Though the boundaries between us were 100% client and attorney, the way that he showed up in our interactions over several months felt reparative to me because he gave me an experience I’ve almost never had with an older man in my life: someone I could trust implicitly and who I could rely on in moments of distress.
He helped me solve my legal issue, yes, but he reminded me, too, that it’s never too late for reparative re-parenting experiences (no matter how much personal work we’ve done), and moreover, that paying for professional support in pursuit of these reparative experiences absolutely counts.
What Is Re-Parenting?
Re-parenting, as I define it, is any relational interaction that gives you an experience being shown up for in a way you ideally would have been shown up for as a child and young adult by the caregivers in your life.
It is, effectively, an experience or set of experiences that help you meet psychological or developmental gaps you may contend with as a result of how you were raised.
Many of us from relational trauma backgrounds arrive into adulthood with unmet needs: for emotional safety, for attunement, for nurturance, support regulating our nervous systems, guidance about how to navigate the complexities of adulthood, etc…
In my case with my lawyer, because I never had a father in my life who was wise and trustworthy (quite the opposite in fact), I had (and still have) a gap of being able to resource effectively with older male figures.
When one of my lawyers was able to show up and be a strong, supportive, ethical, and sound authority figure for me, he gave me the re-parenting experience of being able to lean on and trust an older male figure in my life in a time of need. It was re-fathering.
It felt great.
Now, to be clear, while I did get a “re-fathering” experience from a male, I don’t think that re-parenting experiences are bifurcated and gendered as we’ve archetypically (and Patriarchically) historically ascribed them to be (eg: you get nurturance from women, you get protection from men, etc.).
I believe that the archetypal essence and qualities of parenting experiences that we’re hungry for can be fulfilled by any gender and they can be just as effective in any iteration.
For instance, my financial planner gives me the archetypally-ascribed “fathering” experiences of safety, expert guidance, someone to turn to, to navigate adulting complexities – and she’s a woman.
And, I’ve written about this before, I experience a lot of archetypal re-mothering from my husband who is a very nurturing, gentle, and generous man.
Again, re-parenting (re-mothering and re-fathering) can come from any relational interaction that gives you an experience being shown up for in a way you ideally would have been shown up for as a child and young adult by the caregivers in your life.
How Do I Get More Re-Parenting Experiences?
When it comes to the question of seeking out and getting more re-parenting experiences, I think that, as adults, re-parenting experiences generally happen in one of two ways: unintentionally and intentionally.
On the one hand, we may already be having re-parenting experiences without consciously seeking it out and thinking about it.
We may move through the world experiencing supportive interactions that give us some of what we hungered for as children: respect, care, consideration, etc…
We may just not be consciously naming it as such.
For instance, when your older neighbor lady learns that you’re having surgery and brings over some soup to stock up your freezer for the week of your recovery, that can be a kind of re-parenting experience.
Or when your male landlord proactively checks in on you after a snowstorm to see if you are okay and comfortable and if you need anything, that can be a kind of re-parenting experience.
It’s something that I always like to point out to my therapy clients: you may already be experiencing re-parenting in your life if you pay closer attention to your days.
And then, on the other hand, I think re-parenting can also happen when we consciously seek it out from healthy, functional relationships in our life, be they paid or unpaid.
For instance, re-parenting can happen when you ask your trustworthy boss for her support helping you craft your career trajectory to hit your goals.
And re-parenting can also happen when you enlist a paid professional to help you navigate your life and make things easier for you, like hiring a doula during your maternity leave or hiring an accountant to give you expert guidance on your taxes.
But if you, like so many others, believe it “doesn’t count” if you have to pay for it, read on.
“It Doesn’t Count If I Pay For Reparenting!”
In the last decade in my work as a therapist I’ve heard many times something to the effect of “Yes, but this relationship doesn’t count because I pay you.”
It’s a completely normal and natural thought and concern to worry and wonder if the reparenting experience “counts” if it’s paid.
The younger parts of us, the parts that desperately needed and wanted psychologically and relationally healthy parents to turn to in distress are still often hurt, sad, and sometimes angry about what they didn’t get and won’t ever have: unpaid, lifelong, reliable flesh-and-blood parents to turn to in times of need.
I don’t want to undermine this pain and longing.
I know how it feels, too.
We have to let those younger parts of us be sad about what we didn’t receive.
And also, while we’re making space for this sadness, perhaps too we can see the possibility that the paid professional support that’s giving us a re-mothering or re-fathering experience still counts because it’s helping us internalize reparative experiences while we ultimately do the work at becoming our own good-enough internalized inner mother and inner fathers.
So while you may not be able to have your lawyer walk you down the aisle, or your therapist in the delivery room while you birth your first baby, even though these paid supports can’t necessarily do all of the things a lifelong flesh-and-blood parent can, they can still give you some of the essences of what you’re still hungry for and help you meet those unmet developmental needs in some way.
