What is self parenting and what does it look like?

April 6, 2023

No parent is perfect. Some push their kids too hard, some show too little interest. Some are overbearing, others are neglectful. Some use their children for emotional support and lack boundaries, others fail to show the consistent, nurturing love children need.

Re-parenting or self-parenting is a therapeutic technique that involves recognising emotional needs that were not met in childhood and developing healthy techniques to address those gaps ourselves in adulthood.

“Our brains and personalities are at their most malleable when we’re children, it’s no surprise that parenting style can significantly shape who we become in adulthood, even if we generally think of our parents as pretty good,” says Leanne Schubert, Day Program Director and Family Therapist at South Pacific Private.

“Self-parenting can be a powerful framework to address a host of issues, from anxiety to depression to addiction to relationship issues,” Leanne says. “Many of those issues can stem from childhood, even if we don’t immediately recognise it.”

Re-parenting is a two step process.

First, it involves examining and recognising where problems may have developed. That means learning about various types of parenting styles, common failures and gaps, and the impact they can have on us as we grow into adulthood.

Second, it involves working on solutions. This can include looking into how parents could have responded in more supportive, nurturing ways, and how we can extend this grace to ourselves.

“The process can really lead to a light switch moment when it all falls in place,” says Leanne. “When you understand how your parents may have fallen short, and how you’ve been punishing yourself by internalising those issues ever since, that’s when you can really have an emotional breakthrough.”

11 Common Parenting Failures

By recognising the impact of parenting experiences on our emotional development, we can begin the process of “reparenting” ourselves to develop the thoughts, qualities and skills we may have missed in childhood. 

Below, we’ve listed out 11 common parenting gaps, traits, and failures, and how the impacts can manifest as a child develops into adulthood. 

Emotional Neglect: When a parent fails to provide emotional support, validation and care, it can lead to a lack of emotional awareness in adulthood, an inability to control emotions, and difficulty in forming healthy relationships. This may be a result of us not having had the opportunity to explore and express emotions in a safe and supportive environment.

High Pressure Parenting: “Tiger” parents or parents with high expectations risk internalizing those expectations in their children, leading to feelings of failure, inadequacy, workaholism, perfectionism, anxiety, depression and self-doubt in adulthood.

Overcontrol: Parents who limit their child’s independence, make decisions for them or constantly criticize their choices risk instilling a lack of confidence, self-esteem and self-reliance. As adults, we may struggle to trust others, may seek constant validation, or become overly dependent on others.

Trauma: Experiencing or witnessing abuse or violence as a child can have a severe impact. As adults, we may have difficulty regulating emotions, forming healthy attachments and feeling safe in relationships. Individuals are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, PTSD, low self-worth and addiction. We may risk either replicating dysfunctional relationship dynamics we witnessed, or replicating dysfunctional patterns we developed as a means of self-protection.

Overprotection: Overprotective parenting may limit our ability to take risks or explore our environment, leading to a lack of confidence, independence or self-efficacy. This can contribute to anxiety, helplessness in the face of adversity and difficulty setting boundaries. We may seek out partners who show similar, unhealthy overprotective traits.

Criticism / Blame: Frequent criticism or blame can result in a critical inner voice, undermining our self-worth and self-esteem. We may struggle with accepting responsibility and accountability, and may seek to manipulate others to avoid consequences.

Enmeshment / Lack of Boundaries: Enmeshment is when a parent is overly involved in a child’s life and leads to difficulty with assertiveness and boundary-setting in adult relationships. It can look like guilt tripping or intrusive questioning. It can sound like a parent telling us to think of them as a friend not a parent, telling us they don’t know what they’d do without us, or disregarding our personal boundaries.

Role Reversal / Over-responsibility: Children forced to take on adult responsibilities or care for a parent may struggle with feelings of burden or resentment later in life. We may find it difficult to set boundaries and assert ourselves, leading us to feel taken advantage of or constantly overwhelmed. We may also find it difficult to communicate our needs and feelings, or show vulnerability, impacting on our ability to build healthy relationships.

Lack of Support / Abandonment: If we experience physical or emotional abandonment as a child, we may struggle with trust, fears of rejection and feelings of worthlessness as adults. Our relationships can often suffer. We may be too clingy or too detached, or may fear intimacy or feel the need for constant reassurance. 

Gaslighting / Invalidating Emotions: If our emotions are frequently dismissed, ignored, or invalidated by caregivers, we may struggle with emotional stability and self-expression as adults. We may have deep self-esteem issues, difficulty with trust and a tendency to second-guess ourselves. We may also repeat the behaviour to others, dismissing their feelings or telling them to toughen up. 

Conditional Love: If we experience love and approval only when we meet certain conditions or expectations as a child, we may internalize that our worth and value are dependent on meeting certain goals. We may struggle with self-worth and find it difficult to set healthy boundaries, fearing we may not be loved if we assert ourselves. 

How to Re-Parent / Self-Parent

Using the prism of re-parenting can be a powerful method of changing the ways we think and feel, and adjusting our internal monologues. 

“When you dive into it, unhelpful voices in our heads or emotional triggers that set us off can often be echoes of our parents voices, or other authority figures we had as children,” Leanne says. “That’s why this is such a transformational technique for so many people.”

Self-parenting involves working with a therapist to reframe negative thoughts, better control our emotions and develop healthier relationships with others. It can also involve intentionally practicing self-care and self-compassion, setting boundaries, and learning to meet one’s own emotional needs.

“One way of thinking about it is that it involves treating yourself with the same kindness, compassion, and understanding that a loving parent would offer to their child,” Leanne says. 

What self-parenting looks like: 

  • If we experienced childhood neglect, trauma or abandonment, we may need to learn to validate and acknowledge our own emotions, practice expressing them in a safe environment, and give ourselves the love and support we needed but did not receive. We may also need to learn to identify and challenge negative self-beliefs and develop a strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem. 
  • If we experienced high pressure parenting or criticism and blame, we may need to recognize and challenge negative self-talk, celebrate strengths and achievements and practice self-compassion. 
  • If we experienced overcontrol or overprotection, we may need to practice decision-making and problem-solving skills, set boundaries and advocate for ourselves, and learn to trust ourselves and others. 
  • If we experienced enmeshment or role-reversal, we may need to practice assertiveness and boundary-setting, and work on developing a sense of individual identity and independence.
  • If we experienced conditional love, gaslighting or invalidation, we may need to practice self-validation and self-compassion, work on building self-esteem and self-worth independent of external validation, and practice healthy communication skills to assert our emotions and needs to others. We may also need to evaluate our relationships, and ensure they’re built on balance and respect.

Self-parenting may also look like: 

  • Self-Compassion: Offering yourself words of encouragement, practicing self-care, or giving yourself permission to take a break when you need it.
  • Self-Awareness: Paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, and recognizing when you need to take a step back or seek support.
  • Self-Discipline: Holding yourself accountable and taking responsibility for your actions and behaviours, and setting boundaries and goals that align with your values and priorities. This might involve developing healthy habits and routines, making a conscious effort to prioritize your own well-being, and identifying and addressing areas where you’ve fallen short. 
  • Self-Validation: This involves recognizing and accepting your own feelings, thoughts, and experiences as valid – acknowledging them as they are, without trying to deny or minimize them. When we learn to accept and validate their emotions without judgment, we can develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with ourselves, helping us better manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional triggers.
  • Self-Reflection: Taking time to reflect on your experiences and emotions, and learning from them in order to grow, develop and improve your relationships. This might involve journaling, therapy, or seeking out feedback and advice from trusted friends or mentors.
  • Self-trust: Having confidence in our ability to make sound decisions and to take care of ourselves. Trusting our intuition and inner guidance, and being willing to take risks and make mistakes. 

“Ultimately, self-parenting is about developing a deep sense of self-acceptance, and treating yourself with the same care and attention that you would offer to a loved one,” Leanne says. “By cultivating these patterns and behaviours, we can build a stronger sense of resilience and stability, and navigate challenges and relationships with greater ease and grace.”

South Pacific Private’s therapists and clinical directors are experienced in self-parenting methodologies rooted in evidence-based approaches including cognitive-behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. If you or someone you care about is struggling, take a free self-assessment or call us on 1800 063 332.

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Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.

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