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Parenting is perhaps the hardest and the most important job in the world.
It is also the only job that doesn’t come with a manual. So, adults are pretty much on their own trying to raise a tiny human being.
Parenting then is not just about giving birth, providing the basic necessities, and making sure that their child/children reach certain socially and culturally set milestones. Those things lie at the tip of the iceberg.
At the deeper level, parenting is about giving a shape to this human’s identity and sense of self. It’s about understanding and taking care of their emotional needs along with the basic physiological ones.
It starts off with giving a sense of physical and emotional security to this curious yet dependent being. It’s about holding them, soothing them, comforting them, and making them believe that they are safe in this big, overwhelming world.
It then moves to making them feel seen, heard, and validated. No matter how silly or stupid they seem, it’s still about telling them they are good enough and loved tremendously. It’s about heeding to their cries for love, attention, and nurturance.
Parenting is about learning and forming a bond with this tiny human being who is solely dependent on his/her caretakers to help them navigate their world.
It’s not just about teaching them to brush, eat, dress, study, and be responsible. Rather it’s about how a parent teaches a child all this. Are they doing it with love, compassion, patience, respect, understanding, or are they screaming and shouting their way through all this or being passive aggressive?
Whether we like it or not, the kind of parenting we receive (or don’t receive) shapes the very core of our being.
There can’t be a manual—one formula that fits all. Yet, there is one fundamental truth that lies at the heart of this relationship, which is that while every child has four core needs (to be held, seen, heard, and loved) every child is also unique and needs to be held in ways that resonate with them the most and should be able to gauge and understand what a child needs and what parenting is actually about.
This is what we don’t understand about most parent-child relationships: Our parents may have grown up with the same emotional and physical lack.
Having a safe, secure, warm, nurturing relationship with a parent is a luxury that not many get to have in their lives. Sometimes we are able to come to terms with what we as kids have found missing in our relationship with our parents; others might not come to terms with it at all.
There is a helpless acceptance of what is and isn’t and moving ahead with a deep sense of emotional loneliness that no one will ever understand. It stems from not having enough emotional intimacy with the caregivers because they might have been too preoccupied with their own selves in ways that could never make sense to a growing child.
Growing up with caregivers who were emotionally distant, absent, self-preoccupied, or neglectful is a scarring experience because the emotional intimacy and connection that a child needs to feel safe and valued is not there, and so a child is not equipped to deal with this lack.
Filling up that gaping hole then becomes a life-long process with no end. It keeps manifesting as a weird feeling of emptiness that we can’t put in words and can’t even share with anyone. We keep feeling that perhaps something is wrong with us. No matter how hard we try, how much work we put in our own self, this emptiness stays.
As we grow, it gets more and more difficult for us to open up to others, share our deepest feelings, and consider them as valid. In fact, for some, the idea that their feelings are valid doesn’t exist at all because no one has ever told them or made them feel so.
Growing up with an emotionally immature or unavailable parent is one of the hardest experiences to understand, process, and live with.
It’s only when we reach our adulthood and this emptiness begins to take over do we realise where this vacuum is stemming from. Till then we mostly live with the idea that something is wrong with us. We think it may be why we didn’t get the love and care that we so needed.
It’s exhausting. I get it. But it needs to be undone because we cannot live our life with a false notion of our own identity. Spending our entire life thinking that we didn’t get the love we needed and deserved because we were not good enough or not the kind of child our parents wanted us to be is an extremely painful and debilitating way to live.
This narrative needs to change so that we can recognize the gaps that existed in our parenting and stop filling them with the “something was and is wrong with me” narrative because if we don’t, we will repeat the same things that have been done to us.
Understanding the type of parenting we have received and the impact it’s had on us is the first step to changing this narrative. We also need to bear in mind that it’s not about blaming our parents for not doing what needed to be done. It’s about understanding that they did the best they could with what they knew and we are good enough even if they can’t see it.
An emotionally immature parent might look like this:
1. They have difficulty dealing with stress, become reactive, and find it hard to calm down.
2. They focus more on their own internal reality rather than considering all factors in a situation.
3. They have low tolerance for any kind of disagreement or difference in opinion.
4. They can be childish at times.
5. They are usually self-preoccupied and focus mostly on their own needs.
6. They lack self-awareness and tend to repeat the same behaviors over and over again.
7. They seldom admit their mistakes and change their ways.
8. They can be emotionally disconnected, insensitive, or lack empathy with their actions and words.
9. Getting them to see another perspective feels like a mammoth task and they might resort to personal, hurtful comments and statements.
10. They can be extremely aggressive or resort to passive behaviors in order to get their demands met.
Dealing with and trying to form a connection with an emotionally immature or unavailable parent is exhausting. It requires us to:
1. Understand that before becoming parents, they were human beings whose experiences have shaped them to become who they are today. They aren’t doing all this deliberately. They aren’t even aware of what they’re doing. Looking at them as humans is the first step to changing your own narrative.
2. Develop an awareness of your own needs and start building a support system for yourself.
3. Do the work of healing yourself to release the burden of the heavy emotions you’ve been carrying.
4. Learn to set boundaries for yourself. (Yes, even with your parents.)
5. Focus on what you can truly change—your own ideas about yourself instead of trying to change your parents. Accept them the way they are. Just find ways to manage yourself around them.
Remember, no matter how much work you’ve done, how strong your self-concept is, there will be times when all this will feel too much. You will be gripped by helplessness and loneliness. Just let it pass.
Perhaps, the vacuum will stay. But overtime, your awareness and willingness to support yourself will enable you to not succumb to it.
At the end of the day, we are all flawed. Our only task is to keep becoming more aware and use that awareness to change in ways that support our self and relationships.