When my therapist first introduced the idea of parenting myself, I thought I had that nailed down. Since both my parents had been checked out in one way or another during my childhood, I’d been doing that my entire life anyway.
What I came to realize, though, was that the coping skills I’d developed to survive my unconventional childhood were no longer serving me. Sure, I was great at survival. But if I was ever going to truly live a full and happy life, I was going to have to shed that old skin. And it was not going to be entirely comfortable. This is where parenting yourself comes in.
What does a good parent do?
I was really good at providing for myself. I knew how to get food on the table, put clothes on my back, and keep a roof over my head. Because if I didn’t do that for myself, nobody else was going to do it for me.
But what else does a good parent do?
Parents set limits. Parents say no. It’s not a parent’s job to ensure you are always comfortable. It’s a parent’s job to make sure you are always growing and to protect you from making dumb decisions. Sometimes, limits must be set that cause short-term discomfort in order to create long-term gains.
Parents maintain expectations for behavior. Parents expect you to maintain your dignity. Parents tell you to stand up straight, look people in the eye, keep your shoes off the furniture, use a coaster, and clean up after yourself. Parents don’t let you slide into complacency, even when no one else is looking.
Parents help you maintain your character. Parents guide you to make choices, and help you distinguish between right and wrong. When we are hurtful, they expect us to apologize. They expect us to explain ourselves when we do wrong, and to make things right.
Parents believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself. Parents cheer you on. Parents look at all your past successes and remind you that you’ve done other hard things, so you can do the next hard thing.
Parents believe you are capable of anything you set your mind to. Parents know that life takes hard work, and they know you can do it if you try. They know that you started out a little drooling, helpless blob that learned to walk, talk, use the toilet, read, write, dress yourself, tie your shoes, bounce a ball, tell jokes, talk back, drive a car, and all the other things you can do. Parents know you’ve been doing life since day one, and if you just keep working hard, you will do great things.
Parents love you unconditionally. They don’t just love you when you do things right. They don’t just love you when your hair looks perfect, when you reach a goal weight, when you get a promotion, when you are nice to everyone, when you are in a happy romantic relationship, when you have lots of friends, when you drive a nice car, when you have a new house, when you bake great cookies, when you worship God the right way, when your kids are well-groomed, when your house is clean, when you’re president of the PTA, when you have a college degree, when you love your job, when you have a job… Good parents love their kids no matter what.
Parents wake you up in the morning, even when you want to just stay in bed and do nothing.
It’s time to take over for your parents.
Whether you grew up in a healthy home or a dysfunctional one, whether you are 18 or 65 or somewhere in between, if you haven’t consciously taken the time to take the reins from your parents, it’s time.
For me, I didn’t realize how needy I was being. I didn’t realize that I was still seeking things from my parents that I was never, ever going to receive. If I hadn’t received it in childhood, how did I expect to receive it as a fully grown adult?
And what if you did receive it in childhood? What if your parents gave you all the love and support you could ever hope for? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are still letting their parents run the show because their parents are just so darn good at it! Or maybe they have a surrogate parent – a spouse, a partner, a best friend, a sibling, an adult child – someone who is always making the tough decisions. It’s time to let it go.
Set your own limits
You can’t grow if you’re waiting for your parents to fill in all the gaps in your soul. It’s time to be your own parent. It’s time to be accountable for your own limits. Tell people no. Tell yourself no. Tell your parents no!
No, you can’t show up for every single person who asks you to be there for them and still show up for yourself. No, you can’t show up for every single selfish want and desire and still show up for others. You have to find that balance, and you can’t wait around for someone else to do it for you.
Maintain your own expectations.
Have some dignity. Clean up your act. Take pride in the body, mind, and soul God gave you. Your home, car, clothes, and work space don’t have to be elegant or fancy. They don’t even need to be tidy. Some people like clutter! But there’s clutter, and there’s filth. Learn the difference, and eliminate the filth. Stand tall. Take pride in what you’ve been blessed with. Learn the difference between taking pride and being too proud, confidence and arrogance. Maintain high expectations of yourself. In the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent.
Maintain your character.
Do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Especially when no one is looking. Do the right thing even when no one else is doing the right thing. Especially when no one else is doing the right thing. Speak up for those who don’t have a voice. Be bold and brave in doing good.
Be your own cheerleader.
You don’t need a cheering section if you believe in yourself. Be vulnerable. Be brave. You’ve done hard things before. Whatever you’re facing, remember that you’ve gotten through all that other stuff. You will get through this, too.
Believe in yourself.
Who cares if everyone thinks you’re crazy? Most great inventions started with a crazy idea. Stop worrying about what other people think. Take risks. Follow your dreams. Do what inspires you. Work hard. You’ve accomplished more in your life than you realize. You’re here, aren’t you? How did you get here? Did you fall down many times before you learned to walk? Of course! Get back up and try again. You can do it. Failure is a part of learning.
Love yourself unconditionally.
Obviously, you’re going to screw up. Obviously, you already have. Who cares? Love yourself anyway. Because if you don’t, who will? Stop worrying about what everyone else has, and starting thinking about what you have. Count your blessings. Are you still alive? Then that’s something. Start there. Love that, if nothing else. Love every little bit of the things that keep you alive and kicking every day. Then love the things that make life worth living – the people, the sunrises and sunsets, the laughter, the tears, the sights and smells and sounds of life. Soak it all in. Love yourself and love your life, without conditions, just like a good mama would.
Now GET UP! Get out of bed!
Get moving, and make the most of this one, short life.
Talk to yourself like a mom or dad would. If you didn’t have a mom or dad who loved you this way, then talk to yourself the way you wish they would have. Let yourself daydream. That’s what I did. Until one day, that self-talk became my inner voice. And that inner voice became my true self. I lecture myself when I screw up. I love myself when I’m feeling down. It sounds crazy, I know. Maybe it is crazy! But it works.
published May 20, 2019