There are so many humans struggling due to believing, on some level, that they’re not good enough because of childhood experiences. We misunderstand painful and uncomfortable events, and they become the story of who we are and can be. Regardless of whether we believe we had a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ childhood, we then judge ourselves as unworthy and inadequate because of our old unmet needs. Cue being over-responsible and turning ourselves into people pleasers, perfectionists, overthinkers and overgivers. And this emotional baggage continues to play out in adulthood, affecting our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

It’s time to recognise, though, that there are other reasons for us having been inadequately parented that have nothing to do with our worthiness.

Some parents had/have such low feelings of self-worth and fear of failure and disappointing us that they’d rather not try at all. They did the bare minimum, the best they could, when coming from that headspace, or they left. They may have emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually abandoned us even though they were ‘there’ for all intents and purposes. Or, they left.

Some parents were very loving but sometimes sheltered us too much. Or they inadvertently gave the impression that we were responsible for their happiness. There may have been this pressure to be good, to achieve, to only have pleasant feelings. We may have started to believe that we needed to be perfect or who we thought they needed or wanted us to be because of how invested and interested they were in us.

Some parents had parented their parents and/or siblings. It made them exhausted and old before their time. Then they inadequately parented us because they were still playing the Good Daughter/Son/Sibling. They quite simply didn’t have enough bandwidth to go around. Playing roles created inner conflicts, including fear and guilt about stopping.

Some parents thought that given how shit their own childhood experiences were that anything they did was ‘better’ even if it wasn’t much or great. In fact, some thought that all they had to do was show up because it’s what their parents did.

Some parents believed that their focus on success, providing and pushing was all of what parenting entailed. They didn’t have time for emotions, possibly because there wasn’t room for them in their own upbringing.

Some parents were so afraid of being like their own parents that they went from one extreme to another. They overcompensated, controlled, gave too little structure, or bailed altogether.

Some parents didn’t become aware of how certain things bothered them until they became parents. And some of these parents’ trauma manifested in their parenting without awareness of what was happening. Hell, some parents were traumatised by the childhood they claimed was “great” or that they couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about.

Some parents were so abused, neglected or deprived that they did the same thing to us. We might be the first generation to break a longstanding cycle within our family.

Some parents were still so angry about their role in the family and where they felt they’d been wronged that they were immature parents. They treated us like siblings (or even their parents) to compete, argue with or rebel against.

Some parents didn’t feel capable or worthy of receiving love, so they pushed us away.

Some parents felt overwhelmed by our needs because they’d never had their needs met. And some were very “It’s my time now” and made up for lost time. They put all of their needs and wants ahead of their child, making them unreliable, unstable and, yes, sometimes selfish parents.

Some parents (and caregivers) were really passive. It was their pattern to not stand up for themselves. It meant that even though it may not have been what they intended, they abandoned us when we needed them the most. Or we just didn’t feel safe and secure with them. We may have felt more responsible than our parent. Through their inaction, they may have turned a blind eye or left us exposed to danger from the other parent or a caregiver.

Some parents were overwhelmed by their roles, day-to-day life and the past. They anaesthetised their pain, fear and guilt with addictions, affairs, compulsions or overwork.

Some parents and caregivers did terrible things that no parent, no person, should do because they’d shut down. They’d lost their compass and/or were re-enacting their childhood torment. Some had undiagnosed disorders. Some were diagnosed but hid it. Society, our community and our own family, failed to protect us.

Some parents inadvertently communicated that something was wrong with us because they were so critical of themselves.

Some parents thought we were better off with someone else. They believed that someone else would give us a better life than they could.

Some parents were so used to not feeling their feelings that parenting threatened the status quo.

There are so many reasons that explain why our parents may have inadequately parented us. None have anything to do with us.

Many of our parents and caregivers, even with the best of efforts, and especially given the time they were raised in (and the time when we were), struggled to break free of old roles and their trauma. We were all raised during the Age of Obedience.

Our parents also had emotional baggage. Some of them still do and are out here on these streets acting out. It’s why there’s such a thing as family estrangement.

We like to think that a parent should change when they become a parent. We imagine that our arrival should make them spontaneously combust into a healthy, loving parent. There’s a sense that all of their problems should fade away or that, at the very least, our goodness should make up for it. That’s a lot to put on us, on a little kid. And it’s also a lot to put on our parent(s).

Our parents are (and were) humans first and foremost.

They were once children themselves with their own personalities, characteristics, circumstances, resources, level of abundance and backstories that explain who they are and were. Whoever they failed to be for us was not our fault. Our worthiness isn’t to blame. Our assessment of our faults is and was incorrect.

Recognising the journey they travelled and what contributed to their pattern of behaviour isn’t an excuse to use against ourselves. It doesn’t mean that what we went through wasn’t painful. What it does mean is that we need to and have to stop making it about us.

We have to stop carrying the blame and using it against ourselves. There is no need for us to accept crumbs, to keep persecuting ourselves over old judgments and misunderstandings. We need to stop holding ourselves hostage in shitty and unfulfilling relationships and hiding from our potential and purpose. We need to stop settling for crumbs and mistreating ourselves so that we can cut back on people pleasing and burning out from expecting too feckin’ much from ourselves. Some parents weren’t (and aren’t) who we need(ed) them to be, but we can forgive us by taking better care of ourselves. The self-care of how we lead our lives will set us free.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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Some Parents Couldn’t Be Who We Needed, And We Need To Forgive Ourselves - Natalie Lue, Author of Baggage Reclaim
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