Parents Need Love as Much as Their Children Do

So much of parenting is giving — time, attention, patience, food, guidance, love — incoming emotional sustenance is indispensable for balance. …Parents need each other for support and replenishment. 

— Thomas Lewis, MD, Fari Amini, MD, Richard Lannon, MD, A General Theory of Love

So much of our emotional well-being depends on the amount of reassurance and security we get from our relationships. As an introvert myself, I know there are times when I do not want anyone around. I want to work, dream and think in solitude, but my emotions and nervous system benefit greatly from stable loving relationships. Feeling supported, seen, heard and understood gives me the fuel to parent my children exquisitely and do my work at the highest level.

Being my introspective and sensitive self within a relationship is the ultimate.

We physiologically need others to regulate our emotions

Our neurological systems — namely the limbic region and its functions — feed on the co-regulating done between people. Within our brains, there are neurons that fire in reaction to interactions with other people. The more often we deeply engage with someone in a positive way the more neural circuits develop establishing positive go-to reactions to such interactions. We feel safe. Our nervous system quiets.

It works the opposite way as well. The more negative engagement (or lack of engagement) we have with others, the more neural pathways develop reinforcing negative reactions and beliefs about connecting with others. We feel threatened and lonely. Our nervous systems go on high alert (fight, flight or freeze). This is true for introverts and extroverts.

We are taught to acquire not attach

When someone misses out on feeling loved for too long, they become poorly resourced. They do not have energy, patience or love to give.

Couples today are encouraged to achieve and acquire versus learning how to form meaningful attachments. Even when we reach our career and financial pinnacles and find we are not happy, we often double our efforts to be more successful in our careers and financial status.

According to Drs. Lewis, Amini and Lannon of A General Theory of Love, the rate of depression in the U.S. has been rising steadily since 1960.

The emotional fate of children is inextricably bound to the ability of their parents to love one another — a skill that is falling into disrepair. 

— Thomas Lewis, MD, Fari Amini, MD, Richard Lannon, MD, A General Theory of Love

So many couples today feel pressure to produce, acquire, achieve and construct perfect appearances that they take little time for themselves. Two income households are the norm. Children go to daycare from infancy on in many households. The importance of connecting by spending time, showing care and interacting with love and presence has dwindled in favor of more work productivity, more academic excellence, more financial wealth, more child-centered activities and improved bodily appearance.

soccer family

The incidence of anxiety and depression continue to rise in adults and sadly, also in children.

We give, but we still feel empty

Humans are meant to be in close contact. Our mammalian limbic brain system needs others to co-regulate emotions. We need to look into other’s eyes and feel connected. We need to feel tenderness, understanding and resonance. Even introverts.

I see children desperately in need of consistent connection with their parents. I see parents killing themselves to provide for their kids, but missing the mark because they are providing things like tutoring, the latest technology and relentless over-scheduling. I see couples falling apart because they do not care for each other in fulfilling, loving ways. They do not act like partners in each other’s care. They act like partners in a business. After supplying the children with all the pre-requisite activities and advantages, they have nothing left to give each other.

How to change this? I do not have all the answers. My own marriage faltered because my husband and I did not give each other emotional sustenance. I give you permission to pay as much or more attention to your partner as your kids!

Still today my ex-husband and I encourage our kids to achieve and acquire because it’s the roadmap we’ve been given. We know it’s not the way to long-lasting contentment. We try to slow things down and work on family cooperation and support but it is hard.

Ways to strengthen your family

I do suggest:

  • More face to face interactions. Whenever possible make eye contact with your partner and children. You don’t have to uncomfortably stare into your teenager’s eyes but do go get them when it’s time for dinner. Keep technology away from the dinner table. Physical touch calms the nervous system. Give and receive hugs as often as possible.
  • More focus on the parents’ relationship. Adults need support. We need tenderness and empathy. We need to know someone is in our corner. We need to be seen, touched and heard. We do not thrive without such security and reassurance. Kids love to see their parents loving each other. If you are in a divorced situation, show them what love looks like with a new partner or show them how respectful and kind you can be with your ex-spouse. Ask yourself daily how you are comforting or loving your partner.
  • Encouraging support versus competition. Many of us feel a sense of scarcity. Justice, love and attention feel like things we have to fight for with any means necessary. Love cannot be demanded or coerced. It can only be given. People who feel well-resourced can give more. Instead of withholding attention and love because we don’t feel like we get enough for ourselves, let it flow outward. Focus on creating trust and exemplifying responsiveness. Those reassurances alleviate the fear of losing out on love and fill others up so they can give more.
  • Participate in community. We can’t do it alone. Only in recent times has living independently from extended family been revered and expected. Neuroscientist Dr. Bruce Perry says an isolated mother is a distressed mother. Find or create a clan. Those community ties are crucial. As introverts, try to think of them as support systems, not obligations. The more supported we feel, the more energized we are.

How much of your energy goes toward your relationship with your kids? With your spouse/partner? Who comforts you? 

 

If you would like to go deeper in your learning regarding ways to comfort and love your partner and children, please contact me for relationship coaching. 

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