If someone took a poll on what supports good mental health, it's likely this concept would make the list: "Have two great parents who love you."
Being loved and feeling lovable will seal your fate. This mental state of knowing what it's like to be valued carries a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings.
The truth is, however, this love can also come from others besides your mom and dad. Aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, grandparents and more can "parent" you. Nurturing, kindness and thoughtful instruction don't have to come from just your biological parents.
"I wish I had told my niece and nephew how much I love them," says a nurse practitioner we'll call Deborah. "They are in their late 30s now, but I should have told them before kindergarten. I didn't realize the power I had to strengthen their emotional well-being."
Strengthening your family unit means never overlooking an opportunity to build someone up.
Bragging on someone, speaking good advice, or giving solid encouragement are great opportunities to "parent" other people.
"My husband and I had immature parents," says a legal assistant we'll call Deann. "We recently joined a small group of adults in a therapy research project. Our goal is to support each other verbally and emotionally over the course of one year. We've made a pact to essentially 'reparent' every person in the group. We want to build up everyone's psychological health."
Nurturing tips from this group include the following:
Make time to listen to someone. This might be having lunch in person or talking by phone twice each week.
Don't pretend to have all the answers. People cannot feel we're nurturing them, if we lord our opinions over theirs.
Give some unconditional love. For example, if your cousin has struggled with substance abuse, you can mail him a birthday card. Or you can occasionally ask him if you can send pizza by delivery.
Practice setting your own boundaries. Being kind to others doesn't mean you'll allow others to "use" you. We all know that being able to say no protects our own world. We never have to set ourselves up for being taken advantage of.
"I think a big concept we're learning in our close-knit group," says Deann, "is to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. This takes a lot of hard work. Some in our group suffer from what's called 'learned helplessness.' They feel they can't reach their goals."
Helping individuals, including yourself, have power in life means learning to reach tough goals. Adults don't quit, regardless of the sacrifices and self-discipline it takes. Self-esteem comes from being able to go after and conquer our deepest desires.
That's why children must learn to clean their rooms, help with dinner, feed their pets, and take on tougher chores as time goes by. You can't become an adult without practicing the steps to maturity.
But in the process, hugs, smiles, small gifts, and kind remarks provide support to the child part of our personalities. Every mature person should still have a "healthy child" living inside, psychologists say.
A man we'll call Aaron told us this: "I never got a sweet hug during my entire childhood. My wife gives me extra special hugs and sweet words, though. The feeling is so wonderful. Sure, other adults might think this is strange, but I love being babied like this."
Aaron says he makes it a priority to give his teenage sons a big hug once a day. "I want them to feel they don't have to be tough all the time," he emphasizes.