What Does Parenting from the Inside Out Mean?

“It just occurred to me that my parents had no idea what they’re doing,” I whispered to my husband from the passenger seat of the car. One of the kids asked a question, I didn’t know the answer, so I made it up – and in that moment I realized my parents probably did that all the time. Why? Because none of us knows what we are doing most of the time. We just fake it until we make it, and parenting is absolutely no exception to the ‘learn as you go’ rule.


No one gave us a handbook when we brought any of our kids home from the hospital. My OB gave me at least 78 pamphlets and sheets about all the things I shouldn’t eat, drink, or do when I was pregnant with all of them, but they just…hand you a new baby and tell you to enjoy.

No book. No notes. They even had the audacity to hand me two newborn babies at once almost nine years ago and wish us luck as they sent us home after a week in the NICU. Just…go and good luck. Why? Because parenting is never the same. Not ever. Literally – not ever.

Parenting tips, methods, and hacks are everywhere. You can’t turn a corner in the bookstore without running into a new book about the best way to parent your kids. The articles about it are plastered all of your Facebook feed. Your mother-in-law has some serious opinions (yet you live with the result of her parenting choices…same goes for your spouse). The simple truth is no one is a perfect parent. No one is an expect. No one knows what they are doing most of the time.

Parenting From the Inside Out

The more we learn about our kids, the more we realize just how little we know. We have four of them, and I still don’t have any advice that works all the way across the board. They’re great kids, but I’m certain that’s because my husband is a great person and they take after him (Praise the Lord).

Lately, though, different methods of parenting are everywhere. Parenting from the inside out is one of those methods, and people are talking about it. What is parenting from the inside out? Who uses this method? What’s the point What does it even mean?

First and foremost, it’s a book. You can order it from Amazon, and you can read all about it. Second, it’s a method that’s used by many mental health facilities – specifically as it pertains to parenting through addiction. However, the core piece of information you need is that parenting from the inside out is the act of looking into yourself (from the inside) to better understand you, your reactions, and why you are the way you are.

Essentially, parenting from the inside out is a way of understanding your own emotions and experiences so you better understand yourself and your kids.

Understanding Yourself is Paramount

Parenting from the inside out is a method of understanding yourself and using what you learn to parent your own kids. Why do you do the things you do? What makes you feel this way rather than that way? Are you becoming your mother? Why are you becoming your mother? The gift of understanding yourself is one that many people do not grasp.

So many people spend their lives wondering who they are and what is their purpose. Some look for outside validation, others aren’t sure how to truly be the person they are in a world full of people with expectations. There’s work you, mom you, wife you, dad you, husband you, daughter/son you, friend you…there are many versions of you, and that’s all right.

Some people are easily influenced by the energy of the room – or the people they are with. Others influence the energy of the room and the people they are with. No two people are the same, but understanding yourself is what allows you to better parent your own children in a way that feels right. For example, if you don’t understand your own experiences, you may not understand why certain parenting situations trigger you in a specific manner (whether that’s good or bad).

You Are Not Who Other People Think You Are

This is a complex situation, and it’s one that’s always stuck with me. I once read that when a child is told they are a certain thing, that sticks with them. I didn’t even have kids when I read that, and it stuck with me. My parents always told me I was the one who would do big things, the leader, the person who didn’t care what people thought of me.

Even though I absolutely spent far too much of my youth and early 20s thinking far too long and hard about what other people thought of me, I told myself over and over I wasn’t that person. My dad said so. My mom said so.

But it took me until was in my late 20s/early 30s to really understand that what other people say about me or think about me means absolutely nothing. There is nothing valid in the opinions of others. They’re either going to like you or they aren’t. Some people simply want to think the worst/most unflattering things about you because that’s what makes them feel better about themselves.

You cannot please everyone, and it took me a long time to realize that working so hard to please others made me feel like garbage – and where is the win for me? Now, I spend my life living in a manner that makes me happy without worrying how it makes other people feel or what they think.

The point of this story is that people think what they want, but that does not define you. Just because someone tells you that you’re the sensitive one or the strong one doesn’t make you that person. However, you have to understand that.

How Do You Learn Who You Are?

If this isn’t an impossible question, what is? The best way I can describe parenting from the inside out is looking at it from the past. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. Get a piece of paper, and answer the following questions.

