Learn to Play Nice with Your Inner Five Year-old

December 2 I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Mine was wonderful.  I started the day with pumpkin pie + coffee with my stepmom and then joined with my best friend Emily and her beloved family for a calm, delicious dinner.  The whole day was comfortable and festive--the Thanksgiving of my dreams.

Planning the day was a great formula to replicate. I scheduled a few things that I wanted to do, said no to others, and then let the rest of it flow.

I've been pondering the right balance of planning versus letting go.  Both seem essential to having a good time.  If I go in either direction--too controlled or too loose--I often don't enjoy myself.

My main realization of late is that if my inner five year-old is happy then it means I am usually in this flow. So the work is to make her happy.

But how do we make this wild, intangible part of ourselves happy?  I think this question could be my life's work.

When I was five, my parents got divorced.  This was a very emotional time for me, but I remember very little of it.  I do know that this is when I began using food emotionally.  It probably felt like the best way to protect myself during a scary situation.

I think this is when I began trying to be perfect.  To my young self, my world was falling apart and being a little bit better might just save it.  It's taken me my whole life to see the untruth of this way of thinking.

Honestly I feel cheesy talking about my inner child.  However, I've realized that I must tend to this part of myself if I want to have a functional life.  She is my creative spirit and my unbridled enthusiasm.  When she's happy, I feel like myself.  When she's stifled, I go out of balance.

My amazing therapist friend Erin has done some great writing about how to manage our inner children (and real life children). Inspired by her and adding my own, here is how I keep my inner child happy and thus the rest of my life balanced:

I keep a strong routine.  Think of your children or your friends with children.  The sleeping and eating cycle is really important for emotional well-being.  Think about the melt-down tantrums we see in the grocery store.  Those kids should probably be eating dinner!

Well, a routine is important for us too.  Just like kids, we relax when we have a rhythm that ensures we are getting enough food and sleep.  We feel taken care of.  For me, going to bed early and eating my meals around the same time is enough for my life to go fairly well.  I turn off my lights by 10pm, pull the comforter over my head, and relax into the safety of my world.  The next morning I'm up before the sun with good energy to start my day.  When my schedule is solid, I barely notice it.  When I lose it, nothing works.

I inquire instead of demand.  There is a part of me that wants to eat sweets even though my belly is already full.  I definitely want to stay up and watch another episode of Catastrophe.  I want another glass of wine and to buy the sweater I don't need.

I'm learning to accept that this is this trouble-making voice is from my inner five year-old.  She has lots of ideas and wants to have FUN!   She is afraid too--of what I am not quite sure--and uses food and drinking and TV-watching to stay safe.   My perfectionism isn't that big of a deal to her--she just wants what she wants when she wants it.  She's powerful!

When I yell at her and tell her she lacks self-control, she recoils.  Or worse, she rebels and takes me down with her.  When I talk nicely to her and ask what she really needs, I usually cry.  I give us a moment to feel whatever scary life stuff we are feeling, exactly where we are, as we are.  This permission is everything and the cravings for ice cream or TV or whatever soften.  After that, I usually feel better.  She's resilient, this young part of me, and bounces easily to the next thing.

I listen to her ideas.  My birthday is coming up.  Last week I was deciding how I want to celebrate and the image of me blowing out candles on a huge pink birthday cake popped into my mind.  I laughed because I usually like a more low-key celebration.  But this image was persistent!  I knew it came from her and thought it would be fun to indulge this craving.

So I asked my stepmom--a master baker--about making me this pink cake.  Suddenly I knew what my five year-old was asking!  My stepmom has been wanting to start her own baking company for a while.  I've been wanting to promote her for a while because her cakes are that good.  Throwing a big birthday party would be the perfect place to do just that.

Then I began thinking of so many other lady entrepreneurs I wanted to invite and now I have a big brunch planned to celebrate us power ladies.  If I had ignored her then this great event would never happen.

I'm realizing now that my inner child is going to be my life-long partner.  She'll stick with me until the very end.  This is great news because she's awesome, especially when I love and protect her sweet, strong spirit.

This is a big win-win because in protecting her, I am also giving myself the self care I need to thrive.  It turns out we both need the same things--patience, love, and someone who cares about us enough to listen.