The Not Unhealthy Parent
As a single parent, my goal in life is to be not unhealthy. Generational trauma runs in most families and is seen in parents and children. It takes a single person to put an end to this emotional immaturity.
What does it mean to be “not unhealthy?” In a word, it means to have emotional maturity. It is the opposite of emotional immaturity, which is characterized by the following:
- Inability to tolerate their own (or other people’s) emotions
- Anger and defensiveness as reactions
- Use of punishment (such as the silent treatment) in response
Let’s look at what it means to be not unhealthy.
Good Enough Mother
The not unhealthy parent is a take on the “good enough” mother from Winnicott.
“The good-enough mother is one who makes active adaptation to the infant’s needs, an active adaptation that gradually lessens, according to the infant’s growing ability to account for failure of adaptation and to tolerate the results of frustration.” – D. W. Winnicott
It takes one good enough (or not unhealthy) parent to end the cycle of emotional immaturity. One good parent becomes not unhealthy through reparenting themselves and then cultivating emotional maturity in the family unit.
Since emotional immaturity is a learned adaption to family stress, emotional maturity can also be learned.
What qualities cultivate emotional maturity?
Qualities of the Good Enough Parent
Qualities of the good-enough parent:
- Listening without judgment
- Accepting, nurturing, understanding
- Being an ally
- Allowing growth and cultivating growth mindset
- Acknowledges the child as an individual
- Is a role model
- Provides basics (food, shelter, protection, safety)
- Demonstrates coping skills
- Much of the time not “too busy.”
- Age-appropriate love and physical touch
How to Become More Emotionally Mature
To become more emotionally mature, accept and forgive emotional immaturity in yourself and others.
Or, if I can stop the BS for a second, I will tell you there are thousands of paths to emotional maturity. Rock bottom for me is understanding this joke: the marital bed has six people: the couple and the parents.
And the answer is to have the ability to choose how you respond to the world. The practice of mindfulness helps strengthen the path to freedom.
It must be chosen.
Becoming your authentic self, let go of the masks (your defenses to emotional immaturity), and know that your beliefs, opinions, and realities are valid. You may not like all your parts, but at least you acknowledge them.
“Lack of emotional responsiveness necessary to meet children’s emotional needs” ~Lindsay Gibson
Accept all your emotions without losing context. Maintain regulation. Witness the change of emotions, and then let them go. Listen to the message your body sends you. Learn to cope. Learn to tolerate discomfort. Sooth yourself, regulate, sooth others.
Children and Not Unhealthy
Parenting in the face of emotional immaturity from both sides of the family is a daily choice of living consciously, with awareness. Responding rather than reacting.
Teach children self-care by demonstrating self-care. Help them make sense of stress—name the emotion. Feel it in the body. Be curious, and let it pass. Teach them to co-regulate, that it is okay to feel safe. That imperfect is expected. Those feelings are important and irresistible and go away on their own. Sooth. Self-sooth and co-regulate.
Help them connect to their authentic self safely and securely (which allows self-connection and self-love). Unconditional belonging. You are family.
Create space for your kids to be different. Let others be different.
The emotionally healthy child:
- Can name the emotions in self and others
- Instead of suppressing them, express emotions constructively
- Demonstrates self-control
- Responds not reacts
- Even under stress makes better choices
Brave children don’t have knee-jerk reactions; they face intensity and learn through difficult problems.
The emotionally mature child learns to make good choices in the face of stress. And they understand that as long as they try hard, everything will be okay. Catch the feeling when it is small and way before the emotional hijack that is age-appropriate but a sign, at least at some point, of emotional immaturity.
Children feel deeply yet don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings.
Parents model positive emotional maturity and say sorry when we make mistakes. And we say sorry when the world doesn’t go the way that our child wishes. It is common humanity for a parent to wish this child well.
On Becoming Not Unhealthy
My goal in life is to cultive not unhealthy. I am emotionally immature, and it will be a life-long journey to improve and encourage a growth mindset for my family. If I demonstrate emotional maturity and help them along the path, they may choose better relationships with secure attachment and less emotional abuse.
Cultivate helpful feelings and work with challenging emotions. Give space for both. Realize both go away on their own. You don’t need to act out; you must breathe and wait. Children learn to tolerate discomfort, all while growing a brain and personality.
Family is not unconditional love but rather unconditional belonging. And lots of give and take to cultivate emotional maturity.