Anything Less Than Nurturing

You provide them clothes and shelter. You feed them. You don’t neglect them. You don’t hit them. You send them to school. You don’t make them work in a factory or a coal mine. You don’t do drugs or smoke around them. You’re better, no question, than generations of parents. You’re better than many parents alive right now.

But this is of course only the beginning. It’s the minimum. They need more, they deserve more. The addiction specialist Pia Mellody (she has some great books like Breaking Free and The Intimacy Factor) has a pretty lofty, even impossible standard for parents: Anything less than nurturing is abuse.

Having seen tens of thousands of addicts, families of addicts, and trauma survivors, she’s seen every type of emotional wound a person can have. But not all of them are severe or would make for an episode of Law and Order. Many of them are closer to the things we talk about here—or rather, they resulted from the absence of what we talk about here: Parents who failed to encourage their kids, parents who didn’t give their kids enough space, parents who didn’t give enough affection to their kids, parents who didn’t help their kids learn how to regulate their emotions, parents who never admitted they were wrong, parents who were too busy, parents who didn’t communicate, parents who didn’t know how to say, “I love you.”

Their kids needed them to be kind, needed for them to be patient, needed them to repair, needed them to love unconditionally. Their kids got a lot of important stuff—they had many of their basic needs met, they might even describe their childhoods as fun and loving—but they needed nurturing that they didn’t get and it haunts them still. You’re doing your best and no parent is perfect. No one can be perfectly nurturing all the time (because we’re humans who ourselves didn’t get everything we need) but we can still aspire, still hold ourselves to the standard that we are depriving, hurting, or even being abusive when we don’t give our kids the nurturing they need and most of all, deserve.

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