After the eighth time, I finally got the message: focus on SOLUTIONS, not problems. So i'm shifting the focus of these posts from now on, to describe the problems as gently as possible, and to put the emphasis much more on how to solve them.
This post was going to be about 'emotional neglect', but given the above, we now going to talk about 'emotionally-absent' parents instead, and what you can do to make sure you're present, and giving your children the emotional nurturing they need to grow up happy and well-adjusted - even if you didn't receive that yourself.
That’s because the parent appears to not want to spend time with their child, and acts as though they don’t really enjoy their company, and has very little to say to them. An emotionally-absent parent may still ask perfunctory questions like: ‘How was your day?’ but their heart isn’t really in hearing the answer, or helping their child to deal with any of their other fears, issues or problems.
As with all ‘absences’ of good, it’s easier to describe what’s missing than what is actually happening.
When a parent is EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE and EMOTIONALLY NURTURING, they do the following sorts of things for their children
- 1. They initiate open-ended, free-flowing conversations that range across a number of different topics.
- 2. They give their child a lot of praise, encouragement and positive feedback.
- 3. They encourage their child to ask questions - even difficult or challenging ones.
- 4. They try to teach their children about different aspects of life and learning.
- 5. They read their kids stories.
- 6. They reflect the child’s ‘inner dimension’ back at them - if the kid is sad, they notice and ask about it. If happy, they want to know why, and they are gladdened by their child’s good mood / good fortune.
- 7. They encourage their child to see themselves as valuable, good and loving.
- 8. They help their kid to have joyful, fun and loving experiences in life.
- 9. They talk through their child’s difficulties and painful experiences with their child, and give them a spiritual framework or perspective to help them work things out and manage their negative feelings.
- 10. They encourage the child to express themselves honestly, and to really be ‘them’.
- 11. They put some real effort into letting their kid know that they are cared for, respected and interesting to talk to.
- 12. They let the child have the space to be less than perfect, and to express emotions and sentiments that aren’t always positive or ‘nice’.
- 13. They demonstrate to their kids by personal example how to handle their own negative emotions and hard times with emuna, self-compassion and hope.
- 14. They model how to process and express feelings like anger and hatred in a useful, healthy and acceptable way.
- 15. They give the kid the feeling that they are on their side, even (or perhaps especially…) when the kid is struggling or has failed in some way, or if you have to reprimand them or punish them.
- 16. They exhibit a lot of warmth and compassion - with appropriate hugs and physical contact, eye contact, making ‘room’ for the child in their own, often busy, lives.
- 17. They have a sense of humor about life, and share it with their child.
- 18. They protect the child - as much as possible and age-appropriate.
- 19. They encourage their child to eat properly, and to sleep enough.
- 20. They model and teach self-care, self-discipline and taking appropriate responsibility.
- 21. They encourage and help their children find the right ‘balance’ in their lives between work and play, obligation and fun.
- 22. They encourage their children to pursue their dreams, and their interests.
If you’re not looking at a lot of ticks, then it’s a fair bet that your parent(s) were emotionally-absent, and that you probably have some ‘inner work’ to do to rectify the fall-out from that. Emotional neglect is often described as being at the ‘core’ of C-PTSD, because it can leave you with very deep feelings of being alone, uncared for and unimportant.
When small children are left to fend for themselves emotionally, it can literally cause them to experience the most excrutiating feelings of gut-wrenching anxiety, panic and emotional overwhelm, instantly pinging them into a very strong ‘stress response’.
If that happens on a regular basis, then the fight-flight-freeze-fawn switch in the developing brain gets flipped ‘on’ permanently, even if no other form of obvious maltreatment occurs.
We’ll return to this topic again in a future post, but that’s hopefully enough of a basic introduction to the topic of emotionally-absent parents for now.
PS: If you went down that list and are now having a ‘parenting meltdown’ about all the things you should be doing and aren’t, take a deep breath, and press ‘pause’ on the self-flagellation. Everything can be fixed! Everything can be rectified! If you didn’t get this stuff yourself as a kid, then you didn’t even know what was missing.
Even just knowing what’s been missing changes everything. Sure, there’s a lot to pray for, but God’s in the picture, and everything can still turn out A-OK.