Who’s My Mother? Developing Self Parenting Skills

By Ken Wells - 03/06/2023


Series Three: Blog Ninety-Six

Mothers are a powerful influence in the emotional development of every child. The emotional stress and strain that a mother engages while the child is in utero impacts emotional development significantly. Environmentally, children absorb the emotional experiences of their parents. A child depends upon mother for self-validation, mirroring acceptance and value, predictability, security, understanding, physical, emotional safety and to know that they matter. There is a myriad of other needs that a mother is responsible to fulfill for a child. Obviously, motherhood requires immense partner, familial and social support in order to provide  these childhood needs. 

When childhood necessities go unmet, metaphorically, the lack of developmental provisions resemble a chunk of Swiss cheese with the holes representing scrambled unmet needs. As a child physically develops into adulthood, they attempt to reach outside themselves to meet those needs through a cocktail of experience including achievement in career, performance in relationship, excessive pleasing behaviors, addiction, etc. However, you cannot fulfill a developmental need within by reaching outside through life experience. You become like a little kid who can’t get enough sugar. There is created a hole in your soul that can never be filled from the outside in.

Frequently, people subconsciously look to a romantic relationship to fill the emptiness created by unmet childhood developmental needs. They depend upon the romantic partner to fulfill those unmet needs. The rationalization is that my one half + your one half equals a whole. However, 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4! You have less, not more. This is because the attempt to meet core developmental emotional needs through another is impossible.  Another person cannot fulfill those core needs no matter how hard they try. Those needs can only be addressed within you.

In relationship, when two people recognize this and work toward developing healthy self-parenting skills, they learn to enhance each other’s sense of wholeness. Through healthy individuation one learns to look within to recognize and address core developmental needs and then engage relational fulfillment by sharing emotional and life experience.

The attempt to look to someone else to fulfill core developmental emotional needs  is a common dilemma for addicts in recovery. It is subtle and often is pursued subconsciously.

In the course of conversation with a partner, a misunderstanding occurs. For the addict, it is important for the partner to understand motive and intent as well in the words they used to express themselves. However, the partner has their own lens and interpretation of what they heard and experienced.

When an addict feels misunderstood and judged, subconsciously the partner becomes the parent or mother that could never be pleased. Without awareness the wise mind adult empowers the child within to navigate the adult misunderstanding. The child within is not capable of working through adult misunderstanding. So the addict gets stuck trying to address an adult relational issue from the viewpoint of a child. It’s no wonder it never works! It is prevalent that the empowered child from one partner triggers the engagement of the child within the other. So, you have two little kids trying to address an adult problem, looking to the other to be the mother to care for their emotional needs.  Is it a surprise that the results are abysmal? It is all too common for addict relationships to get stuck right here!

Here are some suggestions to unravel this destructive relational dance.

  1. Spend time identifying unmet developmental emotional needs: This requires introspection. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) groups can be very helpful with this pursuit. The “laundry list” can help you identify unmet emotional needs from childhood. Further exploration is often needed with the help of a therapist.
  2. Identify mistaken beliefs that block intimacy: Get clear about what you tell yourself when you make a mistake or experience a misunderstanding. You will be triggered by messages you received when you were a child either by what your mother or father verbally told you or by what you made up when a developmental need was left unmet. A child only knows they matter when mother/father spends sufficient amounts of time with them on the child’s terms and not the parents. When this does not happen a child makes up that it is about something flawed regarding them and not parental deficiency. Those mistaken beliefs are triggered in a misunderstanding with someone significant because your wounded child will be activated.
  3. Address unresolved childhood trauma. Therapists talk about draining the pool of pain that exists from your childhood. It is most helpful to have a trained therapist help you. If you cannot afford a therapist then a group and sponsor from Codependency Anonymous, Al-Anon, ACA and other addict support groups can be helpful. You will need to scrub the wound. Ultimately, it depends upon your desire to address the trauma that sabotages your relationships.
  4. Create new empowering beliefs to replace the old mistaken beliefs. Scrubbing the wound of childhood trauma will lower your reactivity to the mistaken beliefs that were manifested early in life. However, you will need to create new empowering beliefs to replace the old hurtful beliefs. Those old beliefs seldom are erased. Rather you must commit to practice employing the new empowered belief in your day to day life. This will take great daily effort and practice. Perfection will spoil your practice. Commitment to belief is much deeper than perfect knowledge. It encompasses not if but when I re-engage old destructive beliefs, I stop to intervene with the new empowered belief. This takes ongoing training and conditioning. Over time your new belief system will emerge to guide you to empower your wise mind rather than hand the reins to the little boy or little girl who is incapable of managing the issues of adult living.
  5. When you get stuck in reactivity, ask yourself is my “wise mind adult or my little child empowered or in charge? When the “little boy” or “little girl” is in charge, don’t be ruthless with h/her. Simply express that your wise mind will address the issue, simply take the reins from the child and care for him or her with an adult decision. You may need to take a time out to create a position of poise and perspective. Just remember taking more time to do so will be in the long run a short cut.
  6. Brainstorm and cultivate a plethora of self-parenting skills. You may recognize that there were many fundamental emotional needs that were left unmet when you were a child. Take heart! You are resilient. Utilize a beginner’s mindset. Be hungry to learn and to apply new self-parenting skills. You can read about them or hear about them in recovery groups.  Pick and choose skills that are role-modeled by healthy adults around you. The resources for learning are endless. The key is that you not be inactive. Take charge! Learn to be the adult your destiny calls you to be. It will not only enhance your intimacy skills but will offer a healing legacy to the next generation that follow you.

In the end, the answer to the question of who’s your mother, comes back to you. You are! You will need to fire your biological mother as your emotional mom and not look to your relational partner to give you what you did not get from mom. You must hire yourself to be your own emotional mom. It’s the only way enriched emotional intimacy will be realized in your life.

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