Paying for re-parenting experiences absolutely counts if we let it.
How Do I Know If I Need Re-Parenting?
“How do I know if I need re-parenting?”
At some level, every human on this planet can use more reparative parenting experiences.
This is because, no matter how wonderful any parent or set of parents is, even the best parents can’t give you everything all the time when you’re a child and young adult.
Plus, even if you did have the greatest parents, the need for care, support, and parenting doesn’t disappear when we become adults.
Life can be really, really hard sometimes, and even with great parents in your corner you still may need more parenting and re-parenting resources.
And that’s okay.
So again, at some level, we could all use more positive re-parenting examples.
But the need for re-parenting to help meet unmet developmental psychological needs does, I believe, exist on a spectrum.
And if you’re a blog reader of mine, if you come from a relational trauma background, you likely fall further on the side of the spectrum who could use positive re-parenting experiences more than others.
But if you’re still unsure if you personally could use active and tangible re-parenting experiences let me ask you:
- What does your body have to say as you read these words, this essay?
- When you think of needing and having re-parenting experiences, do you feel any pangs of sadness or longing, any prick of tears in your eyes?
- Do you feel goosebumps on your arms or a lump in your throat?
Your body always knows the answer, honey.
Trust what’s coming up for you now and let the possibility that you need positive re-parenting experiences to be okay.
And, if after stilling and listening to yourself, you do realize that you need and want more re-parenting experiences, I’ve then invite you to consider the following reflective questions:
- What parenting needs do you have?
- What are you dearly longing for that you wish a parent could give you?
- What’s the essence behind that wish? Guidance, protection, reassurance, comfort, wisdom, mirroring, attunement?
- Who in your life – paid and unpaid – can do this?
- If you can’t think of anyone, can you brainstorm a list of potential paid and unpaid supports? Here are a few paid support ideas to get you started:
– A therapist
– A lawyer
– An accountant
– A financial planner
– A business coach
– A personal assistant
– A housecleaner
– A nanny
– A property management company
– A consultant
– An estate planner
– A massage therapist
– A naturopath
This list of questions and possible supports are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re not exhaustive and meant to catalyze your own creative thinking about your unmet needs and pathway to healing.
You’re the expert of your experience and only you know what’s best and right and most true for you.
So, along those lines, I’d now I’d love to hear from you in the comments:
What came up for you as you read today’s essay? Who and what provides you with re-parenting experiences in your own life?
If you feel comfortable and inclined, please do share your reflections in the comments below so that our community of 20,000 monthly blog readers can benefit from your wisdom and experiences.
If you would personally like support around this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.
Bruce Linton on
Wonderful post. Hopefully we all have opportunities to meet with people in our lives
who can be kind and caring; both paid and unpaid. I have always made an effort to
“recruit” the support I need from doctors to car mechanics! And I do participate in
a Zen community where loving kindness and ethics are the foundation of our “practice.”
Keep up the “good work!”
Hi Bruce, thank you so much for your kind words! Even the most routine interactions can provide moments of re-parenting, can’t they? I appreciate you posting a comment, and have a wonderful week. Warmly, Annie.
Annie, I read about Skinner’s rats years ago in grad school learning about cutting and why victims of abuse continue to seek love and it really resonated with my own story, but I felt a bit guilty because my parental history isn’t abusive, but neglectful at worst and more often just forcing me to be the parent. I thought most of that was my mostly absent dad, but in therapy have come to realize while my mom was present, she was also inconsistent and emotionally immature. I think I’ve done the work I can with my current therapist. I usually come to the conclusions I need to before I speak to her, but still find myself stuck in some of the same patterns and habits. Do you have any suggestions for how I might best search for a therapist to help me get to the next level? I do think I’m looking for some re-parenting, but I’d also love someone who will help me make some connections I haven’t already made and learn new strategies for not continuing the same patterns or allowing others to affect me so much. I joke with my therapist friend that I’m looking for an AP level therapist, not someone whose just a good listener. Any ideas of modalities I might search for when browsing options that take my insurance. I know the connection is most important, but I hate going through the first three exhausting appointments only to feel like it’s not a great fit and really struggle with being able to say that to the therapist, so I’ll just keep showing up.
Hi Amanda, good question. I would suggest looking for therapy centers where you can be matched with a trauma-informed therapist. For example, my center, Evergreen Counseling, which is a trauma-informed therapy center, offers a personalized matching consultation with our clinical intake coordinator to get to know you and match you with a therapist who could better support you. I might also suggest looking into EMDR therapy. EMDR works with and aids your brain’s natural impulse to synthesize and metabolize maladaptive memories and beliefs that are getting in your way – you can consider it AP-level therapy. I totally understand how exhausting the therapist search can feel so if you’re located here in California, I hope you’ll reach out so you can work with a truly wonderful member of my team and alleviate the therapist search burden. I hope this feels helpful. In the meantime, take such good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie.