If it's true that we learn by example when it comes to the important things in life, then it can be equally assumed that we learn what not to do when it comes to parenting. That is, if you were raised by a toxic parent, it stands to reason that you might learn to replicate those same unhealthy behaviors — but you might also learn just as clearly how to avoid them. Regardless, having a toxic parent changes how you raise your own kids and how you live your life as an adult in general — it forces you to do everything in almost the exact opposite way you saw your toxic parent do it. It shows you everything that you shouldn't do as a parent and all of the no-no's when it comes to raising your own kids.
But when it comes to toxic parents, things aren't always black and white. In fact, sometimes it's something that you don't even realize until much later in life: Was your mom or dad so wrapped up in their own goings on that your problems or achievements took a much farther backseat? Or were they more like your BFF, which, by all accounts, seem pretty fun, but in the long run, is not what any kid needs?
Growing up like I did, with one toxic parent and another who tried harder but maybe not quite enough, I think about their parenting styles daily as I raise my own child, and it makes me appreciate the smaller moments and the important things that come with parenting kids. It also makes me totally terrified that I'm going to do something wrong and screw up my kid, even if I mean well. Because — surprise — if we didn't already constantly second-guess ourselves as parents, growing up with a toxic parent makes you that much more insecure in your own parenting abilities. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing; probably a mix of both. It turns us into super parents, or maybe just super worried parents. But I do know that having a toxic parent changes how you raise your own kids in more ways than just forcing you to worry more.
1. You're More Sensitive To Your Own Kid's Feelings
Sometimes having a toxic parent means having a parent who is so intent on being absorbed in their own feelings and problems that yours aren't even on their radar. Having gone through that myself, it makes me that much more aware of my own kid's feelings and needs, and it enables me to be more attentive to that instead of brushing it off or putting it off until some other time down the line. I can't help but think about any long-term repercussions of not putting my kid's problems before my own, as I am constantly aware of the possibilities.
2. You Want To Appear Invincible
Admittedly, this isn't the healthiest thing. But sometimes I think of the alternative: my kid seeing me as someone who needs his help, or who can't be there for him, and it scares me. I am all too familiar with the feelings of taking care of a parent and the feelings of not being well taken care of myself. Now as a parent to my own kid, I can't help but be intent on being, for him, the exact opposite of what I grew up with.
3. You Want To Allow Your Kid To Exert Their Independence
Sometimes having a toxic parent means having too much attention, or being coddled into feeling like a baby all of the time, for as long as possible (and then some). As a parent yourself, you want to do away with the whole "you'll always be my baby" thing and let your kid start to have some independence as early as you can. Instead of hovering over them (in a pretty literal sense), you're more inclined to actually let them run a little wild and free as they play, because you know that co-dependence is the worst thing that can exist in a parent-child relationship.
4. You Want To Be Firm But Fair
Part of being a parent is playing a careful game of balancing on the edge of being the "cool" mom or dad and being able to discipline with real authority. And this whole balancing act is no joke. When you have a toxic parent, you tend to have either one or the other: A parent who loves to exert their power and dominance over you, or a parent who thrives on being more of your friend, afraid to give out any sort of discipline at all. As a parent yourself now, all you really want is to find that perfect medium between the two. I don't know if it really exists, but parents like us are that much more likely to try a little harder to find that middle ground.
5. You're Afraid To Say "No."
Because you might screw things up, right? Thanks to being raised by a toxic parent, we think that everything we do will screw them up in some way. As a result, we don't want to do anything that will make our toddlers cry, pout, or throw tantrums. Of course, it's totally normal to witness these outbursts when telling a little kid that, no, they can't not hold your hand in the busy parking lot, but that doesn't make it any easier. As parents who were raised by toxic ones, all we want to do is make our own kids happy and refrain from bringing any unpleasantness their way. For every tantrum, we can't help but worry if we're that much closer to somehow damaging them.
6. You Second (And Third, And Fourth) Guess Yourself
Basically, having a toxic parent makes you crazy insecure about your own capabilities You don't want to accidentally follow in your parent's footsteps so vehemently that you find yourself almost afraid to take steps in any direction. You're constantly worrying about whether or not your actions with your kid are helping or hindering them. And you're convinced, on the worst days, that ultimately your child-rearing choices will end up somehow negatively affecting them, regardless of what you do. It's like having a toxic parent leaves you with this impression that you, via being raised by them, are unavoidably toxic yourself, no set of carefully calculated choices will cleanse you of that, or pardon your child from its effects.
As parents in general, we're always second guessing our decisions. Which is totally natural because, yeah, being responsible for an entire human being is no joke. But as parents who were raised by a toxic parent or two, we're going to be worrying a bit more. Which can be a good thing; it can make for super attentive parenting. But it can also make for more mistakes from an indecisive parent. As we can be the first to attest to, how you're raised absolutely affects how you raise kids yourself. How's that for pressure? But if there's one thing we learn, above all of the things we learn from being raised by toxic parents, it's the selfless intentions and a lot of love go a very long way. So even on the worst days, we lean back on that, and trust that our best will be good enough.
Images: WB; Giphy(6)