Nurturing healing and growth in parent-child relationships

Nurturing healing and growth in parent-child relationships

Trigger warning: Has mention of different types of abuse perpetrated by parents and explores the severe consequences it can have on the child. Please read with caution.

Anandmai Kumar

Unveiling the Hidden Damage

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation that I overheard between a parent of a teenager (P1) and his middle-aged colleague (P2). 

P1: I’m sorry but I can’t make it to the party. Last time also, I couldn’t be there for his sports event, so he got angry and refused to speak to me. This time I can’t let him down!  

P2: No offense, but you really have pampered your child a lot. I mean, I’ve seen him. He is rude, answers back and doesn’t even bother answering if there’s a guest. What’s with this behaviour? 

P1: No! My son is not rude. I was raised in a similar setting where I had to deal with relatives who would just make fun of my shortcomings while my parents just sat and laughed with them. I grew up thinking less of myself and it took me some years to understand that I’d grown up in a toxic environment, with a toxic parent.  

P2: There you go! The favourite word these days – toxic! The moment you raise your voice or hit your child, even playfully, they will throw a tantrum or call you toxic! Meaning, you just let the child grow, undisciplined!  

P1: See, that’s the problem! We refuse to see other perspectives! When I say a parent is toxic, I’m not saying that you cannot discipline your child, all I’m saying is that there’s always a kinder, gentler way of dealing with children. They are innocent after all and what we say as parents to them stays with them forever!  

P2: Forget it! I don’t see the problem. We were raised like that, and we turned out to be just fine. In our times, we couldn’t even raise our eyes, forget raising our voice. All this is a western concept.  

This is the common notion that we have about parenting. As children, we were all taught that our parents are flawless, that they mean nothing but the best for us and that we should always trust them. But we forget that today’s parents were once children too. They might have unresolved trauma accumulated through the years. And since nobody told them that what they went through was wrong, they believe it to be the only way, thus continuing the cycle.  

Toxic parent refers to that parent who has unhealed trauma, which is projected on the child. This trauma could be emotional, physical or mental. Toxic parents are the parents who: 

  • place the needs of their children before their own 
  • consider their child’s problems and issues as irrelevant and trivialise them  
  • think hitting, insulting or threatening as normal parenting practices 
  • use guilt, fault finding, constantly criticising or having unrealistic expectations from the child 

Bringing the child into the world is the choice of the parents. So, they must make sure that they provide children with a healthy environment.  

Children growing up with toxic parents end up with unhealed trauma, anxiety and low self-esteem. This ultimately affects their self-worth. Not to forget, these are the same children who grow up to be parents, thus continuing the pattern.  

If this rings a bell or it makes you think about your own childhood, it is a sign that you might have faced toxicity. But remember, change begins from us!  

Identifying Different Types

Narcissistic parents 

Traits: These parents are characterised by behaviour, which is controlling. They are full of themselves and cannot see their child succeed or take their own decisions. 

Effect on the child: Children of these parents often suffer from low self-esteem because they are always rebuked for making choices for themselves. They may also experience feelings of guilt and shame if they do take a decision for themselves.  

Example: Yashwardhan Raichand (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham)  

Dismissive parents 

Traits: These parents ‘dismiss’ their child’s feelings and needs. They disregard it and are emotionally unavailable. They may even be hostile and not show love and affection to have control over the child.  

Effect on the child: These children grow up with a yearning for their parents’ approval. They might keep doing their best and yet, would never be good enough for the parents.  

Example: Nandkishore Awasthi (Taare Zameen Par)

Explosive parents 

Traits: These parents experience emotional outbursts. They tend to lose their cool quickly. They are also very sensitive so they cannot take things light-heartedly. 

Effect on the child: These children always live in fear as they might be afraid of upsetting the parents. Due to this, they grow up under-confident and demotivated to try new things in life. They might even have a paranoid approach towards things and life, in general.  

Example: Farookh (Secret Superstar) 

Perfectionist parents 

Traits: These are the parents who seek perfection in their children because they might think themselves to be perfect. They make the child believe that if they don’t achieve a rank or don’t end up doing their best, they are a failure. 

Effect on the child: Children of these parents may end up taking extreme steps to achieve their perfection. They might even end up having eating disorders, anxiety or sometimes, even suicidal thoughts.  

Example: Viru Sahastrabuddhe (3 Idiots) 

Helicopter parents 

Traits: Like a helicopter, these parents hover over their child’s life, being very involved and in every step. They go to any extent to protect their child from any pain that the child may have to go through. 

Effect on the child: Children of these parents grow up in a protected environment, without leaving the necessary survival skills of life. That is why coping with sudden life changes may become difficult for them. They may even feel suffocated without any sense of personal space. Due to this, they themselves grow up without any sense of boundaries as they have grown up without them. 

Example: Ashok Nanda (Student of the Year) 

Let’s not forget that parents and children have a close relationship which has a deep effect on each other. The scars that the children might endure due to toxic parents will end up becoming the reason why they grow up to be toxic in the future.  

Hence, it is necessary to identify the signs and their damage so that we can save the damage that might have already been done to the child.  

Exploring the consequences of abuse

Verbal abuse 

Includes: Extremes in tone (yelling), intimidating words (swearing, threatening) and personal attack (criticising, mocking) 

Effect on the child: We all know that words hurt more than anything else. Children facing verbal abuse might develop eating disorders. They may grow up thinking that others are better than them and may never take the risk of trying new things. 

Physical abuse 

Includes: Restraint (confining in a room or tying up); aggression (hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping) 

Effect on the child: Children who have faced physical abuse while growing up might suffer from bruises, or broken bones. Apart from that, they may also suffer from being in a constant state of fear. If left unchecked, it might escalate to bigger issues like anxiety.  

Emotional abuse 

Includes: Embarrassment, extreme guilt  

Effect on the child: Children who face emotional abuse end up bottling up their emotions as a reaction to the embarrassment they might have faced. This leads them to have problems in their future relationships. They may also have anger issues or lack of confidence. 

Mental abuse 

Includes: Gaslighting (lying to make the other person question their actions and thoughts), playing the victim card 

Effect on the child: If a child has suffered mental abuse, it might lead to extreme behaviour to prove themselves. Since they are made to feel guilty about their actions, they might develop Imposter Syndrome. They may also feel stressed because of the constant extreme emotions they are exposed to. 

Any type of abuse, in any form, can have drastic and long-lasting effects on the children. The least that we can do, as parents and caregivers, is to not continue with any abuse or toxic behaviour. This chain has to stop somewhere and may it begin with us! 

Healing and Thriving

Acceptance 

The first step of healing is acceptance. Accepting that you might have toxic traits shows that you are ready to move on and heal from it. 

Recognise your patterns 

From everything written above, you will now be able to recognise the traits of different types of toxic parents and how they affect the child. If you notice any of this in you or in someone else, it is time to make the necessary changes to create a better environment for your children. At the same time, you should also be able to identify your triggers and what can be done to heal from it.  

Open communication 

Healing requires that you should be open to suggestions from anyone who means good for us. These suggestions could be from your partner, your peers or even your children. Listening and implementing them in your daily life will lead towards a healthier lifestyle.

When we become parents, we are not just responsible for ourselves but also our children. Ensuring that they don’t get the same trauma as ours is our responsibility.