ON SELF MOTHERING

by Angeliska on May 12, 2018

Looking back now, I can’t remember exactly when or where on my healing journey I became aware of the undeniably unhappy presence of my inner child self. I do, however, remember very clearly the words that first helped that part of me really begin to heal. They were, “Do you have a stuffed animal?” I sat across from my therapist on the couch, squirming uncomfortably, and trying to evade the question. I mean, yes, I had always slept with a stuffed animal, or doll-friend, ever since I was little, and well into adulthood – but after my last cloth-friend, Swinelet (a once blue and pink pig, acquired when I was 17, now tattered, grey and nearly missing an arm and leg) had to finally be retired due to disintegration caused by an excess of love, I felt a little silly about replacing him. I was nearly thirty-six years old, after all, and surely too old to still need something to snuggle in the night. I answered that I still had a matryoshka doll shaped pillow, reminiscent of my original cuddle-buddy, the legendary angel doll, who I remember being sewn together by my aunt Melinda when I was four or five. She too eventually had to be retired, her fabric becoming translucent and beginning to shred. I always have held to a theory that when I was in the womb, I would clutch a bundle of my own umbilical cord for comfort – and ever since then, I have found it difficult to sleep peacefully without a smushy armful of something soft to hold as I drift off to slumberland.

Two of my oldest and dearest friends.
Two of my oldest and dearest friends.

Swinelet is Real. I know, because I loved him to bits. Still do, even though he's had to become retired from snuggle duty, due to the affection disintegration situation.
Swinelet is Real. I know, because I loved him to bits.

My therapist wrinkled her brow, contemplating the idea of my matryoshka pillow, and finding it insufficiently personable. It was true – I didn’t think of that pillow as having much of a soul or distinct personality in the way I had always regarded my past stuffed fabric loveys. They were alive, no doubt about it. When I was little, I’d apologize to my stuffed animals if I’d inadvertently neglected them, or if they’d tumbled to the floor in the night. I knew they had feelings, and souls. I couldn’t have explained to you exactly what it was that made them that way, but rendered my Barbies and My Little Ponies soulless, but I knew innately that they were just hunks of plastic that only moved and interacted when I made them do so. My stuffies on the other hand, I always suspected had vibrantly exciting lives and all kinds of adventures they got up to when I was asleep, at school, or just looking in the other direction. I was the kind of kid who sobbed reading The Velveteen Rabbit and The Skin Horse, and I am glad to have become the kind of adult who still does the same. So, when my therapist suggested that I go to the toy store and let my inner child pick out a stuffed animal, I made myself stop squirming, and decided to listen to her. She said, “Let your inner child pick it out. Whatever she wants, go with that. Even if it seems embarrassing or silly-looking to you as an adult.” The heart wants what it wants, right?

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At Terra Toys, there’s a magical teddy bear that blows bubbles!

That’s how I ended up by myself at the toy store, one fine bright day, self-consciously grabbing a basket, aware that I wasn’t there to shop for any nieces or nephews, but instead, solely for myself. I went to Terra Toys, a truly magical wonderland filled with all kinds of treasures for children, and a place I had loved going when I was little. I quietly told the kid part of myself that she could pick out anything she wanted, absolutely anything, and that she could take as long choosing as she needed. I then proceeded to find myself methodically examining every section of the store with great curiosity and delectation, filling my basket with marbles, glitter bracelets, plastic animals, sparklers and candy. I lingered long over the dollhouse area, with its miniature representations of all manner of household objects: tiny braided loaves of bread, and itty bitty porcelain teacups housed within intricate reproductions of Victorian parlors. I had loved looking through the glass cases at these elaborately designed worlds as a child, and found that they had lost none of their ability to captivate me all these years later. I allowed myself to ask about the finely made (and quite expensive) German Steiff stuffed animals, with their bristly fur and realistic faces, but none of them were soft enough to really snuggle down with. By the time I had made it around to the real stuffed animal area, I could feel the inner child part of me feeling a little braver about being able to ask for what she wanted, and I let her try hugging about damn near every creature they had, from red pandas and blue elephants to giant sloths and even a dragon or two. In the end, I kept coming back to a simple white owl, who felt extremely huggable. Her tag read, “I am Woodland Babe Cream Owl.” My inner child let me know immediately that her name was Owly.

