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How Do You Know You Had Emotionally Immature Parents?

How Do You Know You Had Emotionally Immature Parents?

Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson’s book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents offers a guide to recognizing, processing, and healing from the effects of emotionally immature parenting. But, how do you know that your parent (or parents) may be emotionally immature? And, what does that mean for you?


The first step on this journey is to listen to your gut. Do you remember a childhood where you felt anxious, unsure, or alone often? Or, do you have memories of your parent acting in a withdrawn, dismissive way? Or maybe, your parent pushed you towards perfecting in every way, leaving you feeling as if you could never meet their standards. These are just a few of the wide range of signs that you may have grown up with an emotionally immature parent. Even though you are an adult, these feelings and memories take deep roots and can affect the way that you approach relationships with others and, most importantly, with yourself.


There are generally four types of emotionally immature parents that Dr. Gibson describes in her book:

  1. Emotional ParentsThese parents are unpredictable and confusing, often varying suddenly between deep involvement with their child to dismissal and silence. These parents are driven by anxiety and often make others rescue them or, if others are not complacent, treat others like they have abandoned them entirely.
  2. Driven ParentsThese parents are incredibly busy and focused on progress and perfection. They often have such a tight schedule that their children may feel distant from them, often only interacting when the parent wants to have control over an aspect of their childrens’ lives. They may be seen as “egocentric” by others, but likely are unaware of this in themselves.
  3. Passive ParentsThese parents have a ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to parenting that often results in minimizing issues and relying on others to make decisions. These parents are often available to a certain point, but eventually become overwhelmed and leave their children to figure things out for themselves. Sometimes, these parents become enabling with an abusive or neglectful partner, choosing not to step in and protect their child when needed.
  4. Rejecting ParentsThis type of parent appears to be disinterested in having children or a family at all. They often seem bothered by the presence of their children, treating them more like burdens than valued and loved members of their family. They can be angry, mocking, and hostile towards others, and generally appear to want to be their own person rather than a parent.


Parents, like all people, are complex and will not fit into these categories perfectly. Some parents may exhibit multiple types of parenting styles, while others may even have some healthy behaviors mixed in. Each type is on a spectrum as well, with a range of mild to severe forms of each category existing. Regardless, if your parent aligns with one or many of these categories, it is likely they were emotionally immature to some degree when you were a child in their care.


Reading this kind of content can feel uncomfortable for people who are exploring this topic for the first time. You may feel like you didn’t have a “bad enough” childhood, or know that others “had it worse”. You may have feelings of guilt for labeling your parent, or have a sense that you are “betraying” them by considering their flaws. You may also have an instinctual feeling that something feels wrong about your childhood, but may be struggling to perfectly fit your memories into the parameters described here. All of these feelings are valid and common, and often come up for people who have some form of emotionally immature parents.


The reality is, many parents are doing as well as they can with the resources they have, but may have caused harm or pain despite their efforts. Doing the work to understand how their parenting affected you is a courageous step towards healing. Many people who engage in this journey come away with a deeper understanding of who they are, what they want/need, and how they can apply this knowledge to build secure, healthy relationships with their parents and other important people in their life.


You are not alone in this journey! Star Meadow is offering a low-cost counseling group centered around this book, where you have an opportunity to read and process with others who have similar experiences to you. This group is led by Hannah Williams, a intern therapist with lived experience as an adult with emotionally immature parents. Their goal is to help people to feel empowered and supported by a group of people who truly understand them. If this sounds like something you are interested in, reach out to [email protected] to set up a pre-group session or seek individual counseling services with them.


If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Gibson’s book is available at most major bookstores, as well as your local library in physical, e-book, or audiobook form.