all grown up. forever a child.

It took me a long time to know what it meant to show up for myself. It took a long time to hear the messages from my own inner parent. My theory is that unless we’ve had someone in our lives treating both us and themselves with unconditional love, we simply don’t know what to say because that language hasn’t been learned. We hear loving messages from others, but there’s no inner resonance because that language isn’t one that is familiar. Or, because the walls of protection that we all construct at various points and for various reasons are so thick, the words don’t  easily penetrate. (All this to say we need external models as we’re building and strengthening internal resources…more on that another time.)

There’s also the belief that growing up means we shouldn’t want what we longed for and needed in childhood. That we should somehow separate ourselves from our childlike fantasies and playful spirits, from our basic needs even. Instead, we think we must sever ties, cut ourselves off from the parts of ourselves that are seemingly too young or too immature or, sadly, too vulnerable.

But, is it possible to be the parent and child simultaneously? Said differently, can we be both the holder and the held?

YES. 1000% yes.

I can remember the day when all this knowledge (that I’d been learning for years) finally sunk in. I was making myself lunch, something I can be rather grumbly about because I just don’t feel like it (thanks, ego). I want quick. I want easy. And even though making lunch doesn’t really take much, resistance makes it seems like preparing lunch for 10 people about to leave for a hike. Too. Much. Effort.

But, I did it anyway (another important adult lesson).

After preparing the meal – and this is where the real learning is – I sat down and ate it as the child. Having food made for me is one of my most favorite things. It one loving action that gives me the warm fuzzies. And – how wonderful! – I could now do this for myself instead of pining for someone else to do it for me.

This is just one example of what it looks like to work and connect with the different parts of yourself. In this case, it’s the inner adult and the inner child.  For many of us, we long for something from someone who isn’t available to meet our needs. Yet, when we learn to do it ourselves, we can stop waiting. We can stop denying and shaming ourselves and take the short road to satisfaction because we don’t have to detour through other peoples’ stuff (because it’s other peoples’ stuff that keeps them from showing up; not because there’s anything wrong with you).

And this also means that we don’t have to give up wanting what we want, needing what we need. It’s just that we learn to turn to ourselves instead of wait for it to come in from the outside. We get to be both the adult and the child, the caregiver and the care-receiver, respectively. And this makes all the difference on the healing journey.

anxiety is a thought pattern

***for those struggling with relationship anxiety, i write this to encourage you to think about your thought patterns as just that: a thought pattern. consider how your constant questioning, comparing to others, thinking there’s one “right” choice spans more than just your relationship. it’s easy to put the reason for our suffering onto our partners, when really the issue lies in our own mental processes.***

recently, i’ve been exploring preschool options for my toddler and found one in the community that seems to be highly aligned with my values and beliefs when it comes to transitions and attachment. they offer parent/toddler classes to support the child in his or her transition into school, acknowledging that this can be a challenging time for young children. most places will agree that it can be tough, yet often take a ‘rip the bandaid off’ approach that is akin to crying it out (something we don’t do at home nor do i agree with). i’ve decided to sign us up for the class, without really exploring other options, without knowing what the hell i’m doing, or if this is the best place for us to be.

i’ve noticied, though, that despite the alignment of values and warm, caring environment of the school, i’m fighting this transition internally. am i tapping directly into the grief of what this all signifies? not quite.

instead, i’m questioning. i’m questioning my decision, the way many of you do when it comes to your relationship:

-did i make the right choice? what if some other place would be better?
-what if my daughter would be happier somewhere else?
-how can i be sure when i didn’t explore every possible option?
-what if i end up not liking this school?
-what will we be missing out on by saying yes to this one?
-i like that school better because of x, y, z…but this other one has these things to offer…but how will i support her emotionally in the same way this school does?…why can’t i have everything???

does any of this sound familiar? the point i want to really make here is that this same thought pattern, the one that drove me crazy for SO long way back when around my relationship, is showing up again in a different context. it’s a reminder that it’s not the relationship that’s the issue, it’s my brain. and, more importantly, it’s what my brain does when i’m feeling a certain way: vulnerable.

i’m at a growing edge here. i’m doing something i’ve never done before, with limited support or people to talk to about how to navigate these waters as a mother. there’s this unspoken expectation that this process be an easy one. you just find a school and send your kid to it, right? (just like you (seemingly easily) find a partner, get engaged, then married, right?) but it’s not that way for me. just as it wasn’t that easy when i was in the marriage transition (or any transition for that matter).

i rage against the passing of time. my natural instinct – or probably a learned strategy growing up in a family that didn’t talk about feelings – is to bury my head in the sand and avoid what’s really going on. i spin in mental circles instead of feeling lost and alone. i tell myself stories and compare myself to others (why does everyone else seem to have such an easier time with this???).

all because i’m so deeply vulnerable right now.

are you?

when you find yourself hooked into the anxious mind, ask yourself if you’re feeling vulnerable. or alone. or lost. consider the other situations in your life where your mind hijacks your sense of peace and you question it all. noticing how the thoughts flare up in other scenarios is one of the best ways to remind yourself that this anxiety lives in you.

it’s yours to work through, and it’s here to help you connect with your deepest self. because when i can see the anxiety for what it is – a signal that there is much more going on within me, under the surface layer of thoughts – i can process what’s truly needing attention: my little baby, the one who i birthed only 2 years ago, is growing up. yes, she’s only 2. but this step signifies the expansion of her world and a step out of what has felt like such a cozy little cocoon all this time. things are changing, and i struggle to wrap my mind and heart around it all. my heart aches for and grieves her babyhood. we celebrate and cry all at once.

what is the anxiety signaling within you? what is the touchstone waiting to be seen, shining through the waters of grief and longing? your anxiety is yours. it’s not the relationship. it’s not the preschool. it’s the feeling underneath that the thoughts are guiding you toward.