  • How would you describe your parents?
  • How would you describe your childhood?
  • What word comes to mind when you think of your childhood?
  • What did you like about your childhood?
  • What did you dislike about it?
  • What characteristics of your childhood influences do you like or dislike? For example, does something your own parents did or a friend’s parents did in their home that stands out as something you really loved or really hated?
  • What’s your communication style?
  • How would you describe yourself as a parent?
  • How would you like to describe yourself as a parent?

It seems simple, and it is. Put it on paper. Seeing a tangible list of things you experienced, liked, and disliked can help you learn a lot about yourself. Comparing that to a list of things you wish you could say about yourself is eye opening.

Understanding Your Past Helps You Understand Your Present

Everyone has positive traits, and everyone has negative traits. Me? I’m a temperamental person. I have no patience, and I struggle to understand people who cannot do things correctly or understand common sense. I struggle…hard. It bothers me, and I’ve been working on that my entire adult life.

I don’t want to be the mom who loses her temper when people don’t meet my expectations. I understand, through looking back at my own childhood, that my dad is similar. He is exceptionally intelligent, and he has little patience for people who lack common sense or cannot do things correctly. My dad also has no patience for people who don’t own their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions, and learn from the situation. The problem is that most people don’t like to do this, and they blame others, and it’s a whole thing.

Because I was raised by someone like that, I became someone like that. I can’t change that trait but now that I understand it, I can work on it. I’ve learned to take deep breaths and excuse myself for a moment to calm down. Once I’ve had a few moments to tame my reaction, it’s much easier for me to handle. For me, calming down and focusing on the fact that I cannot change other people or their actions is paramount. I understand I’m similar to my dad, but I’ve also learned that having the same characteristics does not relegate me to having the same reactions. I can train myself to react differently. You can, too.

Parenting from the Inside Out is a Program Used in Prisons and Mental Health Facilities

It’s a program that works, too. Many prisons and mental health facilities use the concept of parenting from the inside out to educate their prisoners/patients. These are people who might be moms and dads who are incarcerated or living in a facility for mental health issues and/or addiction, which means they’re not doing their best in life. This program aims to help people in this situation learn from their own childhood, understand what led them to where they are now, and it helps them understand how to use those experiences in their own parenting careers.

Children are Like Sponges

We’ve all heard the phrase, and it’s true. Kids are sponges. They hear, see, and remember every single thing their parents do and say (except for ‘clean your room’ and ‘brush your teeth’ and ‘stop bickering with your siblings’). This is why you are the way you are. You learned from your parents. Your childhood shaped who you are today.

The good news, however, is that it doesn’t always work out for the worst. While it’s likely that a kid in a bad situation will continue the cycle (abuse, addiction, etc.), it’s not always a guarantee. Kids in bad situations also learn exactly what not to do, and some make the cognitive decision to do everything in their power to become the exact opposite of their parents. The same goes for kids in great situations. They either follow suit and raise their own kids in a great home, or they do the exact opposite.

The point is that while kids are like sponges, they don’t always interpret what they absorb the same way. When you are cognitively aware of your own experiences shaping you, you are more likely to recognize this and make the decision to go a different route. The point is that you learn from your experiences in childhood, and you apply that learning to your own parenting skills.

People Cannot Change, Can They?

You often hear people say things such as, “People don’t change,” or “You can’t change someone,” and it makes you think that change is impossible. It’s not. Sure, some people never change, and you definitely cannot change a person. But a person can change if and when they are ready and willing to change. Once you learn to parent from the inside out, you can change your parenting, your viewpoint, and the future. You are not required to be the same person for the rest of your life.

Remember when we talked earlier about different versions of you? Your work personality is not the same as your friend personality, etc.? This is because there are many versions of yourself, and you have the power to change them as needed. When you learn to use your own childhood experiences for the better, you can change the future. It’s never, ever too late to make changes. Maybe you were the screw up or the loser your entire life, but no one said you have to be that person forever. You can change, and learning to parent from the inside out is the first step.

There is no handbook when it comes to parenting, but you can use your past as a guidebook for your future. The only thing you have to do is decide how to use that guidebook. Do you stick to the script, or do you rewrite the pages?

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