When you embark on parenthood, there is something those with parenting advice fail to mention, or at least no one told me: the past is not behind you. Your own childhood will not be a far off memory.
Becoming a parent might allow us to believe our past has nothing to do with this new time, new slate, new child. But here is what new parents need to know, any of the unresolved issues from your own childhood, that you thought were ancient history, might come back around to look you in the eyes.
There is a clinical name for this, discussed in the book Emotional Sobriety by Tian Dayton, called “age correspondence reaction.” This age correspondence happened to me with my first born. Our commonalities start with our gender, blue eyes, and blond hair. I recognized in her a trait I also possess—along with 20% of the population— being a highly sensitive person. We are affected more deeply by noise, change, smell, emotion, light, and many other things.
It is both a great blessing and, at times, a curse. As I watch my daughter grow, her sweet soul touches mine in ways I never thought possible. When she was around the age of 4, I started to look at her and remember being her age. I started to consider the obstacles I faced at her age and how they related to being a highly sensitive person. It was difficult. The things I repressed, dismissed and downplayed were back on the table. I was facing my past.
Not everything was high drama or traumatic, often the hardest things were moments of shame or sadness I did not have the capacity to resolve as a young girl. Each year as she has grown, I remember things about being her age in a new way, reliving my own childhood through her eyes. Watching my daughter grow has been the catalyst to heal my past. This connection to our own upbringing is what is not mentioned in new parenting manuals.
When I was 10 years old I wrote a book called Fat, Fat, Fat. I was awarded and acknowledged for my writing at a Young Authors Day Conference a local college. No one wondered about the book, my voicing my fear of fat, hunger, and larger bodies, because frankly they were afraid, too. After that the book was tucked away in storage for many years and when it came back out into the light when my daughter was 10. I had to more deeply face the demons of my past and how body shaming was an undercurrent throughout my life. The idea of sharing this book with my daughter paralyzed me. I did not want her to read it. I wanted to protect her, but how?
The truth is the body shaming beast of our culture is bigger than me. It had me in its mouth for many years, it almost swallowed me whole, but I fought, I kicked, I screamed. I grew hot with rage and it spit me out. I am free now, but what about my precious daughter? How do I keep her from being consumed by something so big and so powerfully alive in our culture?
It is by owning my story and helping others own theirs. It is being an imperfect voice for change and helping others to find their own voice.
It is time for us all to face the beast.
Jennifer DiGennaro MA, LLPC, is a psychotherapist and couples counselor in private practice in Grand Rapids, MI. She is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, Certified Body Trust® Provider and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, as well as the founder of Nourished Energy. She specializes in treating chronic dieting, binge eating disorder, body image concerns, trauma, PTSD, mood disorders and relationship issues. She brings a deep passion for social justice to her trauma-informed, evidence-based and heart-centered clinical work. She is committed to ending the war that is waged against bodies in our culture. Learn more at: www.nourishedenergy.com/meet-
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