Children hold a mirror up to us like no one else.
But what happens when you don’t like what you see?
What happens when you realize you are raising your very own “mini me,” and your heart sinks?
Why is raising a mini me hard?
I discovered that guiding and supporting a miniature version of me meant holding that mirror back up to myself. It took a lot of soul searching and acceptance to move beyond messages of shame and self-loathing that I had picked up.
If you have a child who reminds you of yourself and whose behaviors or upsets you find hard to handle, it could be you need to find more compassion for yourself too.
Raising a mini me from day one
Let me be very clear. I dearly love my child and always will. What’s hard is when I can see that they are a “chip off the old block”, as the saying goes, and I would have preferred they took more from the “other” parenting block. My husband is a lot more chill and mellow than I am or ever was. He was also a very easy child by all accounts.
I knew early on that my firstborn was taking after me. In fact, it started with the first cry. (My mum and husband said it was exactly like mine!). This child is very certain about what they want, has had very clear boundaries from an early age and shows strong-will and tenacity. (Read more about strong-willed children here)
Don’t we want kids to be strong advocates?
“These are fantastic traits!”
That’s what I would say to anyone parenting a child with these traits. We want our children to be strong advocates for themselves. We want them to be very clear on what they will and won’t tolerate. We want them to be able to coherently, emphatically and intelligently argue their way out of anything that doesn’t serve them.
So what was my problem?
The problem with raising a mini me was seeing myself
I was seeing myself in this child.
I didn’t like it at all. Why?
I didn’t love myself.
There’s a song by New Zealand singer, Lorde, and the first time I heard it I had to pull over on the side of the road and bawl as I heard her sing these words: “They say ‘you’re a liability, you’re a little much for me.’ ”
That felt like me.
I saw all those wonderful traits that I think make for strong human beings, the change-makers and the fierce advocates, through my own lens of fear. I had such painful memories of the trouble those same traits had brought on me in my youth.
So any time my child displayed off-track behavior, my first thoughts went to worst-case scenarios. I blamed myself for her behavior and I also resented her for being Just. Like. Me.
I saw all the things I didn’t love reflected in my child
As a child I was known as the “naughty” one, using humor and disruption to amuse my classmates into liking me. I chose to be brashy and outspoken and my mouth got me in trouble constantly.
True or not, I felt like I was too much trouble for everyone.
And now here I was, seeing all these things I didn’t love about myself reflected in my own child.
And then I discovered a tool that helped me find love and acceptance for us both.
This tool helped me find love and acceptance
One very powerful tool we have here at Hand In Hand Parenting is Listening Partnerships. This is where you share uninterrupted and unfiltered venting, pondering, crying, complaining, and whatever you like with a Listener. They will not judge, interrupt, rationalize, hypothesize or refer back to anything you’ve said.
Instead, your partner trusts in your inherent wisdom of your own situation and affirms that you are good and you are wise. That you will always find the solution to whatever it is you are working on.
The concept of listening like this is unusual to many people, as even in our closest and most comfortable friendships there is usually some back and forth or relating such as “When I went through something similar, this is what worked…”
That strategy, of course, absolutely has its place, but as I learned myself, Listening Time is next level. I’ve found it integral to surviving the myriad challenges parenting provides.
It’s common for people to need a little help getting going when they start with Listening Partnerships. One way to do this is by imagining what life was like when you were your child’s age. My Listening Partner suggested I try it, but I didn’t really get how it would work.
Then I found myself giving it a shot on a family trip.
How my own experiences impacted raising my mini me child
By that point, my mini-me child was seven, and I was finding it harder than ever to parent her in general. It was at that stage she had begun to be influenced more by her peers and she had become more and more strong in herself. Everything felt hard.
And then my other child began fighting back. All of a sudden we had double the upsets. Since we were on a trip, we were in very close quarters with my entire family. It felt like every one of them was blaming all the hitting and kicking on my mini-me. There were two roles emerging and being cemented—one of instigator and one of victim.
To be honest, I felt the same way!
I felt so mad. All these years of railing on her sibling had finally resulted in our usually calm little pacifist child striking back.
But something else dawned on me.
My mini me child had no-one on her side. Including me.
My mini me child had no-one on her side
So I went to the Hand In Hand Parenting Facebook page and found an emergency Listening Partner in the right timezone and I figured I would give this concept of revisiting my childhood a go.
My memories of childhood are vague at best. But when I did wind the clock back, I realized my second sibling was born the year I turned seven. Soon after, my grandma died overseas and my mum had to leave us all for a whole month. She took the baby with her, but we stayed home.
Meanwhile, I did something I felt very ashamed of at school and that I carried with me for years afterward.
Old experiences led me to new compassion
I used the listening session to work through that incident. After processing what I had gone through at the time, I was suddenly able to feel a deep and total compassion for the child I was.
