WHY AND HOW YOU Should Heal Before Having Children
The first thing people usually think of when thinking of being a mother is the practical needs of a child, right? You know: clothing, food, bottles, and maybe wine — to soothe the parents’ central nervous systems. But what if there’s something missing from that list that could help your children just as much? That “something” is attending to your own emotional healing. Because as it turns out, a critical part of parenting starts with nurturing the inner world of kids.
Let us first start out by saying that we do not have children, and even if we did, we very much might accidentally ruin them on some level for the simple fact that we love and watch way too much reality TV. Still, we feel somewhat qualified to write this for one simple reason: Healing is a personal journey that requires you to know yourself — and we’ve spent enough time with ourselves to know we are, little by little, becoming experts on ourselves. And we bet you’re getting there, too.
And that comes in handy when it comes to the wellbeing of your hypothetical, unborn children. Because if you don’t deal with your own unresolved wounds from childhood, your inner child has the potential to affect your actual child.
What’s an “inner child”?
If you’ve ever been in therapy (so, all of us?), you’ll know that we all have emotional wounds, triggers, unmet needs, and trauma. Learning what these are — and healing them — is critical before considering a child. Why? Because the phrase “hurt people hurt people” rings true — and it’s easy to project old wounds, experiences, and trauma onto others, especially those closest to you.
In fact, your old wounds are often referred to as your “inner child” — which is a concept derived from Carl Jung’s work to explain how we all have a childlike part of our psyche that influences everything we do, from decisions we make to how we react to situations. These inner children hold our memories, emotions, and experiences — good or bad — from our past. And while the inner child remembers the positive, it also means our inner child holds onto and remembers all the negative received from those around us — especially from those who were supposed to keep us safe.
As we grow up physically, our inner child is still there, holding on to these wounds — which, if not healed, negatively influence who we are as adults, especially when we are stressed, hurt, angry, or a situation arises that resembles our past. Ever had a meltdown that seemed a little too big of a response, and not sure where it came from? Yep, that’s your hurt inner child.
In a perfect world, all children would feel safe — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. However, our caregivers often have their own inner child wounds, preventing them from being able to show up as healthy, whole adults that can fulfill the responsibility to keep a child feeling safe. Though that doesn’t mean your mom wasn’t being a mother — after all, she was showing up with the best tools she had — this can result in children experiencing their own trauma.
One thing to remember is that trauma isn’t always a grandiose event. Best-selling trauma research author, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, describes trauma as “something that overwhelms your coping capacities.” And that takes form in many ways, including:
Lack of physical affection
Not allowing a child to express strong emotions like anger or sadness
Shaming a child
Ignoring or missing a child’s need for affection or attention
Not respecting a child’s boundaries. For example, if a child doesn’t feel comfortable saying hello to a family member and the parent makes them give a hug
So what exactly happens when these traumas happen? As children, we feel unstable in our sense of self (which is still developing), and instead feel that we are not good enough, or that we can’t fully express ourselves because something is wrong with us. We then develop coping mechanisms that carry into adulthood, impacting how we live. And we can see this play out in a lot of ways — like having snap reactions, using the silent treatment, experiencing larger than life feelings and reactions that don’t match the circumstances, dating emotionally unavailable people (yes, holding on to that toxic relationship is also an indicator of a wound), taking others’ actions too personally, and more . So you can see: Not healing has a rippling effect that’s larger than life.
It’s time to heal
This information begs the question: How can we heal? Well, healing oneself doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible over time. It takes dedication and commitment to build our sense of self back, little by little. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day — and our emotional world is not just Rome, it’s the whole damn world.
We start healing by looking at our family dynamics and understanding how those dynamics influenced us — and led us to create coping mechanisms that we hold on to. For example, if you had a parent that frequently criticized you when you cried, you may have learned to shut down and repress sadness. As an adult, you can take a look at those dynamics and your own patterns, get curious, and then place your adult self in the parent role to begin to reparent yourself. Yep, you need to start by being a mother to yourself. (Which also happens to be great practice before you become an actual parent!)
That might look like:
Journaling with curiosity and non-judgement to become attuned to yourself (because often parents are mis-attuned to their children, meaning needs, desires, and emotions weren’t met or went unseen, which can be very painful)
Practicing boundaries and putting yourself first
Speaking to yourself as a loving, kind, and wise parent. Try being a mother by writing letters to the younger you in this voice.
Seeking professional help. A mental health professional can help guide you as you begin your healing.
And while none of this can go back and change your childhood, it can be incredibly healing. Which puts you in a better, healthier place to parent.
When it comes down to it, to grow and care for a little human is an incredibly profound experience and responsibility in and of itself — and we can really only do this healthily when we heal ourselves through self-awareness, diving into our pasts, and re-parenting ourselves. It takes courage and vulnerability to do both — but it is worth it.