Family Roles and the Inner Child

When I was born in 1942, I was destined as the “replacement child.” My sister Suzie had been diagnosed with Down syndrome (Mongolism, they called it then). As my mother wrote to her sister (in a letter I have in my hands), the doctors were urging them to have another child  quickly and send Suzie off to an institution.

My parents had just moved to Orange, New Jersey, during a hot and sweating summer, with young Suzie. My father hated his job, as he hated every job where he worked for other people. My mother, both intelligent and ill-fitted for motherhood, was stuck at home with Suzie and then me. Father’s outlet was anger that came in unpredictable bursts. Mother’s style was to take it in and slowly despair.

In came I, blessedly normal and smart. There’s a photo of me at 10 months and this child is so bright-eyed and willing to please, she practically jumps out of the page. I was born to set it right. So I tried, being good and winsome and all of that. And of course I didn’t cure everything. Father was still angry, mother was still depressed, and my sister was still needy. She was sent to a well-run private institution when I was two, and then it was just me and the parents.

This young soul concluded, with child-logic, that if she tried and tried and still the parents were unhappy and at odds, it must be the her fault—she wasn’t loving enough. And this is one of the set patterns that my Inner Child carries, the feeling she hasn’t done enough for others and it’s her failure of soul.

I don’t suppose that feeling will entirely go away, but I can sit and hold my Inner Child and tell her it’s really not her job to make things OK for everyone.

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