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A Mother's Reflection:

Emotionally unavailable

to becoming free

by Jenny Louis 

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Photo: Jenny Louis

As a single parent I went through so many challenges that made me question whether I was able to raise my children.


A huge challenge was becoming aware that I was an emotionally unavailable mother and that this was affecting my children.

One morning my child refused to go to school. This went on until it became a pattern every morning.  After trying everything that I could to make her go, I didn’t know what else to do, nothing changed. I was stressed even before I left for work in the morning. I became frustrated and put her behaviour down to rebellion and disobedience.


However, as time passed it became clear that there was something more serious happening than I could imagine.

My child was emotionally distressed which was affecting her mental health

It took me a while to realise that raising children required more than just meeting their physical needs, it also requires emotional warmth. I became so emotionally absent from my children that it caused relationship difficulties between us. It made me think that the problem was coming from my children’s behaviour rather than my lack of insight. After a long period of emotional suffering for both the children and myself, I realised that we had a problem. I was unaware that I was emotionally detached and didn’t know how to be emotionally attached. 


During my childhood I didn’t experience emotional warmth from my parents. I was not raised in an environment where I heard, “I love you", or received hugs and kisses. My parents showed love in their own way by meeting all other areas of my needs accordingly, and I loved them dearly. However, due to missing out on emotional warmth from them, I found I could not give it to anyone. 


Some children may think that their parents deliberately parent the way they do. The fact of the matter is that parents genuinely are not aware of some actions and behaviours that may cause pain to the children. To be emotionally absent from children is a dangerous thing - children will find other sources of comfort.

Although my experience hindered my ability to express emotional warmth towards my children, it is possible to disentangle oneself from what is familiar and do things differently

My advice to parents is to pay attention to your actions, be more aware. Believe you me, it is not as easy as one may think. It takes a lot of falling down and getting up and it is an ongoing process even when the children become adults themselves you are still trying. I had to learn (and I am still learning) how to change my behaviour, my understanding and ways of seeing in order to be a better mother and grandmother. It's an ongoing process. 

In my professional role I support parents and carers to look at areas that cause dysfunction in the family and help to repair relationships. I often come across issues of childhood trauma that impacts on parenting.  


I work with many parents who would say that they want to see changes in their children. My method is to invite them to change the way they think. The changes do not necessarily have to start with the child; when children see changes in parents it helps them to change their behaviour too. 


I am not disregarding the fact that there are some inappropriate behaviours that children display that need changing. As my job is always to support parents, I explore all parenting related issues and often invite them to look at past or present difficulties that may be impacting on their parenting skills.


The thing is, no one prepares you for the pitfalls of parenting. You spend months learning how to deal with the pregnancy yet nobody explains the reality of what it means to have children and the responsibility of bringing them up to become adults.  But when we understand what our children need from us and provide appropriately, we can then enter a position of empowerment and change, both for ourselves and our children.

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My advice on the role of parenting

Most parents understand that they are the most significant person in their children’s lives but for various reasons, some do not realise how crucial this is. Many parents do not understand that a foundation of emotional warmth, discipline, implementing boundaries and having routine at an early age amongst more, produces better results for the child. Establishing these at the very start of a child’s life reduces problems later.  


Every child is a unique individual with a distinct temperament, learning style and needs. 


No two children are the same, therefore you parent the child that you have and not the child that you want as everyone is an individual and develops differently.    


Children need different types of stimulation that evolve their development as they grow. Parents need to interact with their children appropriately at each stage to promote the child’s sense of security and confidence as they grow up. This enables children to cope with the challenges of life. 


There are different parenting styles and one size does not fit all.  

It is important that parents know their parenting style because these styles have different functions to enhance children’s development and guidance. In cases where both parents are present in a child’s life, they need to support each other so that the same message is given to them. 


As parents to develop a curiosity about your child’s passions.  

Passions are often fragile during the early years of a child’s life, however, praise, encouragement and interest plays an important role in nurturing this in your child.  Even if you are not interested, you need to be willing to allow your child to explore their interest and nurture it.  

In my cultural background, success was defined as having a good job, a house, a nice car and major professions such as teacher, doctor and so on.  This mindset clouded my ability to identify and support my children's interests. When I came to an understanding of what it is to follow children's interests, I supported them from a place of not just looking for success but their dreams and passion. I didn't look for big things, but rather for what  was innate so that they could help others.

The way we perform as parents is impacted by how much we’ve been able to make sense of our past. 

While the last place some may want to look when we become parents is our own childhood, we should do so if we want to be better parents to our children. No matter what distress or trauma we endure in early life, what matters most is how the pain of our childhood creates a narrative of our experience.


There are no perfect parents. 

As parents are not given a book of instructions on parenting, they will make mistakes. The main thing is that as long as they do their best in trying to raise their children. Children may not turn out to be the person their parents wanted them to be, while others may do better than parents expected. Whatever the outcome, children need to experience love in the same way.  

In closing

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Photo: Jenny with her grand-daughter

What I have observed about this younger generation of parents is that some of them are doing some things better than the older ones did.


In some cases, they need to be a bit firmer in their parenting. They tend to show more emotional warmth, understand the children better, spend more quality time, have more meaningful interaction and so on.  

In the generation of parents that I am a part of, we gave what we had but some did even better by going beyond and providing what they were not shown.


My children are now mature adults and doing well. In hindsight it is easy to say I did my best, I gave what I had. But even today when challenges arise, I have a feeling of guilt that pops up. 

Self-forgiveness is an ongoing process


It's probably something that I have to talk to my children about to explain how I am feeling


Everything is concealed inside


If someone was in my position I would say to them it's not your fault, I know you love your children, it's just taking each day at a time. Try to be more understanding of things from your children's perspective.


I wish that I knew better then; I would have invested emotionally into the lives of my children at a more earlier stage of their lives.


Now that I am able to weigh the scale (by having better understanding) I believe that it is important to forgive myself  in order to move forward. The mistakes that  were made cannot remain in the memory forever. It's more important to continue to learn and apply.


I am proud that I did the job of a single parent despite the challenges. I never thought of raising children by myself. I am proud of my children and where they are on their journey, and also experiencing parenthood. I am proud of the way that I raised my children, I am a proud grandmother. I shared some precious things with my daughter when she got married and I am proud of my own growth and development.


I am proud of my children and their great achievements.


Finally, enjoy the journey of parenting, it has great rewards.



Published Mother's Day, Sunday 19th March 2023

Photography by Ikesha Avo

The views shared in this article are the author's own and may not be representative of ONE&WE. If you are parent or carer and would like to find ways to be supported, you can find some useful information on the NHS website, click here to learn more. 

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