Recently, I sat down to write my mother a letter. Actually, I wrote as I lay on my stomach, swinging and crisscrossing my feet in the air like a child let loose with a pen and piece of paper. My playful pose helped me get in touch with the age I was imagining my mother to be: I was writing to her 8-year-old self.
It had been many months since we had spoken—there had been no falling out, yet I was finding myself paralyzed by old wounds that were reopening; by ways in which I’ve felt primally neglected and abandoned by her throughout my life. Previously, these feelings have led to all sorts of conflicted behavior from me: I’ve started fights. I’ve pretended nothing is wrong. This year, I went quiet because I want the dynamic to shift, but I haven’t known how. My paralysis transformed into some action and led me to the Hoffman Process, an 8-day psycho-spiritual retreat that combines different spiritual and psychological theories to help participants get in touch with their negative behavior patterns learned in childhood, as a result of the “negative love patterns” our parents carried from their childhood. The ultimate goal is to forgive our parents and ourselves so that we can move forward, untethered to the past.
During guided meditations at Hoffman, I visualized Mom as a child, playing by herself in the grassy fields of her family’s avocado farm in rural Australia. I saw her brunette curls and her round, blue eyes—she was the quietest soul in her family, with her charming, authoritative father and performative older sister. I saw her dangling her legs from a tree branch dreaming and looking out over that hot, quiet land that was all she knew. I heard her humming tunes in perfect melody, as I know her to do now in her early 60s, to the background of her father’s booming voice. My gentle Mom was surrounded by disciplinarians and extroverts who she learned to be obedient for. This was insight I needed to grow more empathy for the passive woman that I grew up often feeling detached from.
It’s hard to feel angry with an 8-year-old, especially one as dreamy and solitary as my mother. It’s pretty much impossible to stop talking to an 8-year-old.
As my inner child wrote to my mother’s, I realized that the things that I’m wounded by in her are things that I’m not loving in myself. I imagined that we were best friends and that I came over to play every day from my farm next door. I told her how much I loved running around with her, ripping into fresh avocados in the sunshine. I even dotted the i’s with love hearts. I told my 8- year-old Mom about my adult Mom and how when I was a girl, I always loved being alone with her when my stepdad went on vacation. The house felt calmer and seemed brighter. She and I would read and cook and walk together. Her quietness then felt more like a friend.
I haven’t sent the letter. Writing it felt like creating a private world in which Mom and I meet as equal, vulnerable souls. I am keeping it to read if the spell of forgiveness ever falters.
Challenge: Visualize the 8-year-old version of someone who you have felt hurt by. Imagine both of you as dynamic and innocent and utterly lovable—just as you both are now, though it's harder to see. Write them a letter in the voice of your young self.
- What are some things you’ve learned about them by seeing them as 8-year-olds?
- How differently do you feel when you engage with your own 8-year-old self?
- If you’d like to maintain a relationship with this person, what would you like them to know about your inner child?