Many of us grow up with emotionally immature parents and may not know it. This is a key pattern seen in intergenerational trauma that is conditioned and maintained from one generation to the next.
For example, a child may observe that their parent cannot maintain emotional closeness with them. They may pull toward their child for connection one minute, then push away the next. They may struggle in providing for their child’s emotional or physical needs such that the child becomes parentified in a role-reversal. Or, a parent may try to be their child’s friend and may come off as irresponsible or concerned about getting their own needs met.
When a parent is emotionally immature, they are often parenting from a place of their own attachment trauma, early abuse, or rejecting parents. Many emotionally immature parents don’t “evolve” past their own childlike needs and self-centeredness, often because they themselves were abused or neglected in their childhood.
First, to understand how emotionally immature parenting can affect a person later in their adult life, it helps to recognize that unresolved trauma is what perpetuates from one generation (i.e., parents) to the next generation, such as their children. When trauma has not been resolved and healed, the potential for it to repeat is significantly increased.
For example, emotional neglect is one of the strongest predictors of developing emotional dysregulation, which can cause emotionally immature parenting down the road. Thus, if a parent was abused or neglected in their own childhood, this places them at an increased risk for repeating the same trauma to their children, if unhealed.
Red Flags of an Emotionally Immature Parent
- Has inconsistent or nonexistent boundaries
- May try to be the “party” parent or blur the lines between friend and parent
- Has parenting style often based on their own unmet needs for love or attention
- May ignore or neglect their child’s needs for their own needs
- Often “lives in the moment,” which can include living beyond their financial means
- Often has mental health issues and/or diagnoses
- May be dismissive or avoidant of their child’s feelings
- May have drug or alcohol addictions or compulsive behaviors
- May overly dramatize their needs or turn to friends or family to “save” them
- May overreact to stressors or become excessively “needy”
- Can be rigid or inflexible with rules or boundaries, which prevents the child’s autonomy
4 Types of Emotionally Immature Parents and the Effects on Our Adult Lives
1. Driven and controlling: Driven and controlling parents are often referred to as “helicopter” parents who demand excellence and perfection, and set high (often unrealistic) demands on themselves and their children. These parents may parent with excessive anger or from a punitive approach. They are highly intrusive and critical, and often violate a child’s personal space.
In adulthood: Kids raised with this type of parenting often become perfectionists, overachievers, and highly critical of themselves, and may struggle with compulsive behaviors such as workaholism or shopaholism as ways of self-numbing and to feel worthy. In their romantic relationships, they may demand perfection in their partner or may minimize relational problems by staying overly busy and intellectualizing instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions.
2. Emotional (or non-emotional): Emotionally dysregulated parents may vacillate from one extreme to the other such that they can appear overly dramatic, may overreact to situations, or may appear helpless and “needy.” On the other end of the spectrum, emotionally dysregulated parents can appear distant, cynical, dismissive, or cold toward their children. Many times, parents with dysregulated emotions may be experiencing their own unhealed attachment trauma, which can include parenting from a disorganized attachment style.
In adulthood: Children raised in chaos and an unpredictable environment may become highly anxious, depressed, or emotionally dysregulated adults. They may battle anger problems or may feel disconnected from their emotions—especially vulnerable emotions. This can negatively impact the emotional maturity of their relationships and increases the risk for developing traumatic bonds with romantic partners.
3. Rejecting: Parents who are rejecting are typically dismissive and avoidant. They may push away, may prefer to spend their time alone, or may not want to be bothered with parenting or emotions. Rejecting parents were often children who were rejected themselves and grew up “fending for themselves.” If they do have to interact with their children, they may become demanding or verbally abusive.
In adulthood: If a child was raised with this type of emotionally immature parent, they may become adults who have limited empathy for other people’s needs, may vacillate between wanting connection and pushing it away, may appear selfish or self-centered, or may become an emotionally rejecting parent themselves. This type of parenting dynamic may also resonate with a more dismissive or avoidantly attached person, which can make it challenging to sustain emotional intimacy and connection with romantic partners.
4. Negligent or passive: Parents who are emotionally or physically negligent or passive avoid confrontation and may appear easy to get along with. Many negligent or passive parents lack healthy and consistent boundaries and may come off as the “cool” parent or the child’s friend. Parenting is reduced to what the parent wants, with less consideration of what their child needs. Emotionally or physically negligent parents often come across to other adults as childlike, or unable to care for themselves in an adult manner. They may minimize, invalidate, or dismiss their child’s emotional needs as too overwhelming for them to deal with.
In adulthood: Being raised by a parent who is emotionally or physically negligent can include higher risks of anxiety, depression, or other mental health diagnoses, as well as intense feelings of anger and shame toward themselves and feelings of contempt for their parent. Adults who grew up with emotionally negligent parents may have difficulty expressing vulnerable emotions and may become detached, cold, distant, or “distracted” around their romantic partners to avoid feeling vulnerable.