How emotionally immature parents affect their children

By , K24 Digital
On Wed, 3 Apr, 2024 08:00 | 4 mins read
A parent talking to his child. PHOTO/Pexels
A parent talking to his child. PHOTO/Pexels

Childhood should be whimsical, nurturing and validating. But for some children, this just isn’t the case.

Some children have parents who may provide for them physically and financially, but don’t quite understand how to support them emotionally or mentally. These parents are known in the therapy world as emotionally immature parents.

“An emotionally immature parent is a parent who is unable to meet their emotional needs, either as a child or an adult child,” says Aparna Sagaram, a family therapist, adding “They centre themselves regardless of what’s going on in their life.”

In other words, everything is about them, their emotional needs and what’s going on in their day. An emotionally immature parent often struggles to regulate their own emotions.

Emotionally mature parents are the opposite: “They’re parents who are more able to emotionally engage with you,” says Jennifer Chaiken, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “They’re able to recognise and understand, and also affirm your emotions without taking them personally, or trying to change how you feel.”

“That level of support allows the child to grow and give[s] them the space to be their true self, rather than kind of imposing their own desires on the child,” Chaiken adds.

Whether someone is an emotionally immature or emotionally mature parent has a lot to do with how they were raised. These behaviours were modelled for them, so it’s how they think they should handle situations with their children.

“Often, parents who are emotionally immature tended to also grow up with emotionally immature parents. It gets passed down generations until we realise this is what’s going on and do the work to heal the wounds of having emotionally immature parents,” Chaiken said.

Emotionally immature parents are known to vent to children about their adult problems. This could be anything from issues at work to problems in their marriage to financial difficulties. They tend to do this because of the hierarchy that exists in parent-child relationships. “These parents turn to their children because it feels safe, it feels comfortable, it feels like, ‘Oh, this is like a nonthreatening person that I can dump all my stuff on,’” Sagaram shares.

Often, this results in children shutting down emotionally or projecting onto other people. Additionally, it can make the child feel like they’re responsible for their parent’s moods and emotions.

Another sign is a dependence on their children for emotional support, according to Chaiken. “So, they may turn to their children for a level of validation and comfort and companionship— the flow of care is off,” Chaiken adds.

Children can’t properly give their parents the support they need (and shouldn’t have to), so this leads to another problem. “Another characteristic is that they get mad at you for not being there for them in the way that they want,” added Sagaram. “So, oftentimes, emotionally immature parents expect you to know what it is that they want and need … if you’re not able to do that, or you’re not able to support them in the way that they want to be supported, they get emotionally explosive with you.”

Additionally, these parents are unable to recognise how their emotions may impact those around them. These kinds of parents can struggle to understand their children’s feelings and needs. .

If your parent refuses to respect your boundaries or has questionable boundaries of their own, it is a red flag. “That can go either way — they may set overly rigid boundaries or may, on the other end of the spectrum, be extremely lenient and have a really hard time finding the balance,” says Chaiken.

What’s more, they also have a hard time with boundaries you set with them, notes Sagaram. For example, if you ask your mum to call before stopping by your house, she may become offended and continue stopping by unannounced.

As you get older and work to set boundaries with an emotionally immature parent, you may notice that they use shame or guilt as a weapon, says Sagaram. This may sound like, “Oh, you never let me see my grandchildren anymore” or “No one ever calls me back.”

Also, they often employ the silent treatment. If they feel unhappy about your behaviour, they avoid speaking to you instead of talking out the problem like an emotionally mature person.

If you recognise any of the behaviours above in your parents or caretakers, take a deep breath. According to Sagaram, the most important thing is recognising this fact — it will help you feel less alone.
“People have a hard time admitting that maybe their parents didn’t do what they needed when they were a child,” says Chaiken. “But, I think both things can be true: Your parents did the best they could and, at the same time, they were also unable to give you what you needed as a child because they weren’t given what they needed as a child.”

Chaiken said re-parenting is a huge part of healing; to do this, take notice of the things that you needed in your childhood, but did not receive. This could be emotional support, an opportunity to voice your opinions or unconditional love. As you re-parent yourself, you can give these things to yourself.

Additionally, social support is important. “We don’t choose our parents, but you get the choice as an adult to build a family in your life of people who are able to give you support and the support that you really need,” Chaiken says. “I think that that’s a really important thing, to find people in your life who you feel like can give you that support,” she adds.

When it comes to your parents, Chaiken says it’s important to set clear and healthy boundaries around what you will and won’t accept from them.

Related Topics