By Tim Sanford
Part of the Defining Successful Parenting Series
Validation from Dad, plus nurturing from Mom, equals “mission accomplished” as parents. You’ll notice that the word control doesn’t appear anywhere in that equation.
But speaking of equations, how much validation and nurture does your teenager need?
I’ve known teens praised for their accomplishments, but hardly ever validated for just existing.
I’ve known teens kept neat and clean and “mothered,” but neglected and lacking those qualities needed to become fully alive as human beings.
Every person needs both validation and nurture to fully develop into a healthy adult. That’s why God’s ideal plan includes every child being raised by a mom and a dad. It doesn’t always happen that way, of course, and I’ll say more about that later in this article series.
What happens when a child is raised in a home marked by too little validation or nurture or both? In my 20 years as a professional therapist, I’ve seen as many people in my office — if not more — who lacked these ingredients as I’ve seen who were abused by a parent. Don’t get me wrong; abuse and neglect are very destructive. But the damage can be just as severe for those who didn’t get enough validation from their dads or nurture from their moms.
I remember the story of a missionary kid in Ecuador. Though I’ve long forgotten the details, one statement from this boy — close to my age at the time — still rings in my ears. He said, “My dad will spend three hours talking to a drunk on a street curb, but he won’t spend three minutes talking to me.”
This boy was part of a missionary family, doing God’s work in a foreign country. There was no abuse here — just lots and lots of “not enough.” The damage was just as deep as if it had been caused by active abuse.
The pain, woundedness, and emptiness in case after case like this may be covered with a practiced smile or an impeccable résumé. But they’re still there.
So how much is “enough”?
Do you have to be a perfect parent?
No, and no again!
Dad, your validation doesn’t have to be flawless. It just needs to be enoughfor that individual child.
Mom, your nurturing doesn’t have to be world-class, either. It needs to be enoughfor that particular child.
But how do you know what’s “enough”?
“Some” is not the same as “enough”
Consider another word picture. Let’s say you need 50 “units” of oxygen to stay alive. If you have 52, you have enough to live on — maybe not enough to run a marathon, but enough to survive.
If you have 96 units, you have enough — and some left over to climb Pikes Peak.
But if you only have 9 units, you don’t have enough. You will die.
So if you have 49 units, do you have “enough”?
“What are you bellyaching about?” someone might say. “You have
a whole lot more than the person who only got 9!”
Some adults might say, “I know my parents loved me, and they gave me what little they could in the way of validation and nurture. I got more than a lot of other people did growing up.”
But was it enough?
Some is not equal to enough.
“Enough” varies from child to child, personality to personality. What’s enough for one child may not be for the next. If a child doesn’t get enough validation and nurture, he or she may not physically die — but will be emotionally damaged and maybe even emotionally cease to exist.
What happens when your child doesn’t get enough
That was the case with Angie. Sixteen years old, she was brought into my office because she was angry, hurting herself, and depressed.
She came from an upper-middle-class “Christian family,” to use her parents’ words.
As I got to know Angie, she told me of the daily routine in her home. Dad was always busy with work, even when he was in the house, and rarely spoke a word to any family members. Mom was clinically depressed — nonfunctional in private, but upbeat and social when in the public eye.
There were no harsh words, no abuse, no molestation. Angie was just left to fend for herself — not because her chores were assigned, but because they wouldn’t get done otherwise. She did her own laundry, made her own meals, checked her own homework, paid for her own things, and answered her own questions about life.
Yes, she was angry; she was all alone. There was no validation, no nurturing — no “fussing.” Yes, she was harming herself; she was taking her anger out on the person she thought was at fault. She told me it was her fault for being born — a tragic jukebox record she’d been playing for years. And yes, she was depressed; you’d be depressed, too, if that were your life.
It was all because she hadn’t gotten, and wasn’t getting, enough validation and nurture — at least for her.
This story breaks my heart as I recount it. Angie chose illicit drugs rather than therapy to deal with her situation, and I never heard from her again.
Her story isn’t unique, either.
This is not a call to “blame the parents for all the teenager’s problems.”
It’s a statement of reality and truth.
That’s the vital nature of validation and nurture. Unfortunately, the necessity of both may be forgotten until after a child has been raised — often by moms and dads who spent their parenting years searching in vain for control.