For the majority of my almost thirty-year-old life, I didn't want children. In fact, I was terrified of having children, because I didn't want to put my potential children in the same situation I had endured for the majority of my childhood. When you grow up with a parent as toxic as mine, you fear repeating a cycle that so many people "assume" you're powerless to stop. Thankfully, there are signs growing up with at toxic parent hasn't turned you into one for your kids; signs that, as a mother, bring me the peace and comfort and validity I need to remind myself that, no, I am not my toxic parent. I am so much better, and I am giving my son everything I never had and always wanted. I am giving my son what he deserves.
I spent my childhood in an abusive household, and not only did the constant emotional, verbal and physical abuse take a toll on my day-to-day life as a growing child and young adult; it shaped my feelings and plans for the future. I never wanted to get married (still don't) and I never wanted to live close to home (still don't) and I never wanted to have children. That last one, obviously, changed. After meeting a wonderful man who altered my perception of committed, romantic relationships, I realized that not only could I be a great mother, I wanted to be a mother. Still, the lasting affects of so much childhood trauma was hard to shake, and the relentless fear that I would end up like my father returned with a vengeance (especially when I was pregnant and especially after my son was born). To this day, I am vigilant and fearful that I will do something that makes my son feel about me the way I feel about my father.
So, I look for the signs that I am doing right by my son (and my parenting partner) and I take solace in the fact that my vigilance almost guarantees that I won't be a toxic parent. So, with that in mind, here are just a few signs that you're not following in your toxic parent's footsteps. Contrary to popular belief, you are not your parents. Your future is not decided for you. You can, and will, break the cycle.
Your Kid Runs To You When They're Hurt...
Growing up with a toxic parent in an abusive household, I never felt like I could go to my partner when I was hurt or in pain or scared or just in general need. I knew that, if I did, I would be ridiculed or told to "suck it up" or even given "something to actually be upset about." So, I quickly learned that I couldn't view my parent as a source of comfort.
If your kid does view you as such, however, it's probably a good indication that you're not turning into the toxic parent you grew up with. Whenever my son is hurt or sick or scared or upset or just in need, I am the first person he runs to. In fact, I'm usually the only person he wants to be around (to the dismay of my parenting partner).
...And Feels Comfortable Talking To You About Anything And Everything
Right now my son is just two-years-old, so what he wants to talk to me about is limited to characters from the latest Ninja Turtles movie, his favorite toy on Toy Story 3 and how big and loud all the cars and trucks are when we're walking around the city. Hey, I'm all about it.
However, I have started telling him (even at his very young age) that he can always talk to me whenever he wants to, and about anything. As he grows up, I want him to view me as a sounding board; someone he can openly talk with and think out loud with; someone who won't judge him or ever ridicule him for how he feels or thinks. I was never able to do that with my toxic parent, and am so very much looking forward to finally having that kind of relationship.
Your Kid Isn't Afraid To Mess Up Around You
Whenever I was around my toxic parent, I was terrified of making a mistake. Big or small, I knew I would be "punished" for it, and I didn't want to experience any physical pain or verbal abuse because I was simply being a human being and making very normal human mistakes.
Again, my son is young. However, even now, I don't yell or get mad at him when he simply does what toddlers do: make messes and mess up and throw tantrums. When my son spills water (even all over my computer, twice) I don't scream at him or get angry with him or lash out at him. He's a child and he will spill water and whatever is around him, computer included, is going to get messed up. I don't want him to think he has to act a certain, "perfect" way around me in order to gain my love and affection. My love is unconditional, and my son will always know that.
You Apologize To Your Kid When You Make A Mistake...
I can't remember a single time I ever heard a sincere apology from my toxic parent. We were on the receiving end of a few "fake apologies," sure; usually after a violent outburst and usually involving something materialistic and expensive. However, a sincere, honest apology? I didn't know what it was like to hear one of those.
My son has already heard me apologize countless times, and he's a toddler. I am not above admitting that I don't know everything and I will make mistakes and, sadly, some of those mistakes will end up negatively affecting my son. I want to make sure that I own up to my faults and shortcomings, so that my son sees that not only is it normal to have imperfections, but the only way you get better is if you acknowledge and work on them.
...And Admit When You're Wrong
My toxic parent never admitted he was wrong. Ever. Even when he apologized, it was one of those, "I'm sorry you feel the way you feel because of something I did," instead of an actual apology, atoning for his own actions.
I don't want to be right all the time, because my son isn't going to be right all the time. I don't want every mistakes he makes or every instance when he's wrong, to be some make-or-break, mentally destructive experience. He's human. I'm human. Humans aren't always right, and it's OK. It took me a very, very long time to learn that. My son, at just two-years-old, already knows.
You Treat Your Kid Like An Actual Human Being
A child is still a human, which means a child deserves body autonomy (when it's safe to do so) and respect and space and all the things that adults deserve and are entitled to. My toxic parent, however, didn't think that was the case. Instead, he used his position of power and authority to belittle and degrade me (and my brother) because we were "just kids." In a way, we didn't feel like actual human beings, but lesser versions that didn't deserve the respect that every other human being deserves.
My son is a human. My position as his parent doesn't give me the right to belittle him or treat him less than. Do I have the responsibility to make certain decisions for him? Absolutely, but that is a responsibility and one that should be viewed as a privilege.
You Don't Abuse Your Position Of Authority
When you're a parent of another human being, you have a certain amount of "power" over that person until they gain more abilities, more independence and more faculties over their person. That's not something to take lightly, and not something that should be abused. Most toxic parents, however, see that as a "right" to treat children as lesser human beings. Not OK.
If you're treating your kid with respect instead of abusing your power because you're "simply the parent," you're not following in your toxic parent's footsteps. Instead, you're showing your child that respect is not earned, but something every person should be given because that's what people deserve. You're showing them that just because you're their parent doesn't mean you two aren't also in a relationship, and every relationship should be built on trust, support, understanding, and reverence.
You're Healthy And Happy (Both Mentally And Physically)...
I'm not one to make excuses for my toxic parent in any way, shape or form. However, I do think so much of his toxicity came from his own unhappiness. He wasn't mentally, physically or emotionally happy, and the only way that he felt he could express his unhappiness was by making other people unhappy, miserable and in pain, too.
So, if you're happy and healthy and taking care of yourself (mentally and physically) you're already doing what I would assume your toxic parent couldn't do. Being a parent doesn't mean that you no longer matter. In fact, I think becoming a parent means you now matter more, because someone else is looking up to you and learning from you and relying on you.
...And So Is Your Kid
I wasn't healthy (physically or mentally) when I lived with my abusive parent. I was depressed and I was anxious and I was already suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I had the beginnings of what would be an eating disorder and I was engaging in unhealthy relationships with young men who were nothing if not toxic (just like my toxic parent). In other words, living in an abusive environment with a toxic parent was taking its toll.
So, to see my son happy and safe and thriving, is a constant reminder that I am not my toxic father. My son doesn't fear me coming home; my son doesn't act out violently; my son doesn't have a problem expressing himself. I know that my son's happiness is a direct reflection (sometimes) of how I am as a parent and, well, I'm doing a pretty damn good job.
You're Actually Worried, And Think About, Being A Toxic Parent
If you're spending your time worried about being toxic, acting toxic or eventually evolving into the toxic parent you grew up with; you're going to be just fine. It's the parents who don't worry about it — or don't look out for any signs or think that they're above being hurtful or "wrong" or toxic — that end up being detrimental to their children.
So, if you're taking the time to step back and evaluate yourself and your parenting, you're about as far from toxic as you can be.