Trigger warning: Discussion of abuse. No details, no photos.
Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward has been patiently sitting on my shelf waiting for me to pick it up and write about it here. Day after day, month after month, year after… well… one year. I did NOT want to write about it.
But today? I feel led. You tell me if it was for YOU, okay?
So… why didn’t I want to write about it? Welp, get ready for me to jump up on my soapbox!
In my sixty years on this planet, I have come to a conclusion. Ahem. Get ready. You may disagree. You may want to thump me on the head.
Unless your parents were awesomely excellent (and believe me when I say that you – the child – may remember them this way but if we were to ask them, they’d disagree!) they were *very possibly* toxic.
I know this won’t make me popular. My Dr./Therapist mother might (probably will) disagree. But please allow me to make my case!
Yes, of course, there are absolutely TERRIBLE parents that use drugs, drink to excess, are sexually deviant and/or have a severe mental illness that affects their children. Yes, there are cruel parents, abusive narcissists, gas-lighters and those who abandon their children. Yes, there are people who should never, ever have children. Yes!
There are also parents who are doing the best they can…
… under circumstances nobody knows …
… are stressed to the max …
… don’t know where their next meal will come from, let alone how to keep a roof over their heads …
… have nobody to turn to in times of need …
… are working 2 and 3 jobs …
… are single moms or dads …
… or grandparents raising children their own children could not care for …
… are foster parents …
… adoptive parents …
… are doing the VERY VERY BEST THEY CAN …
And this is the thing… They *still* may cause significant, lasting harm to the children. Sometimes severe.
Yes, some of this is subjective: One child’s abandonment is another’s “See you next Spring”. Some children believe their parents *needed* to get divorced and are relieved when it happens. Some children have emotional and/or mental illnesses themselves and see things in a skewed way.
Listen, I got this book thirty years ago and devoured it. Every parent you can imagine is listed in it:
- Godlike parents
- Inadequate parents
- Controlling parents
- Alcoholic parents
- Verbally abusive parents
- Physically abusive parents
- Sexually abusive parents
Of course, there is no question about the harm abusive parents (especially 4-5-6-7 from the list above) bring to children.
But what of inadequate parents? (Unable to deal with a situation or with life? Does that about sum it up? Pretty harsh, wouldn’t you say? What then of a child in this dynamic?)
Controlling parents? (Psst: Maybe they’ve seen enough to know that they need a tight rein (or reign) on their child.)
No matter which category your childhood falls under… it will manifest itself in adulthood. Therefore, damage begats damage begats damage. Even if it was unintentional.
And so, we have reached the crux of MY BELIEF that most parents are toxic – often through no fault of their own.
Yeah, I’m a rebel. Yeah, I like a good debate. So, if you want to talk about this… please comment.
Now, to go on…
This book is very good. Make no mistake about that!
Certainly, if you had truly TOXIC parents, it’s a resource that cannot be valued enough!
And Forward and I definitely agree about this:
“As you gain more control over your past and present relationship with your parents, you will discover that your other relationships, especially your relationship with yourself, will improve dramatically. You will have the freedom, perhaps for the first time, to enjoy your own life.” –
But let’s get back to my hypothesis and how it fits into this book:
I don’t know of ONE parent who thinks they did an outstanding job of raising their children. Most did not knowingly abuse – and see, this is one of those gray areas.
- Did you help your child pack when they threatened to run away? What message did you hope to send and what message did they receive?
- Did you leave your child screaming in their room when they had a tantrum?
- Did you let them ride on the back of your motorcycle without a helmet?
- Let them walk to the park, downtown or school alone?
- Smack their hand when they reached for a pot on the stove?
All these things may be seen as abusive by one parent or child and no biggie to another.
And don’t even get me started on what goes on behind closed doors — which is where the TRULY toxic parents THRIVE. It’s all about secrets, baby.
This is a HUGE HUGE HUGE subject and one that I feel strongly about. This is why talking about this book is difficult for me.
When I read it thirty years ago, I saw my mother, my grandmother and myself among the pages… and our lives as children and parent.
Obviously, I also saw my own children and wondered how they’d fare once they became parents (they were all under ten at the time).
The sub-title of this book is “Overcoming their hurtful legacy and reclaiming your life” and this book will certainly help you do that.
If you read it…
… and this is from ME …
I believe we all fit somewhere in this spectrum of toxins (okay, yeah, I just made that up) and most of us had a dysfunctional past.
From me to you…
Remember — you are not alone!
Be gentle with yourself. And your parents. It most cases, they did the best they could.