Parents are supposed to always be there for their children, to love and support them. But what if you find yourself incapable of doing so? Here are some insights into why this happens.
By Divya Sreedharan
As a parent, you are expected to naturally care for and cherish your children and help them grow into healthy, happy and well-rounded individuals. But, does this nurturing instinct come instinctively or, is it learned behaviour?
If you’re wondering why these aspects are worth examining, the reason is this: According to research by the Centre on the Developing Child (CDC), at Harvard University, caring or loving experiences and relationships are crucial to the healthy growth of the developing brain. Meaning, if a child does not have a healthy, responsive relationship with a caring adult (namely, the parent), there is a serious threat to her development and well-being. Indeed, the Harvard study suggests that when the developing architecture of the brain is disrupted, the child’s “subsequent physical, mental, and emotional health may be impaired.”
“A responsive relationship is built upon reciprocity where it is the parents who must initiate a response to the child, and the child reciprocates in return. When a parent fails to respond to the child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive needs, the child grows up with minimum or no skills in these areas of crucial development.” — Arundhati Swamy, Head Parent Engagement Programmes, ParentCircle
Parenting experts, including clinical psychologist Robert Firestone, have observed that some parents do not feel what is termed ‘parental love’. In a 2015 article for Psychology Today, Firestone notes that ‘parental love’ involves being physically affectionate, considerate and respectful, sensitive, responsive and more important, attuned to the child’s feelings and needs. But some ‘well-meaning’ parents, says Firestone, “engage in behaviour that is insensitive, mis-attuned, or harmful to their children”. Such parents, he notes, are incapable of raising their children in the right manner. Arundhati Swamy, on her part, observes: “Parenting is influenced by what has been observed and imbibed from their own parents. While parents certainly want to care for their children, often it is the unresolved conflicts from life experiences that interfere with their intentions.”
So, here are five reasons why parents sometimes fail to love their kids:
1. A negative self-image: Some parents, says Firestone in the Psychology Today article, are unable to love themselves or have developed a negative self-image over time. This prevents them from loving or supporting their children. “People who do not really like themselves are incapable of genuinely loving other people, especially their children,” he points out. One reason for feeling this way could be that the parents themselves had unhappy childhoods. Meaning, they did not experience loving or healthy relationships with caring adults, while growing up. So, this prevents them from being supportive parents to their own children. Such parents, observes Arundhati Swamy, also do not know how to encourage or praise their children right way.
2. No time, only money: A rising trend among urban working parents in India is that that they are so busy, they simply do not have the time to spend with their children. Instead, such parents shower their children with expensive gifts and toys. This phenomenon has been noted in a 2013 study conducted in cities such as Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad, Chennai and Mumbai. The study, cited in The Hindu Business Line, points out that the children of such working parents start going to daycare or playschool at an increasingly early age. This means there are no meaningful interactions at home between parents or children. Such parents, observes Swamy, may find the demands of work and family difficult to manage. "Today, the expectations of the work place mean that parents are often 'on call' even when at home. This infringes on the time parents need to spend with their children," she points out.
3. Neglectful or hands-off parenting: Some parents, says Swamy, believe the child can take care of himself. "There is no emotional bond or connect; no involvement with the child in the learning or growing-up years", she observes. Interestingly, the study cited in The Hindu Business Line notes that while working parents are today more obsessive about their children, they are also more hands-off. That is, they delegate key tasks to maids, grandparents, tutors, school and other institutions but also, demand greater accountability from them. Such parents make it a point to attend parent teacher meetings (PTMs), keep tabs on their children’s academic progress and ensure that their children are always busy with school or extra-curricular activities, suggests the study. In some cases, parents may also end up with unrealistic expectations of their children, notes Swamy.
4. Marital and other issues: Sometimes, parents themselves are in an unhappy relationship and hence, incapable of being attuned to each other’s needs. In such cases, they are unable to cater or meet their children’s needs. Such parents are emotionally distant from each other and also their children, says Swamy. When parents are unable to love each other, they find it difficult to create a stable, secure or nurturing environment for their children. Disruptions, including a crisis in the family, loss of a loved one or a serious illness, can be other aspects that hamper the development of healthy relationships within the family, adds Swamy.
5. No physical affection: Many studies now indicate that expressing affection physically is vital for the healthy growth and development of children. In fact, the sooner parents start being physically affectionate with their children the better, note parenting experts. According to a 2017 study in Current Biology, when parents hug their newborn baby, it boosts positive brain responses. Which means that the absence of such physical contact in the parent-child relationship can have long-term negative consequences for children. Unfortunately, some parents may have grown up without receiving such physical expressions of love during their growing-up years. Hence, they are unable to be affectionate towards their own children.
Now you know why parental love is meant to be supportive and sustaining, encouraging and empathetic. It also has to be physically expressive and nurturing, but in the right way. More important, as parents, you need to lovingly raise your children so that they become healthy, well-adjusted individuals.
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