t working, but it’s the only one I know.’” At this point, she states, we must work to deconstruct that script, decide what we want to keep and what we want to edit out, and then create an entirely new one.

In her practice, Hogan-Werner sees three common indicators that a client would benefit from a dose of reparenting:

1. Boundary setting

Setting boundaries with loved ones can be extremely painful for many people, particularly those brought up with a faith that teaches us to be selfless, not selfish. We learn that we should put others over ourselves and are praised for what we do to make others’ lives easier. This leads to burnout, resentment, and an unhealthy lack of self-care. Having healthy boundaries means voicing our expectations and needs and recognizing that it is not asking too much to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.

2. Communication

Growing up, whether it was explicitly said or not, we were taught what we were and were not allowed to feel in our family. Maybe it was anger — you were taught that it was wrong to get mad at your siblings or parents, and you bottled that up. Maybe one person’s feelings dominated the home, and to challenge that or to go against it was a big no-no. Having trouble with conflict also stems from not understanding the essence of communication in a family unit.

3. Individuation

As we venture away from our families of origin and start to establish ourselves as full-fledged adults, it can be hard to find independence and develop our own sense of self and eventually, our own family unit identity. Can I stand on my own? Can I make decisions that make sense for me? What do I want my life to look like separate from my parents? Do I have confidence in myself that I can do it on my own?

Research also shows that if you struggle with emotional regulation and find yourself overreacting or underreacting to uncomfortable situations, or you do not feel deserving of taking a break and you’re burnt out, it’s likely your personal and professional relationships would benefit from a little reparenting. Hogan-Warner said that the first step to filling in those gaps is to recognize that there is an issue.

I myself have learned a lot about my own behaviors from exploring reparenting. Instead of standing up for myself in situations, I tend to give in but then respond with passive-aggression or just flat-out resentment. I have learned that it is okay to stand up for myself, and by doing so, I have learned that those who love me will respect what I am trying to say, even if they disagree. If I suffer from feeling like I’m not good enough, that I do not deserve the good things that have come my way, I think about what my parents would say to me if they heard this negative self-talk. They would think it is ridiculous, and so now do I.

Perhaps therein lies the key. If we look back on our childhoods and picture our 12-year-old selves, what would we say to them? Would we say they are not worthy? Would we say they can rest later, that our work is the measure of our worth? Or would we tell them, “Stand behind me. I have this under control. You are going to be ok.” That is reparenting, and that is beautiful.

Creators:
Katie Lemaire
Published:
January 10, 2024
October 30, 2023
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