Is it really possible that a mother’s love can damage a child? After all, it’s mean to be like no other. Isn’t that what they say? Nobody will love you quite like your mother does. She is your first attachment; a sacred and special bond that is brimming with love.
Sadly, it isn’t the case for everybody.
If you listen to my podcast, The Wildheart Diaries, you’ll know that I’ve been working on my mother wound since I first entered therapy in my late twenties. It’s hard inner work, it costs a lot of time and money and it’s my motivation for helping Wildhearts everywhere.
Whatever relationship you have with your Mum – secure, complicated, painful, close, distant or maybe your Mum died when you were young, serves as the blueprint for love as an adult.
History repeats itself – breaking the cycle
If your parents were not loved in a healthy way by their parents, it is unlikely they are able to do this for you unless they’ve made a conscious choice to break the cycle, go within and change. The same applies if you felt you didn’t get what you needed when you were growing up. It helps if you can understand your relationship with your mother.
How did your mother love you?
Did it feel good to be loved by your mother?
Did she give you what you needed?
Did she understand and validate your?
Was she there for you when you were afraid, lost or poorly?
Mothering is hard (we don’t talk about that enough), and your child is not born with a set of instructions. Of course, this is because every child is different and one size does not fit all. Although ultimately, it’s not about your child at all…..It’s about the relationship you have with YOURSELF. The way you mother yourself and the way you were mothered is how you will mother or not mother your child.
If you’re confused about what love is, or you grew up in a home where love was mixed with punishment, neglect or chaos, download my Self Love Starts Here mini course and re-write your definition of love. Sometimes what appears to be love at first glance, on closer examination really isn’t. Below are some parenting behaviours that have seemingly loving intentions, but actually hamper a child’s development and self-esteem.
LOVE ILLUSION #1: you don’t let your child out of your sight
REALITY: projecting your fears onto your child is teaching them to be fearful of life. Whilst the media inform us more and more of kidnapped, abused and murdered children and this feels very frightening, the reality is that more than 90 percent of victims know their perpetrators in some way.
It’s your inner child who is seeking reassurance that she is protected and safe. You can heal this and I can help you. I work with adults who feel unsafe and use inner child work as a way to create safety and build trust, so you don’t pass the fear on.
LOVE ILLUSION #2: you do everything for your child
REALITY: where do you stop and where does your child begin? When children are tiny, the are totally dependent on adults but as they learn and grow into well-rounded adults, there is a balancing act of knowing when to step in and help them. Rescuing them too often from bad feeling, negative people, natural consequences of their own actions will massively stunt their development.
Life hurts sometimes and is tough but it’s how you handle it. Whilst you can manage some of that as a parent and lovingly guide them through it, you can’t do it for them. They need to fall over so they know how to get up again. They need to forget so they can learn to remember. They need to learn how to resolve friendship wrangles so they can build healthy adult relationships and so on.
“I call them the hovercraft,” says Josepha Anders, the principal of a San Francisco primary school. “They’re the parents who have to know everything that happens at school, have to know how their child feels at each point. They question everything — from the curriculum to what’s served in the cafeteria — and expect to have input on everything. With these parents,” she sighs, “there are no short conversations.”
LOVE ILLUSION #3: always being the authority on what’s best for your child
REALITY: you may know your child better than anybody, however being rigid in your thinking so that only your way is right means that children are expected to follow strict rules. What can happen is that failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.” These parents have high demands, but are not responsive to their children.
According to Baumrind, these parents “are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” (1991).
‘It would unquestionably be easier if a child were to do something because we say so. The authoritarian method does expedite things, but it does not produce independent functioning. If a child has not mastered the underlying principles of human interactions and merely conforms out of coercion or conditioning, he has no tools to use, no resources to apply in the next situation that confronts him.’ ~ Elaine Heffner
LOVE ILLUSION #4 : you want to make your child happy and cannot stand to see them in pain or hurt
REALITY: children are very emotional and irrational as they are not able to process like adults. Even when they are happy or over excited they may scream and shout. They tend to exhibit maladaptive behaviours to communicate their pain. For parents who are not able to withstand their child’s negative emotions (or making some emotions like anger or fear unacceptable) means your child will find it very difficult to handle their emotions when they are older.
