This is something I wager we just don’t talk about enough because it’s frequently considered “in poor taste” to speak badly of one’s own parents. In some ways, parents are revered to the point where we flippantly make blanket statements like “all parents want the best for their children” or “they did the best they could.
Sometimes, it’s true that the parents in question really did try their best or want the best for their kids. That’s not enough, however, to protect their children or give them the mental and emotional care they need. And sadly, lots of parents can fall into toxic habits with their kids without ever realizing there’s a problem.
As with any other list of toxic traits, this one is not all-inclusive. And few people will exhibit all of these characteristics. It’s still worth talking about these traits because the stakes are so damn high. The children of toxic parents suffer — often even as adults. They might grow up to select toxic partners or become a toxic partner (or parent) themselves. They may struggle with their sense of self-worth and mental health for as long as they live. Others may find themselves unable to feel fully alive.
And while a person might be able to get away from a toxic friend, partner, or boss — often with some degree of difficulty — it’s harder to escape the clutches of a toxic parent or guardian.
1. They expect their kids to agree with them about (practically) everything.
Some children grow up with parents who will not allow them to express different thoughts or opinions. If you disagree with such a parent, they might accuse you of being headstrong, rebellious, stupid, or worse.
It seems especially common in matters of faith. A parent might insist that a child who doesn’t believe exactly as they do will wind up facing serious punishment, like hell or physical retribution. Parents like these will typically not tolerate any questions from their children, because even asking a simple question would suggest the kid doesn’t believe whatever the parent thinks they “should.”
Religious toxic parents might call their kids “possessed.” Other unhealthy parents might stick with just-as-damaging labels like “crazy.”
Ultimately, this is toxic parenting because the child is not permitted to think for themselves. Such kids are typically expected to accept their parent’s words as fact and behave more like a soldier or a robot than a human being.
2. They don’t see their children as autonomous individuals.
For too many toxic parents, their child is merely an extension of themselves, and little more than that. They might even fear the day their kid attempts to be more autonomous and spend years trying to prevent them from fully expressing their thoughts and feelings as a solo person.
Parents like this often fall into the “children should be seen and not heard” camp. Age-appropriate behavior like temper tantrums, bad moods, whining, and crying aren’t properly addressed with love and understanding because these parents don’t care why their kid is acting out. All they care about is that the unwanted behavior stops.
The irony of such parents is that they frequently succumb to their own intense emotions. If they feel angry or upset, they rarely think twice about throwing a fit or letting someone else really have it. These types of parents are often caught up in the idea that successful parenting creates obedient children who never “mess up” or embarrass them.
3. They don’t believe in a child’s privacy.
Especially as a kid grows older, some parents really struggle to give them space. They might read through their kids’ diaries or rummage through their backpacks to look through their notes.
Children who wish to lock their doors or work on a project alone might be regarded with suspicion. Such parents will often justify dismissing their kid’s requests for privacy by insisting it’s their house, their rules. Kids don’t need privacy, they reason, unless they are up to no good.
Parents like these often have a hard time seeing their child’s emotional needs. They’re also often prone to expecting the worst.
4. They discipline out of anger or fear.
Any time a parent disciplines their child, the expectation is that they’re doing it out of love. The whole purpose of discipline in parenting is to teach your child how to better navigate the world in a responsible way.
But lots of toxic parents lose sight of the whole point. Instead, they end up disciplining their kids as a knee-jerk reaction to their own emotions. The toxic parent might feel angry, annoyed, disappointed, embarrassed, or even scared when their child behaves a certain way. They feel compelled to “nip things in the bud” instead of understanding the big picture and what’s actually going on with their kids…