They were on their way to the park, and waiting to cross the road. Beep. Beep. Beep – Tock! Green light. Mum held onto Marelise’s hand very tightly. Too tightly. She walked briskly, pulling at Marelise’s arm as they made their way to the other side of the road.

The day before, Marelise and her mum were unpacking the shopping. The tomato sauce slipped from her mum’s hands and fell onto the floor, smashing the glass and splattering sauce all over the kitchen and Marelise’s pastel yellow dress. Her mum went silent, eyes wide open, her body froze. Then a long wail erupted from her mother’s mouth as she collapsed on the kitchen floor in gut wrenching sobs. Marelise was devastated by this scene. She felt helpless and terrified.

“Mama needs me,” Marelise said to herself, “I have to be good and take care of her.”

While crossing the road Marelise desperately wanted to pull her hand free, but equally felt that she could not let go. She feared that if she did, her mother would collapse again. Her mother stared ahead, unable to notice that Marelise struggled to keep up.

The strain and desire to be good, and to support beyond what is expected or available is an imprint that many of us carry. We may fear that our needs are a burden, that our needs don’t matter, or not even be aware of our own needs. This is emotional child labour!

What is inner child work? It starts with acknowledgement. Is it true that it was your job to take care of mum? Would you have been able to? This starts the process of giving the inner child permission to be a child. The denial of our needs as an adult is often rooted in the silent conclusions we came to as children.

It not often the conscious intention of parents to send the message to their children that they are having a hard time. It happens through actions, and not words. Marelise’s innocent compassion brought her to the conclusion that it was her job to help mummy. Healing the inner child (and we have many of them) is often about liberation from the conclusions of our own imprisonment.

As an adult, Marelise can access this little girl and start a new conversation. She can provide her inner child with the permission to be playful! This can pull the cork on the suppressed energy of creativity and life force that Marelise tucked away to be a “good little girl” all those years ago.

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