Whether we seek professional help along the way or not, most of us have come across these times in parenting where we identify our unmet childhood needs in the cries of our children. Getting help to sort things out with a spouse, a friend, a relative or professional means you are answering your need to reach out and depend on others. The following questions can help you reflect on the role your own projection of childhood pain may have in a situation, and assist you in sorting out what you believe is healthy attunement to your child, vs. a wish or desire to heal your own "inner child". (5)
- In the present situation, do I feel overly charged about how my child should feel?
- Does it remind me of anything particularly painful that happened to me as a child? If so, is my child experiencing the same intensity of this feeling as I did in childhood?
- Does my child’s previous experiences in this area equal the deprivation or pain of my childhood experiences at the same age? Or is it milder or not comparable? Do I know the range of what is normal distress in this situation or am I confused by the reminder of my own pain?
- What is the meaning of this experience to my child and what does he or she need?
- How is my child’s experience different than mine? How is it similar? Be sure to include an assessment of your child’s particular temperament compared to your own, in answering this question.
Contrasting previous experiences of your child to yourself at that age, the availability of support experienced as a child compared to your child in the present situation, and the particular meaning the event has for your child can help you sort through your past, finding the most accurate attunement to your child.
As research on patterns of child abuse bear out, parents are less prone towards repeating abuse when they have become aware of their own past hurt. But we must go beyond simply understanding our childhood pain to be truly attuned to our children. When we respond to a child as if they bear our own scars we fail to see them in their own rite. The child’s needs can become distorted, leaving him or her vulnerable to misattunement, as in the above example. Finding a neutral path, one that is not reactive but truly thoughtful and aware, is sometimes the hardest one to walk.