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Owly became a big help to me as I started delving deep into healing the wreck of my childhood, with the long illness and subsequent death of my mother, when I was seven, a move to another town and home, and navigating a new life with my grieving, overworked and overwhelmed father. These events and others too numerous to mention here shaped the way I grew, and left me struggling as an adult to overcome unhealthy patterns in relationships that emerged as a result of the developmental trauma and emotional neglect that I experienced. When I really started being able to see the child in me who had remained frozen within for all those years, longing for attention, connection and care, and found a way to treat her with compassion and attentiveness, my understanding of myself and my situation transformed radically. I finally started learning how to tend to those emotional needs myself, instead of enlisting the care-taking of inappropriate lovers or my still overworked and overwhelmed parents. With that dedication, everything began to shift for me. Owly gave me permission to feel small and scared, and my therapist told me to let myself tuck her under my arm when I felt lonely in my house, or hold her when I needed extra support. I slept with her in my arms every night (and still do) and (mostly) unabashedly took her along to dentist appointments when I knew I’d be having a stressful procedure. The dental hygienists never batted an eye.

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Finding a way to connect with the child part of myself who had gotten so throughly lost in the chaotic mix of my childhood and adolescence taught me so much about who I really was, and all the stories that had been motivating me for years. I was an old souled kid, a serious little bookworm who tended to be fairly stoic about the traumatic changes in my life – until I would eventually reach a breaking point and erupt into hideous tantrums or piques of running away from home. In many ways, by ignoring that aspect of my being, I gave her more power. My inner child had taken over in many areas of my life, and was totally driving the bus – directly towards the kinds of people and patterns in relationships that felt familiar and safe to her (even if they were anything but.) Recognizing how much she had been suffering alone for so long made me decide to commit to helping her heal, and I started taking baby steps towards making peace with myself. The first step was that trip to the toy store. I could feel that part of myself within feeling a little mystified and curious about what would happen next with all these goodies. Was it time to play with them? Eat all the candy at once? Then what? But before I let myself do any of that, I first found a photograph of myself from when I was maybe six years old, not long before my mom died. I remember the moment that picture was snapped, but I don’t recall who took it. I was sitting on a chair in the living room of our old house, with the soft light from the sliding glass door illuminating my face. I remember whipping my tiny glasses off moments before the photo was snapped, shy about wearing them already. Because the photo is slightly out of focus, it feels in some ways like the whole world was affected by that decision in that moment, by my own defective vision. You’re blurry when I look at you, and so I must be blurry when you look at me. I’m not smiling. My eyes are huge, and my mouth is set and grim. I look like a very sad, scared and lonely little girl, which is what I was. When I look at this picture of myself, I can really see me. I remember being that little person very well. This picture may be the most vulnerable and real photograph of me ever taken.

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With this image of my child self, and the treats I had let her pick out at the toy store in hand, I set about building a little shrine for healing and honoring the wounded child within. You can do this yourself, if you feel moved to. I recommend finding a photo of yourself (if you can – if not, maybe try drawing one) when you were small, where you can really see your true self. Where you are allowing yourself to be real, for a moment. No fakey school picture day grimaces (unless that’s all you’ve got). Make a little space for yourself. Light some candles. I like using pink ones, for self-love. Make offerings to your child self: maybe little toys and candies, or crystals and flowers, or special rocks you found on the ground. It can be as simple or as extravagant as you feel called to offer to yourself. This is a space to sit with and honor your inner child. To let them know you care, that you’re listening, and paying attention. Ask that part of yourself, “What do you want? What is missing for you? What can I do for you? What would help you most right now?” Keep asking, and keep listening. I find that it’s much harder to be mean, neglectful or dismissive of myself when I look into the eyes of that little girl in the picture. I’ve found that often it’s easier to show gentle loving kindness, unwavering friendliness, and unconditional compassion to that child self, than it is to our adult selves. Show that little kid that you’re looking out for them, that you care deeply for them. See what happens. Do this every day if it feels like it would help. Be gentle with yourself. Be a good mama to little you.

