Occasionally lose your temper with your kids for all the wrong reasons? It doesn’t make you bad parents.
Nor does occasionally wondering why you ever thought having kids was a good idea.
But bad parenting does happen, and it’s a serious issue that affects a child’s future health and ability to cope.
What are ‘bad parents’?
It can help to think of your relationship with your child like any other relationship, instead of thinking it is different because you are ‘the adult’.
A good relationship is not the result of good intentions. So just ‘wanting the best’ for your child does not make you a good parent. Like any relationship, we instead need clear boundaries, realistic expectations, and respect for the other person and their wellbeing.
Bad parents consistently put their child’s wellbeing at risk. This doesn’t have to be the child’s physical wellbeing, it can be their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Then what is a ‘good parent’?
Attachment theory is a good guide here. It is a long established school of psychological thought that has shown for a child to grow up into a healthy, functioning adult? They don’t need just food, clothes, and shelter.
A child’s mental and emotional needs must be met, and for this they must have at least one caregiver who they can trust implicitly to consistently love, accept, and protect them no matter what.
It doesn’t mean that you cannot disagree with or discipline your child, or make parenting mistakes. It means that his or her behaviour, moods, words, and achievements never affect the fact that you are a safe space for him or her.
This explains why a child who grows up in utter poverty but with a parent who loves and accepts them unconditionally grows up into a higher functioning adult than that ‘poor little rich kid’ who had everything on the surface, but parents who manipulated him to be a ‘good’ boy, and rejected him if he annoyed them.
There are very obvious forms of bad parenting we all know. Physical abuse or physical intimidation, sexual abuse, neglect, or allowing others to hurt your child are unacceptable forms of parenting. If this is you, seek support immediately.
But what about the less obvious forms of bad parenting?
When we are using behaviours that make a child feel unsafe, unaccepted, and unloved? We have fallen into bad parenting.
Good parenting begins with good self-care. It’s hard to be a good parent if we are always exhausted and miserable and neglecting our own needs.
If you are always in martyr mode, then you give your children the message that they are the source of your unhappiness, or that you’d be better off without them.
Constantly saying things like “I give you everything and still you aren’t happy”, or, “You have no idea how much I gave up for you”? It’s actually psychological manipulation.
This sort of manipulation can come from expecting your children to be the source of your happiness and your identity. This is codependentparenting and stems from low self-esteem. It is not a child’s job to make you feel good about yourself.
I try, but I can’t stop being a bad parent
Bad parenting can actually be addictive. It comes with a rush of power. If we ourselves grew up always feeling powerless, this can fill a long hidden need, albeit it in a very negative way.
Nobody is born a bad parent. We become one because we weren’t parented well ourselves, or experienced traumas we haven’t actively healed. Our own mental and emotional issues haven’t been dealt with, and our children trigger them.
We end up in a vicious cycle of using our children to work out our issues instead of being a proper parent.
How do I stop bad parenting?
Admitting there is a problem is the first big step.
From there, education is key.Approach parenting like a degree you want to qualify for. Read books, join forums, watch programs about parenting. Learn what is and is not acceptable in parenting, and what your child needs from you.
Bad parenting often requires serious support to see real change. It comes from long unresolved issues that need committed deep-diving to repair — but that absolutely can be fixed.
A parenting coach can be a good start to help you take immediate action to have a more structured and consistent household and start to recognise your bad habits.
Can’t stop being emotionally and mentally triggered by your children? It’s time to seek proper support in the form of counselling and psychotherapy. Find a counsellor or psychotherapist you feel you can grow to trust. He or she will not judge you, but will create a safe space for you to get to the roots of your parenting struggles.
Ready to step up and face your parenting issues for once and for all? Harley Therapy connects you with top London psychotherapists and couples counsellors. Not in London? Use our booking site to find a UK-wide registered therapistor try online therapy from anywhere in the world.
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