Suppressed emotions over a long period of time can also lead to chronic illness, depression and anxiety. Never minimise your child’s feelings no matter how silly they may seem to you. Minimising and dismissing invalidates who they are. Children need their parents’ validation like the air that they breathe. You are their mirror.
LOVE ILLUSION #5: you negatively label your child as a term of endearment
REALITY: labelling a child according to the way you see them behave is self fulfilling and children will grow up to fill those shoes. Children want to please you. What you think you become. It’s rooted in our belief system and all the messages we got whilst we were growing up. They stay in us for years to come and sometimes we bury them deep but we still behave in ways as if those messages were true. Pay attention to what message you give to your children and that you are not locking them into a role. Children in roles are cut off from their authentic selves.
LOVE ILLUSION #6: you want your child to do well so they have a better start in life
REALITY: Make sure that what sits behind this loving intention isn’t one of your unfulfilled ambitions. Your child is a an individual who deserves the chance to explore and discover what feels right for them. In not doing so, your child may grow up with feelings of not being good enough as they are unable to fulfil your needs no matter how hard they try.
LOVE ILLUSION #7: you don’t want to upset your child as their happiness means everything to you
REALITY: permissive parenting or sometimes known as indulgent parenting without loving and respectful limits for your child could produce children who lack self discipline and may be self centred and demanding. Children may also become insecure as the lack of boundaries feels unsafe. Don’t feel like a meanie, when you are setting boundaries as it is good for your child. They need to know you can hold all their stuff for them and how far they can go. You don’t have to be cruel to be kind. You can set limits in a firm and loving way which shows that you are not punishing but understanding and guiding.
LOVE ILLUSION #8: you create a strong sense of family so your children feel secure and loved
REALITY: roots that do not bind and wings to fly freely so your child can be their very best self are the hallmarks of a secure and loving family. Love does not enmesh or control. Some parents can have a very hard time of it when their children separate themselves out as individuals. As hard as it is not to take it personally or for them to disagree with your opinions or values, this is them growing up.
Be proud of the person they are becoming. Support them in their discovery of self and love them anyway. Help them notice their strengths and encourage them to work on their challenges. They may shout all manner of spiteful things like ‘I hate you!’ or something equally as damning. Hormones and discovering being their own person is at the heart of their behaviour. Not malice or hurtfulness. Your inner child is activated when you’re seeking your child’s approval in this way.
LOVE ILLUSION #9: you are your child’s best friend
REALITY: if you are a parent, you can’t be their friend too. Parenting is a relationship but not a friendship. Friendly parents sometimes without realising over share and burden their children with things they do not need to know. Children are not emotionally, intellectually or morally ready for that role. They are not grown up enough to process grown up stuff.
Being your child’s friend can also create problems with setting boundaries – it’s harder to hear no from a friend than a parent and it sends conflicting messages to the child. It may also mean you are not consistent in your words and actions. Some days it will be harder to be consistent than others, but this is an act of love that will help your children quickly learn what is right and wrong.
If you grew up like me, enmeshed with your Mum, you may be estranged because setting boundaries with her overbearing, manipulative and controlling ways was impossible. I write more about those BFF mother and daughter relationships in When is being close to your child too close?
Emotional enmeshment is so toxic and yet our society presents it differently. Being a parent is not being a friend.
LOVE ILLUSION #10: you shower them with gifts and treats
REALITY: quite naturally parents who didn’t get what they needed growing up, may want to give it to their children in spades. Whilst the act of giving is full of kindness and a child who is brought up in a privileged environment,and wants for nothing, is considered lucky. This does not mean that the child has to be grateful for the choice its parents made in wanting to provide this type of lifestyle.
Besides, the act of love has nothing to do with materialistic offerings and being a parent is so much more than birthdays, Christmas and the day to day functional acts of childcare. Growing up in this way means the child soon comes to learn that being loved is about nothing more than getting things and needing things. Instead of learning that feeling loved as a child is about self worth, acceptance, validation, understanding and empathy. Love can be demonstrated in lots of other ways too. Gifts is my lowest scoring love language because I was raised this way.
Parenting has changed drastically over the last two decades
Like all relationships, being a parent takes dedication, hard work and commitment. It is the most challenging and the most rewarding job of our time. I see it as a huge honour and privilege to bring a new life into the world. There are many different views on the right way to parent, although what matters most is the amount of unconditional love you can pour into your child in a way that says ‘You matter. You are important. I am here no matter what.’
As ever, love is the answer.