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I was called to put this practice in to action a few years ago, when I moved into my brand new bedroom. I’d been in the same room for ten years, and had recently created a shining new space for myself, a haven for rest and rejuvenation. As the room moving date got closer and closer, I had friends asking me if I was excited about my new space. I was indeed – but I was noticing something else… A creeping sensation of anxiety and trepidation that made absolutely no sense, given the circumstances. After all – every single thing about this shift was positive, and it was all self initiated and self created. No one was forcing me into making this change! When I checked in with the part of me that was experiencing fear and really listened, I realized that it was my child self who was feeling so freaked out – and that for her, even good changes could be really scary. That part of me was used to clinging to the familiar, even it if had grown stagnant and unhealthy. I felt a temptation to scoff at myself for being uneasy – to call myself a big baby, and tell myself to suck it up, get over it, and be happy, goddamnit! But, I’d learned from countless past experiences that this method was pretty ineffective when it came to confronting and comforting my inner child. She required another approach. So I asked her what she needed, what would help her feel more peaceful. She didn’t know! She was upset and ashamed for feeling scared when she knew she should be happy. I sat quietly with that part of myself for a bit, and checked in with what I was really afraid of. Unfamiliarity, leaving behind the good parts of the past and never seeing them again, bogey men, the dark. I let that part of myself know that it made sense for her to be afraid of these things, and that it was okay. I suggested doing a blessing ritual before bed, that first night in my new room, and leaving a circle of candles (safely, sitting in bowls of water!) burning while I slept. I perceived an internal non-committal shrug, but a willingness to try it out. I chased out all the bogey men, and sanctified my new space to be a sacred sanctuary that would only allow in good energy. That night, I curled up to sleep with all the candles glimmering, and Owly in my arms – and in the morning woke to find my inner child looking around in wonderment and delight at the space I’d created for her. It was as if she was skipping around the room, exclaiming, “I love it here! It feels so good!” I’d designed my dream bedroom to be an updated grown up version of the beautiful childhood bedroom my mother had created for me – which was one of the clearest displays of love and affection she gave to me as a child, with periwinkle blue walls, and crystals in the windows making rainbows. Having to leave that bedroom when she died was heartbreaking, as was everything about my life at that time. I had never had such a pretty space to sleep in since then, until I chose to give that gift back to myself. I know very clearly that if I had chosen to ignore that distressed child part of myself and not tended to her lovingly, that the uneasy feeling could have gone on indefinitely. And, looking back – it really didn’t take an enormous amount of effort to shift it. Just a little love, and a little listening.

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Goodies my child self chose at the toy store: neon sparklers, magic rocks, solar print paper, heart shaped sunglasses, fluorescent colored pencils, a mushroom eraser/pencil sharpener, and a chameleon.

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I didn’t even end up eating most of these nostalgic candies myself (because whoa, sugar!) but my child self was delighted to receive them as offerings.

There are so many ways to lovingly reparent yourself. Regardless of gender, or gender expression, anyone can offer the unconditional love and nurturing support of mothering to one’s self. Doing this doesn’t take away from what your own mother (biological, adopted or stepmama) was able to give to you. Giving yourself love doesn’t mean that she didn’t do a good job. She did the best she could with the resources she had or didn’t have. She might have given you everything she had, and you might still find that you need more. That is okay. Give it to yourself. You can do this – you are allowed. Sometimes you have to imagine that inner child, seeing them clearly in your mind’s eye, and picture opening up your arms to them – putting them on your lap and enfolding them, saying “I love you. I am here for you. I will protect you, and I will never, ever leave you.” You have to convince that part of yourself that this is true, through consistent daily offerings of compassion. This can look like making sure you brush and floss your teeth and wash your face, or taking a nice bath and putting on your pajamas and curling up in bed with a book (and your stuffed animal!). Sometimes a big part of self-mothering is taking the kid part of us out of the driver’s seat, and strapping them into the carseat instead. They’re just babies, so they’re not allowed to drive the car – particularly not towards people and relationships who will confirm our old and familiar patterns of neglect or abuse. The loving mother part of ourselves is able to say, “No, no, no” and redirect the inner child from running straight towards the fire, or playing in the muddy puddle of unhealthy or dangerous relationships.

