Sometimes, Just Being a Kid is Hard Work
Being a kid is hard work, despite the myths established by Beaver Cleaver, his loving family, and the entire milieu of the Walton’s and their cozy farm. Being a kid is an extremely vulnerable position to be in if the family unit is not working as it “should.” Even in this modern, plugged-in era of life, a kid often has no voice, rights, or basic protection from harmful forces in her life. And, tragically, often, those invisible forces are her own family of origin.
Society has no real mechanism to deal with families in crisis.
The only things it has instead are from its cold and impersonal legal system, where often, good works and intentions are obliterated by a focus on economics and profit. A kid of a “toxic” family–one which does not react as the majority of healthy families– has no real outlet for relief other than caring school personnel, the church, and kind neighbors who have little say and no authority to step in and take action.
The actions of the family often dictate the child’s fate in life and how that child responds to her environment and her opportunities
The way a child is conditioned to respond is determined by how successful the family functions. If the child is required to tip-toe around a volatile parent, a parent who drinks, or a mentally ill parent, that child is robbed of her childhood and does not learn how to deal with normal life. If the child is always in fear of setting off a parent, that child does not learn “normal” responses to everyday stimuli. The child becomes acquainted with the guilt felt by someone responsible for making something happen inadvertently; the guilt associated with coping with and responding to an inappropriate parent on a rage. That guilt covers the child’s social interactions with everyone she meets and can cause her to act out to earn the guilt she has been taught to believe she deserves,
Being a Parent Can Be Even Harder
Being a parent can be even harder, for the sanest of parents with relatively no dysfunction. The changing expectations of family, society, church, educators, and kids are enough to overwhelm and paralyze the strongest of parents on a daily basis. When that parent’s situation, or addiction, or partner/spouse, or economic situation, all work together to submerge that individual’s life into chaos, unfortunate and even “toxic” behavior patterns can emerge which can disrupt a meal, a family, a child’s life, and more. The result of this tragedy can mean that the unlucky child must learn to parent himself, to help raise siblings, to parent the de-facto parents, and to contribute economically and experientially to the family unit, regardless of the age of the child.
The Interaction between Some Parents and Their Kids Can Be Unhealthy
The resulting interaction between parents and kids can in fact become unhealthy and often, downright dangerous. Often, the dysfunctional parent begins to see the child as a confidante for all manner of age-and-role inappropriate information and activities, often considering the youngster to be a quasi drinking buddy and repository of relationship discontent.
Inappropriate Interaction Can Lead to a Startling Variety of Problems for Kids
The exposure of inappropriate information and access to adult beverages and locations can be the introduction of premature habits such as alcohol or drugs, and to sexually explicit information or even sexual behavior. With no one on board to refute the influence of a toxic parent, the child knows no better, and being punished for something that is perfectly acceptable at home can be astonishing and even embarrassing.
It Could Be True That Not All Adults Are Good Parents
Becoming a parent has no entry requirements other than the obvious biological ones which usually come free at birth. There is also no helpful user’s manual provided with the birth of a child. Because humans do not have a voluntary way of conducting social controls over individuals who may in fact be sub-par parents, or no real way of validly making that designation, human families are left to themselves to self-regulate.
It could be equally true that not all kids are exemplary kids.
Some kids seem to bring out the least attractive traits in their care givers, whether those care givers are parents or other authority figures. That is no excuse for improper or “toxic” behavior from parental figures at any time.
Kids who have to endure the after-effects of toxic parents in their lives.
Parents whose behavior escalates to the designation are likely to have kids who are riddled with guilt from not measuring up to some arbitrarily-imposed standard of perfection. The kids in turn suffer from a low self-esteem problem which prevents them from excelling to their true capabilities. Rather than pushing for success, children of toxic parents seem almost pre-programmed to fail rather than to excel.
Ways to Cope on the Parents’ Side
Parents who discern the behavior which would make them act as toxic parents and who wish to change can take steps to modify their behavior and cultivate behavior that is more in line with the parent they want to be. This is easier said than done and will likely require professional assistance to change the behavior effectively for the long term.
Toxic parents must recognize something in their behavior that they wish to change to cease their toxic behavior.
The parents who wish to change must choose behavior that they wish to adopt rather than pursuing their old attitudes and patterns. They must work with the kids they wish to parent more effectively and almost receive permission to begin the parental relationship and role again from the children. This becomes truer, the older the children become.
Children must buy into the new parental roles for them to be lasting or effective.
A child acquiescing to a different parental role midway through maturation must truly be convinced of the permanency of the change and its positive effect on the family unit. Again, professional facilitation may be needed to ease the strain that may result from new parent-and-child roles. The ability to forgive and look forward rather than backward is an additional plus to successful families.
One of the hardest parts of dealing with a toxic parent situation is releasing the belief that there may be a magical permanent fix just around the next corner or after the next holiday or following the next big holiday present—in other words, that an event or new person or new dress or new jewel or bike just might turn the tide for the family and make everything O.K. again. That sort of magical thinking only leads to heartache and sadness. The best way that kids can cope is to refrain from any magical thinking or deceptive dreaming. Kids need to remain grounded in reality, no matter how difficult that may be.
There is no easy answer to toxic parents or the difficult lives of their children.
The victims of toxic parenting, regardless of how well-intentioned or misdirected it is, are the children of the families burdened with this sort of inappropriate behavior and parenting. Most toxic parents, regardless of the source of their poor parenting skills, intend to be good parents and would be horrified if they could see themselves in action on some other kids. This fact makes the problem that much harder to detect from the outside, from spouse to spouse, and even from within until it gets out of hand.
Toxic parents and toxic families need help, not vilification.
Individuals from outside the family, whether they are from the extended family or are simply close family friends, can take steps to reinforce the self esteem of the kids and to promote the minor successes of the lives of the children. This requires not a financial investment, but rather a personal one. Positive reinforcement in the face of negativity will go a long way to bolster a youngster who is cowed and dispirited by a dysfunctional family. If it is possible to make school officials aware that something is not quite right within a particular family, that step can be taken as well. Keeping an open and nurturing environment where the child feels safe and appreciated is also appropriate when possible. While there are no easy answers to be had in the event of dysfunctional families and toxic parents, small positive steps can improve the lives of kids affected by parental toxicity.