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Are you terrified of becoming a parent, because you didn’t have the greatest parenting role models?

I hear you, and Lindsay Gibson's book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, can help you begin to untangle all of that.

This is one of my top ten book recommendations for clients because, sadly, Gibson is describing a very common experience. Many of us have grown up with parents who didn’t fulfill their parenting role adequately, whether that is because of their own trauma, depression, or other mental health or substance use issues, etc.

It’s a relatively quick read, and explains the attachment dynamics involved in the process of “parentification” — when a child feels that they have take care of the parent, because the parent has shown that they cannot adequately meet the child’s needs. This experience can create a sense of insecurity, and, as amazing as we are, humans have a variety of coping mechanisms to manage this, ranging from stepping into a bossy, adult-like role; developing a narcissistic denial of vulnerability; or, as is very common (and developmentally normal), internalizing our parents’ failure as a reflection of our own flaws, and trying to figure out how we can change ourselves to make our parents happy.

Gibson helps readers identify the traits of “emotionally immature parents,” including those who see their children as extensions of themselves, put their own needs above those of their children, lack the ability regulate their own feelings or empathize with their children’s experiences, and are uncomfortable with emotions.

Many clients find this book incredibly validating, noting that is has helped them to understand, without justifying their parents behaviour, that their parent did not choose to be this way, and that any change that is possible is not within the adult child’s control. This can lead to acceptance and the ability to let go of our expectation that we can change our parents. This in turn, can allow us to process the grief involved in that “letting go” of our expectations of our parents, or of our own sense of responsibility to take care of the parent's emotional needs, or fix the relationship. And this begins the hard work of breaking intergenerational cycles of trauma.

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