The idea of self-love and self-nurturing baffles most people, especially codependents, who by and large received inadequate parenting. The word “nurture” comes from the Latin nutritus, meaning to suckle and nourish. It also means to protect and foster growth. For young children, this usually falls to the mother; however, the father’s role is equally important.
Both parents need to nurture children. Healthy parenting helps the grown child be his or her own best mother and father. A child must not only feel loved, but also that he or she is understood and valued by both parents as a separate, unique individual and that both parents want a relationship with him or her. Although we have many needs, I’m focusing on nurturing emotional needs.
In addition to physical nourishment, including gentle touch, care, and food, emotional nurturing consists of meeting a child’s emotional needs. These include:
The importance of empathy
A child’s thoughts and feelings need to be taken seriously and listened to with respect and understanding. One way of communicating this is by mirroring or reflecting back what he or she is saying. “You’re angry that it’s time to stop playing now.” Instead of judgment (“you shouldn’t be jealous of Cindy’s new friend”), a child needs acceptance and empathic understanding, such as: “I know you’re hurt and feel left out by Cindy and her friend.”
Empathy is deeper than intellectual understanding. It’s identification at an emotional level with what the child feels and needs. Of course, it’s equally important that a parent appropriately meets those needs, including giving comfort in moments of distress.
Accurate empathy is important for children to feel understood and accepted. Otherwise, they may feel alone, abandoned, and not loved for who they are, but only for what their parents want to see. Many parents unwittingly harm their children by denying, ignoring, or shaming their child’s needs, actions, and expressions of thoughts or feelings. Simply saying, “How could you do that?” may be felt as shaming or humiliating. Responding to a child’s tears with laughter, or “That’s nothing to cry about,” or “You shouldn’t be (or ‘Don’t be’) sad,” are forms of denying and shaming a child’s natural feelings.
Even parents who have sympathetic intentions may be preoccupied or misunderstand and misattuned to their child. With enough repetitions, a child learns to deny and dishonor natural feelings and needs and to believe that he or she is unloved or inadequate.
Good parents are also reliable and protective. They keep promises and commitments, provide nourishing food and medical and dental care. They protect their child from anyone who threatens or harms him or her.