The Emotional Load of Parenting

Photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna on

Until recently it was enough to love, clothe, and educate your kids. Now we know that often this isn’t sufficient to meet their emotional needs. Parents have a lot more awareness these days and want to do right by their kids. We do this by helping them address social, educational, physical, or neurodiversity issues. Also we support their interests and strengths, in addition to pushing them out of their comfort zone a little.

Emotional Load

All this adds up creating an extra emotional load

*Pauses writing post as it reminds me to ask my husband to bring my son out to practice cycling this week, because he doesn’t like cycling for fear he will fall off the bike, “but not tonight as he’s more likely to cry again as he’ll be tired after the sleep over with his cousins”* -case in point regarding the emotional load. 

Children have more emotional needs than previous generations were aware of. Society’s interest in personal development often points to the origins of psychological issues, not surprisingly, as abuse and/or neglect in childhood but also (more alarming to the majority of current parents), to some emotional need being missed, even in a good, loving family. 

‘Good Enough parenting’

There’s no such thing as a perfect parent and trying to be one would be an impossible and stressful endevour. There will often be some emotional needs that loving parents fall short of supporting. This awareness can add to the burden of parenting. Love and security goes a long way, but it’s not always enough. Attunement and presence is hugely important. In the past many emotional issues ‘fell through the cracks’. Some children were more likely to be seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘over sensitive’ etc, without supporting or questioning what might be behind this.

Still, there is a lot of healing of many of those emotional deficits in an ordinary loving home. I take comfort from the renowned psychoanalyst, DW Winnicott’s phrase ‘the good enough parent’. Also Dr Daniel Siegal says that we only need to get it right as a parent 70% of the time, so this allows for a decent margin of error. 

Feeling overwhelmed

Recently I found myself becoming overwhelmed with the sense of having to keep ‘all these balls in the air’. Juggling can be surprisingly difficult. I am of course entirely grateful for my children. (I would be touching wood right now if I were superstitious – because loving these precious little people so much brings a fear of loss along with it). And while there isn’t a simple answer to these dilemmas, there is value in naming them and realising that we are absolutely not alone.


One afternoon when my children were very small we took a luas home from the Dublin city centre. An old lady looked at my family with a look of nostalgia and said, “I remember when my children were small, I thought I was ‘kilt’ with all the work, but I miss it”. 

I know that it’s easy for older parents to look back and idealise these years. But for me it’s worth recognising that even though I sometimes get tired and overwhelmed with holding the responsability of my childrens’ emotional as well as practical needs, I also know that one day, conversely, I will struggle with feeling that I have little to contribute to their lives. ‘This too shall pass’ can be very bittersweet.

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Author: Liz Wright MIAHIP

Accredited member of the Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy I have been working as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1999. My experience and training covers a wide range of areas, allowing me to provide the right therapy for you.

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