When your child has a toxic parent

It’s hard enough going through your divorce with your high conflict spouse, but now you’ve entered the frustrating and emotional phase of trying to co-parent with them and lessen those effects on your children. As an adult, we have a better chance to get away from a toxic friend, partner, or boss often with some degree of difficulty, than to escape the clutches of a toxic parent.

I’m sure you have a sense of the traits that make up a toxic parent, however, it’s still worth talking about this because the stakes are so high. I’m going to cut through the chase: children of toxic parents suffer!  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 the rest of their lives. 

How to spot a toxic parenting relationship?

  • Physical and verbal abuse. Abuse may not always be hitting, yelling, threats, or something totally obvious either. You may encounter more subtle abuse like name-calling, shifting of blame, silent treatment, or gaslighting. Toxic parents are very good at concealing their behavior.  
  • Manipulative behaviors. The parent may try to control the child by using guilt or shame to play with your emotions. Toxic parents may even hold time, money, or other items as pawns in their manipulation game.
  • They discipline out of anger or fear. Toxic parents will discipline 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 going on with their kids resulting in children resenting them, feeling worthless and fearful.
  • They’re uncomfortable when their kid is happy. Some toxic parents aren’t happy when their kids are happy — they may be jealous or resentful of their children. Some might wish they never had kids and they simply aren’t able to get past their feelings to give their offspring what they need. Sadly, parents like this often sabotage their kids. They might be quite cruel to their face or make off-hand remarks meant to chip away at a child’s sense of self-worth. This type of toxic parent can’t just be proud of their kid. They feel they must find a way to tear them down.
  • They withhold love and affection as a form of punishment. A toxic parent often has no impulse to soothe their “misbehaving” child. Instead, they frequently resort to withholding their love as a means of “discipline.” Parents who withhold love or punish their children by offering them dirty looks, refusing to hug or hold them, and telling their kids that they don’t like or love them are toxic.
  • Everything is about them and their feelings. This is one trait that most toxic parents share. Toxic parents struggle to separate themselves and their feelings from parenting. They can’t grasp that the role of a parent is one of service and dedication; your job is to give your kid(s) the best possible chance to grow and develop into a well-rounded and healthy human being.Often, they are the toxic type of parent who doesn’t recognize that parenting takes work, and that little kids aren’t “trying to be jerks.”
  • They expect their kids to agree with them about almost 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. 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.”

Toxic parents are described as people who behave in ways that cause fear, guilt, and obligation in their children. This parent is concerned with only their needs and not whether their behavior is negatively impacting the children by causing emotional damage and severely impacting how the child sees himself or herself. This tends to cause depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, and lack of trust.

Children won’t always be comfortable speaking up especially if it means speaking about their parents. They are already stressed from the divorce and probably don’t want to be the cause of more fighting between you and your ex-spouse. Pay close attention to their behavior and look for changes such as:

  • They have a lack of energy
  • They seem withdrawn and isolated
  • They cry more easily and often
  • They are anxious about leaving you; increasingly clingy
  • Behave aggressively, especially with their siblings
  • Lack of interest in the things they previously enjoyed
  • They appear worried

Unfortunately, most toxic parents don’t change, this will most likely be their pattern throughout your child’s life. However, if you sense something is changing within your child, trust your gut to know something isn’t right, with that said, it may be best to act with the courts to put an end to this behavior and be your child’s voice.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach For Men