A big part of self-mothering for me involves the care and feeding of my inner child. I never really hung out with my parents when they were preparing meals, and consequently never learned much about how to cook for myself. Dinner times in my house growing up were more about getting something in our bellies fast, rather than teachable moments with the whole family pitching in. So making sure I eat nourishing food instead of junk or just carrots and hummus or something for dinner is a big part of that mothering that I do for myself. When I first started doing this, my child self begged for kid food – pudding and pop tarts and treats. I compromised by getting myself the healthier, hippie versions of these foods when possible, and after a while of indulging that part of myself, she stopped asking for that so much. In fact, what I’ve noticed after participating in this practice, and engaging a whole lot of other modes of healing for my childhood trauma, was that the wounded, scared child part of myself calmed down, and integrated more deeply into the rest of me. When I first realized she was there, she was kind of hiding –cowering in the corner of my soul, shaking and crying. Now, when I check in on her, she’s quietly coloring pictures or looking around at stuff contentedly. She’s a part of me that doesn’t feel as separate and isolated anymore.

‘’The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all. We all get older. Anyone, with a little luck, can do that. But, psychologically speaking, this is not adulthood. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one’s own inner child. For most adults, this never happens. Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned or rejected. We are told by society to “grow up,” putting childish things aside. To become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child – representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness – must be stifled, quarantined or even killed. The inner child comprises and potentiates these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers. “Grown-ups” are convinced they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child – and its emotional baggage – long behind. But this is far from the truth.” Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D.

We have a lot of different parts of ourselves, different aspects of our souls, our beings, our psyches. When I talk about having an inner child, it’s not like having multiple personalities (though I suppose it could sound that way) – the inner child part of ourselves is what stays stuck, or often gets frozen at the age when our childhoods went seriously awry, and our essential needs were not being met. We may have been raised in households where we were fed, clothed, and had a roof over our heads, but we did not feel seen, safe, soothed and secure. Those four S’s and whether we did or didn’t receive them consistently have so much to do with our ability to self-regulate our emotions, reactions and responses as adults. So how can we help ourselves feel seen, safe, soothed and secure? Feeling truly seen and heard is a big part of my wounding, as I was the only child of a very sick and depressed mother who was extremely preoccupied and more often than not, left me to my own devices. Daily journaling helps me check in with myself, patiently listening and recording my innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and musings. There are times when I find myself wanting to skip ahead or gloss over what I really want to say – where I get impatient with myself like people often do with children for telling interminably long, rambling (and seemingly pointless) stories. But I’ve found that when I’m willing to stop and say to myself, “Hey, I want to know more about that. Please tell me.” I give myself permission to write about whatever’s in my heart and mind instead of feeling like I should only write what’s really “interesting”, or particularly insightful. It’s in those moments that I allow myself to be seen and heard, for myself, by myself.

Another way to practice self-mothering is to use the kind, compassionate voice of the inner mother to combat the harsh, needling messages from our inner critic. I learned this lesson one lazy morning when I was cooking scrambled eggs, jamming out to the radio in my underwear. Suddenly I got a text message that informed me that I was supposed to be somewhere else at that moment – in fact, I was supposed to be dressed in elaborate full costume and telling fortunes at an event about thirty minutes prior. I had screwed up the times, and thought I had hours until I needed to be getting ready! In a heated flurry of panic, I hustled myself together, got into the car, and started racing to the venue. My heart was pounding, I was sweating profusely, and I became aware that I’d been listening to an internal monologue from my harsh inner critic ever since the moment I received that text, which was informing me in no uncertain terms that I was irresponsible, a failure, a total fuck-up, that no one would ever want to hire me again, that I had ruined a perfectly good opportunity, asking how could I be such an idiot? Oh man – it was awful! The more I listened to that internal tirade, the worse I felt, and I instinctively knew that if I kept that up all the way to the gig, I’d be even more of a wreck by the time I arrived, and maybe not even able to do my job well. So I made I conscious decision to switch the radio station in my mind to the loving mama channel. This voice was much gentler, saying “Hey honey, try to calm down, okay? Breathe. So, you messed up. That’s okay. Everybody messes up sometimes, and today it’s just your turn. All you can do is do the best you can, take responsibility, and try to make up for it. You are still lovable, you are still valuable. You matter. It’s going to be okay.” Whew! What a difference that made! By choosing to talk to myself in a more loving way, I was able to calm my racing heart, and be ready to spring into action and (relative) professionalism by the time I arrived at the event. I did a good job, and it all turned out well in the end. I still think of that day during times when I’m being unnecessarily cruel to myself. Listening to that mean inner critic never helps – it never, ever makes things better. Now that I know how to access that sweet and compassionate inner mother within me, I can choose to listen to her voice instead – which always, always helps me feel calmer, more centered, more trusting, more loved. You can do this for yourself too. It takes some practice, some awareness, some dedication, but I recommend starting with even the tiniest of baby steps towards self-compassion. Even those can make such an enormous difference.

