Like every other relationship, parenting can also be a little toxic
We’ve written about toxic relationships in the romantic sense, but something else has come to our attention: toxic parenting. It’s not as widely discussed—perhaps because we don’t like to blame our parents or see them in a less-flattering light—but it comes in degrees and might be more common than you think.
There’s a book entitled Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward, which aims to help children of toxic parents “overcome their hurtful legacy” and reclaim their life. In it, she asks the following questions:
As a child:
- Did you parents tell you that you were bad or worthless?
- Did your parents use physical pain to discipline you?
- Did you have to take care of your parents and their problems?
- Were you often frightened of your parents?
- Did your parents do anything to you that you had to keep a secret?
As an adult:
- Do your parents still treat you like a child?
- Do you have intense emotional or physical reactions after spending time with your parents?
- Do your parents control you with threats and/or guilt? Do they manipulate you with money?
- Do you feel that, no matter what you do, it’s never enough for your parents?
Let’s clarify! Saying yes to one of these things doesn’t mean you were raised in an environment that stank of toxic parenting. But sometimes, a question such as the ones above defines the entire relationship between a parent and their child—and that’s when it becomes a problem. We’re not saying that an argument from your prepubescent years made for a bad adolescence; we’re saying that when toxic parents are so self-centered that they can’t understand how their kids have specific needs and emotions, things can go downhill.
The accuser is the victim
I have a friend whose mother always plays the victim card. Once voices are raised and arguments are made, she stamps “victim” on her forehead and expects everyone to respect her new role. She gets her way, even when it’s sometimes to the detriment of my friend and his siblings.
Verdict before trial
When my mother asks me how my night went, she doesn’t say, “How was your evening?” or “How are your friends?” She says, with a tone that’s half-accusatory and half-distress, “Uminom ka nanaman noh? You got home so late na.” Granted that I ~do~ tend to get home late on the weekends, her means of communicating has always come in the shape of immediate blame. And it’s honestly the reason why I never share anything with her.
I have another friend, who himself is now a parent and yet remembers never being allowed to express his feelings as a child. “I wasn't allowed to be angry. I wasn't allowed to cry,” he says. “If the adults made a mistake and I was right all along, I was not allowed to be angry.” Why? The people on the opposing side were older, naturally.
None of us—not my friends nor myself—believe that our parents fall under the “toxic parents” handbook; they just fell short in some expectations. There was never a lack of love or support; maybe it just wasn’t the type of support we needed at the time. There was no real abuse in our pasts and it’s those types of parents that undoubtedly deserve to be labeled as toxic. Nevertheless, the ways in which we were brought up and the parenting that we experienced definitely have bearing on our lives now. But can we blame them?
As I now have my own nieces and nephews that get on my nerves and argue with from time to time, I can see how difficult it is to stop yourself from your first reaction. It’s difficult to halt instinct and remember that you’re talking to a child sometimes. The thing is, you have to be conscious of it and there’s no other way around it. It calls for a lot of empathy and even more patience, but they deserve that, don’t they? We did. And just because we didn’t get that same level of understanding doesn’t mean we’re incapable of giving it.
Break the cycle, yes?
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver