When I was growing up, things were very hectic in my household. My parents were in the middle of a divorce and had too little time and energy for the too many kids they had in the house, leaving us to fend for ourselves most of the time.
As a result, my siblings and I grew up pretty stunted in emotional maturity, while constantly hearing the adults around us exclaim, “Oh, they’re so grown up for their age!”
The truth is, the quiet children are not grown up for their age. The children who do as their told and always people-please are not just “well behaved”.
The children who are so ‘grown up’ are the children who have to be their own parents, their siblings-parents, and even their parents-parents at times.
The children who are not children are the children of emotional neglect, and somehow we live in a world where that is something they are praised about.
I find that I can’t process my frustrations properly sometimes. I was never taught how to. When I’m angry, I feel so absolutely guilty and worthless because I don’t think that my emotions are allowed to be negative. I don’t feel like I’m allowed to take up space if it’s not benificial to those around me.
My siblings have trouble working through their emotions too. Instead of confronting negativity in our lives, we drown it out, push it away, and bury it down until we can’t take it anymore.
We can’t set boundaries in our lives because we were never allowed to. We had to be the ones that kept the peace between the adults, maintained the house, and even paid the bills sometimes, but we were always praised for it as being “so responsible”.
There’s a big difference between childhood responsibility and emotional neglect.
My oldest nephew, for example, is a child who has been emotionally nurtured with childhood responsibilities.
Since he could walk, his parents have made a game of him picking up the toys from the floor and putting them away, helping him as they go.
When he’s mad, they don’t just tell him to go away and calm down. They sit with him in a quiet room, help him to understand his anger, and even apologize to him when they’ve made him upset.
They speak to him like a person, not like a child, but they do not withold the grace we give to children when they have big emotions.
My sister and her husband have been amazing parents to that little guy, and he is an amazing child as a result.
My 7-year-old nephew (usually) calmly removes himself from upsetting situations. He constructively verbalizes his feelings, and he sets firm but polite boundaries with his siblings before something turns into a fight.
He’s not always perfect about it, and he doesn’t have to be, in fact, he shouldn’t be. He’s only 7 years old.
But he’s been given and taught how to use tools to help him understand and work through some of his big emotions. He knows it’s his responsibility to try and use them, but he knows he’s not alone.
If there’s an issue, emotional, physical, or otherwise, he knows he can count on his parents or the other adults in his life to help him through it.
He and his siblings are emotionally nurtured into emotional maturity, not emotionally neglected into it, and the difference is amazing.
We need to stop blurring the lines between responsibilities that come from nurturing environments and neglectful ones.
My siblings and I are still learning the skills my nephew already has mastered, but we’ve lost a big portion of our lives to not having them.
It’s time for everyone to start speaking up about the damage that happens when you let children raise themselves. As we inherit this world, it is our responsibility to take responsibility while raising the next generation.