Toxic parenting

Children won’t always equate that they may have been subjected to parenting that was toxic or even how the toxic parenting works. But there is always a dividing line between criticism and continual over criticism towards a child, by a parent.

Most parents genuinely want to do their best to provide their children with a healthy and happy upbringing, but sadly some parents’ mistakes can result in future therapy sessions. Toxic behaviour if allowed to continue, can cause emotional and mental damage to a child. Some of the issues below sadly fall into line with toxic parenting.

Failing to provide emotional security

Emotional security is the measure of the stability of an individual’s emotional state and it starts in childhood. It’s the foundation to all parent. Sadly, that’s not always what happens. We’ve all heard about tough love. Tough love in childhood is when children are treated harshly or sternly and they’re still expected to get on with and take care of themselves in later life. Some parents may fail to talk to their children about the things that concern them emotionally.

Parents being over-critical

Some parents may be over critical with their children, that whatever criticism is handed out is constructive. It’s easy for parents to criticise, they become impatient because they want the job done quickly, or simply because their child fails to grasp things they’re being told the first time.

The odd time may even be considered normal, but when a parent continually criticises and becomes overly critical, without giving their child any credit, that’s when they know their parenting is toxic. Perhaps it’s not something we all equate.

It’s easy for parents to make the mistake of thinking that being overly critical is helping their children avoid costly mistakes, but any form of criticism if used regularly will cause a child over time to criticise themselves, well into their adult years.

In a child’s formative years, their brains are like sponges. What we tell them will eventually stick, become their inner voice, therefore it’s important we keep reinforcing positive words and actions.

Words that hurt

Parents may get angry from time to time, but in the longer term, parents’ tone and language and towards each other, will define how their children respond back. When parents regularly use raised voices and words that instill fear into their children, it’s usual that their actions will follow the same pattern.

Children need to be loved, connected and feel supported. From my experience, a parent needs to change when children begin to feel threatened, fearful and scared.

Other toxic parenting behaviour might include:

  • Causing a child to justify their behaviour; parents putting their feelings before their child’s; parents not allowing their child to express themselves; making toxic jokes about their child; parents ignoring healthy boundaries.

Children get used to the way they’re parented, so they’re not always consciously aware that their parents’ parenting is in fact toxic. But as the adult now, if how you’ve been parented falls into one of the above categories, these ways will now need to be changed.

If parents aren’t capable of changing, or don’t want to change, sadly, distancing ourselves is often the only way to do it.


8 Aug, 2017

6 thoughts on “Toxic parenting

  1. ‘Toxic’ would be a polite term for what my parents were. My mother brainwashed me into being her ’emotional teddy bear’ by breaking my spirit and very nearly crushing my soul.

    My father seemed to be pretty oblivious to what was really going on, but I’m sure he was just happy that she wasn’t harping on him as much. The correct term I learned recently, is called ’emotional incest’ which pretty much described what the majority of my childhood was like.

    They liked to use that expression, but words can never hurt me, but I would have much rather been physically abused seeing as that pain goes away and those scars actually heal. Emotional scars never do, which is why I’m still so screwed up mentally at 49 years old.

    My dad passed just recently and I was torn being grateful that he wasn’t suffering anymore and angry because he never actually apologized for anything that ever happened to us as kids. My mother never did either, before she slid into Dementia too, so there wasn’t ever any closure.

    They always blamed each other for what happened and never accepted a whole lot of responsibility for the hell they put us through. This is why I refuse to accept people saying things like, they did the best they could with what they had, which I find to be such a crock.

    We lived like criminals on the run from the law, which is pretty much what was happening so we wouldn’t get taken away and put into foster care, which probably would have been the best thing for us.

    I could write novels about this subject, which I should actually do, but I’ll wrap this essay up by saying that people could have saved us from our parents, but they chose not to.

    It just would have been nice for us to have been treated like the children that we were at the time.

    1. Thanks Randy. I’m hearing you. There is no defence on the part of a parent, to put any child through emotional trauma.

      When you were growing up Randy, I think times were different. People weren’t always comfortable to intervene. It’s not an excuse. Perhaps that’s why people could have saved you and your siblings from your parents, but never did.

      I do think it’s difficult sometimes to move on, when you’re not able to have closure, but that doesn’t take away your parents’ responsibility. Regardless of whether you got your ‘sorry’ they will still be responsible and always will be.

      Knowing that should go some way to hopefully help you work through things. I didn’t get a sorry, instead I got an, ‘I didn’t want to know.’

      I would rather have had nothing, than have someone tell me, they didn’t want to know, so I didn’t get to know. It took 47 years to hear that.

  2. I’m thinking of a child maneuvering through toxic parenting by instinct only, instead of being naturally innocent; it’s like being alive in dead moments.

    1. Thanks Tim. It’s a good analogy. A lot of the time that is all it is. You learn how to work through areas of your life the best way you can, switching on and off when it’s necessary.

      You learn about that also.

  3. I was very blessed and fortunate to have good parents. There are times I can look back at my childhood and understand why they did what they did, or said what they said.

    There are other scenarios where I wonder and think, “what were they thinking.” As a mom myself, I wonder what is a good parent? Every direction we look, there is always criticism even when our intentions are good and for the well being of our kids, there will always be someone who judges, especially with social media and our private lives not so private, as when we were growing up.

    As a child, we were latchkey kids; we stayed home everyday by ourselves. Our mom worked constantly, our dad not so much (and to this day we wonder why he left us alone like that) but back then, it wasn’t even a thought.

    Friends family and neighbors knew we were alone and that was okay. Now a parent not dare do a thing like that. It’s amazing how society has changed the last 20 yrs. What was okay, then is not okay anymore.

    1. Thanks Bonnie. Yes, this is a difficult one. It’s only when we look back that we raise questions about our parents’ parenting and often with good reason and I say that about any parent with the utmost respect.

      It’s also only when we look back, that we may see significant holes in their parenting. What was the norm then is certainly not the norm today and for good reason. More things were accepted back then because those times were different and therefore those times allowed it; but sadly that doesn’t mean it was good parenting.

      Regardless of whether one parent works and one parent doesn’t, the stay at home parent should stay home. Home alone would never be classed as doing the right thing, but it was easier to do it back then, because the world was different back then. Somehow it became accepted.

      I think you’re right about being judged. As you say and I agree, I think mothers in particular have a hard time, because they’re the ones who discipline and continue to discipline their children. They’re the ones who will spend the most time with their children, so have to make decisions, but unless they have spousal support, it’s easy for their decisions to be questioned.

      And opinions tend to act as a ‘ripple effect,’ even through social media. Sadly, when one family member has an opinion other family members take sides and the whole scenario becomes toxic. On our part, as mothers as we continue to give of our best, we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t and will still continue to be judged.

      All you can do Bonnie is your best, knowing that what you are doing is your best for them. Hopefully, as your children continue to grow, they will see that what you did was selfless and for them. I have always put my children’s interests first, what I thought was best for them, never myself.

      Looking back and my children now living independent lives, I can see how well adjusted they have become and as they continue to live their lives, emotionally and spiritually they will grow. If and when I look back on my own parenting, would I change anything?

      Not in terms of my own parenting, but there would have been other things I would have liked to change; but I wasn’t responsible for those things or other family members.

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