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Owly these days…

SONGSPELL #1 - Sing a loving lullaby to little you. “You Were Born to Be Loved” by Lucinda Williams is a real good one – and that little me really needs to be reminded of sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you “can’t sing”. We can all sing. It doesn’t have to be “good” – just heartfelt. I’m singing this with raspy nodules on my vocal cords (when I’m actually not supposed to be singing at all) & traffic going by & my dogs barking & this is the first time I’ve ever recorded myself singing & shared it ever. Why? Because I believe in the healing power of radical vulnerability & the power of songspells. So, more to come. You can try it too! Let me know if you do! I love you. You were born to be loved.

You weren’t born to be abandoned
You weren’t born to be forsaken
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren’t born to be mistreated
And you weren’t born to misguided
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren’t born to be a slave
You weren’t born to be disgraced
You were born to be loved
Mmm hmm, you were born to be loved

You weren’t born to be abused
You weren’t born to lose
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren’t born to suffer
And you weren’t born for nothing
You were born to be loved
Mmm hmm, you were born to be loved

LUCINDA WILLIAMS

“Your origin story doesn’t get to change; your childhood was what it was. But your story is still being written. As we gear up for Mother’s Day please remember that regardless of your gender, it’s your job to Mother yourself through this life. May you be a kind, warm, strong, reliable, and loving Mother to yourself today and always.”
JESSICA LANYADOO

Here are more of my writings on the subject of mothering, being unmothered, and Mother’s Day:

MATRESCENCE
FLEDGLING HEART
MOTHER’S DAY

3 comments

Thank you for this. For your own vulnerability in sharing. I am 73 now and have been aware of this self-mothering healing process for only the last 15 years. I am blessed to be a visionary – not just one who can visualize things, but to “see” visions. As part of my spiritual practice, I am a shaman practitioner. When I was first aware of the white-hot rage that was in me, I sat on my parents’ porch one night (by this time I had just moved in with them to be their caregiver, and this triggered old emotions that I had stuffed for my entire life) and let the tears begin to flow. I wasn’t sure what I was crying about but knew it was important. As I sat and let the tears flow, I began to see a vision of myself at age three, when I was molested for the first time by an uncle. I won’t share the vision here but it was point on with the effect that had had on me, and how I had been distorted and deformed by that event and my parents inability (from being stuck in their own unhealthy childhoods) to help me.

I began to learn that day how to parent the wounded child within. It has been a long painful journey, especially as I see the results of unhealthy parenting effects in my adult children. I will “journey” about how to share this with my adult children, who are at their own apexes of healing their inner wounded child.

Again, thank you for sharing. Blessed be.

by Barbara Lee Mays on May 13, 2018 at 11:54 am. #

Hello! Thank you for telling me your story, and giving me such support in my own healing journey. I’ve just met my inner child recently. Her name is Moxanne. I’m still learning how to connect with her. She loves music, and singing, and beautiful flowing clothes. She’s also a voracious reader like you, and an artist with an eye for beauty.

by MOXANNE on May 14, 2018 at 5:53 am. #

Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been conscious of taking care of my inner child and listening to her this last year. It’s a beautiful and healing practice. It’s always special to hear another’s story to remind us to have compassion for ourselves, and to learn more ways to do this. Thank you and love to you.

by Adriana on May 16, 2018 at 4:45 am. #

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