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Your parenting style probably says a lot about your emotional development. If you were neglected, you might overcompensate by overindulging your child. Or, because you lack internal resources, you might repeat your neglect with your child.
The lessons we learn as children are hard to forget. We might not have been able to prevent our own pain, but there is at least a chance we can help our children to avoid the same pain.
This can be an adaptive approach to life, as long as it doesn’t cross over into extremes. How will you know if you are overcompensating for your own childhood neglect? Here are four motivations to watch for:
1) You Were Neglected So You Spoil Your Child
Have you ever thought, “I want to give my kids what I never got”? It’s fine to want to improve upon your childhood. You might be able to provide a lot more than you ever received.
Overcompensating looks like attempting to prevent your child from ever lacking anything. Everybody needs to experience the reality of life’s difficulty at some point. You can allow your children to feel reality without neglecting them.
If you have thought, “I want to prove I can do better than my parents did,” you might be caught in unforgiveness. One thing you should know is that no amount of making your child feel better is going to heal your emptiness. Keep giving, but seek the attention you need for yourself.
2) You Were Neglected So You Can’t Tolerate Your Child’s Discomfort
Have you ever thought, “I don’t want to discipline my children because I don’t want to be mean”? Giving your child what they want instead of what they need might seem generous but it is actually selfish.
For example, your child might want more candy but need to eat healthily and brush his teeth. I remember how strange it felt to deny my child a treat. I believed my child wouldn’t be able to handle not receiving what seemed good.
Even if your giving is helpful for your child, it can’t do much for you. Giving to others feels good, but it can’t heal. Healthy giving usually happens the other way around. You can be a healthy giver after you learn how to receive what you need but didn’t get.
3) You Were Neglected So You Neglect Your Child
Have you ever thought, “I don’t know how to play with my child”? If you didn’t receive enough attention, giving to others is challenging.
One, you lack modeling. You might simply not have enough experience to know what is the right behavior. As you receive, it equips you to give to others.
Two, you need to feel your own desire to play before you can play with your child. Numbing yourself to your needs is one way to cope with neglect. But it gets in the way of connecting with your child.
4) You Were Neglected So You Make Your Child Your Top Priority
Have you ever thought, “My spouse can go without my attention, but my children can’t?”
Certainly, children need attention. The younger they are, the more they need it consistently. So there are times when a dependent child must be your top priority. But I am thinking of an all-or-nothing pattern.
Some parents find it extremely difficult to ever put their children lower in priority than their spouses. If you identify with being a child more than an adult, you could be susceptible to favoring your child. If your pain is great enough, you could even favor your child over your spouse without being aware of how unhealthy it is.
In all of the four examples, the driving motivation is the parent’s own emptiness. A need unfilled is an extremely powerful motivator. It is so strong it can convince parents to rationalize some outrageous behaviors, unfortunately.
Parenting is hard work and no parent is perfect. Even if you’ve done better than your parent, you probably fall short is some ways too. Fortunately, children are resilient, especially when God is working in their lives.
Since you were a child at one time, you are resilient too! Resilient doesn’t mean you can thrive without getting what you need, it means you won’t be able to easily give up on your desires. Your needs are preserved even through difficult times.
It is time to consider your needs. You can take care of yourself even if you were neglected.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.