Working with clients, my perception of mothers has broadened to include not just imperfection, but downright abuse. What’s more typical than the extreme; however, is the truth that many children are tapped to “mother” their own parent. In psychology, we call this responsible offspring the “parentified child.” It’s not a role any child would knowingly take on. It just happens because a child is better qualified to “mother” than his or her mom.
These dutiful, talented kids have honed their skills of mothering and caretaking to the point that one or both parents lean on them to keep the household together. But wait! Who takes care of the kids if the kids are taking care of the parents? Attention, parentified kiddos- you must parent yourself. True, it’s not fair. It’s not functional. And yet, it’s real. Many children sacrifice their own childhoods to take care of business, unaware that they have accepted a role that’s codependent and hard to shake. Capable and giving, they meet the needs of their parents while their own needs go unmet. And, in most cases, they have no other choice. The alternative is chaos.
So what can children who are subtly used to serve their elders do about it? Perhaps learn about codependence and resign from the job of fixing broken family members. The right psychotherapist can help a son or daughter break bad patterns, so they can begin to use those well honed skills to take care of themselves.
If this sounds familiar, I invite you to parent yourself. Pour that nurturing warmth on yourself. Chances are, if your mom wasn’t able to be June Cleaver, she isn’t going to miraculously transform. So go ahead and accept her limitations and love her anyway. But first and foremost, LOVE the heck out of yourself. Here are 3 ways- but this is just a start:
1. Know your worth. You are extraordinary. You are valuable. You are loveable. Don’t wait for anyone to tell you this. If a parent didn’t, they screwed up. You must tell yourself that you are enough and do so until it sinks in.
2. Consider the qualities of a mother that you crave. Nurturing. Support. And that pervasive fantasy of “unconditional love.” Now flood yourself with those. How can you make yourself feel safe? Protected? Are you on board with your own dreams? Do you love yourself no matter what? I believe “unconditional love” is a spiritual thing. Your true parent, Infinite Source, offers unlimited love. And you can be that fountain of love for yourself, too.
3. Forgive your mom for hijacking your childhood to save herself. Forgive yourself for unwittingly complying. Investigate the ways your relationship is healthy. Build upon those. Take an honest look at the ways your relationship is unhealthy. Begin to gently correct course. Look at your own needs. Meet them. And keep loving her while you love yourself, first.
Happy Mother’s Day to a whole bunch of folks who will never get the title they deserve.