The poor thing!
My behavior had been a clear SOS, but back then, control and punishment were the go-to responses. No one took into consideration anything else that was going on for me, and I picked up a deep sense of shame that I continued to carry for many years. After this Listening session, I finally felt freed of it.
No wonder I was finding it hard to parent my seven-year-old.
Deep-down, parenting her had reminded me of one of the worst periods of my life. One of the first times I had internalized that I was a “bad kid”. It was a time I had felt that no-one would help me.
My child’s behavior was an SOS
After this listening session I finally felt free of that.
I now knew why it felt hard to parent my mini-me child, especially at that age. In fact, I realized that the hard parts in parenting for me were always about my own pain. My own old messaging getting in the way of the amazing tools I’d discovered through Hand in Hand.
I could see it was happening here too!
The pain of the situation reminded me of my own childhood and blocked me from responding to my child with the empathy, compassion and understanding I had so desperately wanted.
Instead, past messages rang clear in my mind and told me:
- “Get this child under control!”
- “They need discipline!”
- “If you let things keep going this way you will never have control!”
Control is not the answer
Here’s the thing. We can’t have an authentic relationship where control is our focus and without an authentic relationship, we can’t foster connection, which is the key to thriving as human beings. The bonus is that through connection we actually do find cooperation.
After the listening session, I could see clearly that my child’s behavior was a call for me to see she was struggling. It wasn’t about me at all.
When I went back to my seven-year-old with that compassion, I was able to be their one advocate. Once I was able to see through the fog of my anger, hurt and frustration, I was able to better speak up for her.
I was able to help other family members see what patterns were emerging, and how we were actually fortifying them instead of dissolving them.
My journey of self-love stared here
Listening Time was where I started my journey of self-love.
I’ve used it to brainstorm what I can do to promote it in myself, places where I’ve lost my love of self, how I can regain it and why it’s so important for me to do this. I want for my children to have a deep love of themselves and I know modeling this genuinely for them is key. Or at least being honest about it still being a journey for me.
Listening Time is also where I unpack the reality that my child is not actually me. They may remind me of parts of myself that scare me. I may sometimes feel like I am debating myself. Or lament that the apple has not fallen far from the tree. But they have other elements to their personality that are not at all like I was. For example, they do very well in a school setting and a teacher would not have a clue who on earth this post is about!
If you have a child who is similar to you, whose behaviors you find hard to handle, exploring how those similarities might be triggering for you could be useful.
Build compassion, not comparison
Special Time is another tool that I found helpful in parenting my mini-me. Special Time is one-on-one play time where you set a timer, allow your child to lead and you just DELIGHT in them without distraction. If your mind wanders, you bring it back to your beloved child in front of you and how much you adore them. Get a free guide to Special Time.
Sometimes it helped me to remember them as a babe in arms and those gushy feelings holding them made me feel. When I was delighting in them I was fully focused on them, so I celebrated their traits as their own instead of drawing comparisons to myself.
This was also a way for my child to fill their cup full with my warmth and attention, while they had me all to themselves. Having this opportunity is really important and is a good way to ease sibling rivalry and other fears and insecurities.
Use these practices again and again as your child grows
This self love journey will always be something I revisit time and time again through Listening Partnerships, especially as my child gets older and the fears and stakes of the teen years loom larger.
Listening Time is the one tool I can count on to always provide me with exactly what I need, even when I am not sure of exactly what that is.
Through listening I am reminded that both myself and my child have deep empathy, a strong sense of right and wrong and will speak up when we need to.
I also remind myself that I have witnessed this child grow into an awesome human being, separate from me and with many strengths that I could only dream of.
I have seen them move in the world in a way that awes and impresses me and makes me feel blessed and honored to have a vital role in this journey.
I will keep working on loving me and I will never stop loving her.
Are you raising a “mini-me”?
Use these questions and practices to keep your relationship with your miniature you strong and rooted in connection.
- Revisit what was happening for you when you were the age your child is now. What messages did you receive or want to receive? How can you feel compassion for the child you were? Repeat this any time you enter a phase that feels particularly difficult with your child and see what you uncover.
- In tough moments (or just afterwards) imagine holding your child when they were young. Focus on all that you admired and dreamed for them.
- What parts of yourself have you tried to hide? Are you trying to shield and protect your child from the same qualities or traits? How can you come to celebrate them? What would you have liked to have heard about them as a child?
- Make a list of the ways you are similar and the ways you are different. What do you admire about each?
- In times of struggle or stress, we can often default to comparisons and old messaging related to us, rather than see our child’s experience as their own. During their upsets, listen and hold the idea that they are good and will figure things out in their own way. This helps keep your attention focused on your child.
- Spend time doing Special Time where you can delight and pay attention to exactly what your child is doing in the moment and delight in what they want to share with you.