This is a guest post by Kevin Geary from Change Your Tree. Kevin is also the author of The Good Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children How to Retire Young and Wealthy.
When most kids make it to the big leagues (adulthood), they look back and say, “I wish I knew that a long time ago.” They do it with sports, hobbies, school, friends, dating, and life in general.
Unfortunately, some things are found out too late. When dealing with parenting, the damage has already been done.
Disclaimer: It is not my intention to say that all parents have some or all of these issues. If you came from a healthy family, that’s awesome; you don’t have to write me an email telling me I’m wrong and way off base (keep in mind that many of these things may still apply to you). I can’t write articles that fit everyone perfectly. If you don’t realize you came from an unhealthy home, these types of articles are mostly for you–to help you realize and also to help you avoid doing the same things to your own children.
With that said, here are ten things I wish children knew right now about their parents and home life:
1. Their parenting skills most likely came from their own parents and experiences as a child.
It may come as a shock, but most of today’s parents aren’t pioneers of their parenting style.
Almost all parenting techniques are adopted from our own parents and if we don’t make a conscious decision to change, cut, or improve those techniques we will perpetuate the cycle.
If children could understand this, they could better relate with their parents, and as they grow older, better understand what their parents probably dealt with. It would also help them understand that unhealthy parenting is less the fault of their own parents and more the fault of a parenting cycle that moves from generation to generation. This allows us all to identify the real enemy–the cycle–and in turn would motivate kids to make changes in order to protect their future children.
2. They aren’t perfect.
We look up to our parents like they’re direct descendents of Superman and Superwoman. They’re everything to us because they’re all we know. Many parents also try to come across as perfect parents (or if you identify that they’re not perfect they shame you by playing the victim and saying they did the best they could). But parents aren’t perfect and it would serve children well to know this. Not everything they do should be cherished, accepted, and then copied. While most parents mean the best, meaning the best doesn’t equal being the best. All of us, except for children, understand this. And any good parent would admit to that.
3. Abuse isn’t normal or healthy.
Children who grow up in an abusive family start to accept abuse as “normal” parenting. This is the tipping point of the child’s psyche, where the child’s relational thermostat becomes completely busted.
It could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. It could be minor abuse or aggressive, over the top abuse. It doesn’t matter.
Kids are yelled at, shamed, spanked (beyond acceptable levels), controlled, and neglected so much that they begin to think that everyone’s family is similar. And in some cases, their friends experience the same thing, further validating their initial speculation. This, of course, is completely unhealthy. I wish children could understand that abuse is not normal or healthy. This would at least help them refrain from perpetuating the same cycle on their own children.
4. They may be abusing you under the radar.
Outright physical and sexual abuse is easy to identify. Everyone, including the victim, knows what’s happening.
But emotional abuse and other forms of physical abuse are harder to identify, especially if it’s non-aggressive.
Not validating a child’s feelings, over control, feeding to obesity, shaming, smoking around children, forcing children to parent, setting poor examples, etc. are all forms of non-aggressive physical and emotional abuse.
Of course, the list goes on and on and is too comprehensive to identify in entirety here, but the importance should not be underestimated. It would change a child’s life to understand that what their parents are doing in these instances is wrong and unhealthy.
5. Their “normal” parenting may be negatively impacting your future and your future children.
Because most parents learned how to parent from their experiences as a child, many unhealthy parenting techniques have been labeled as “normal.” Of course, the term normal isn’t based on healthiness, it’s based on frequency. This is unfortunate. Not too long ago I wrote an article called “The 50 Worst Things Parents Say To Their Children.” Many of the phrases on that list were “normal” phrases uttered by many parents. Of course, a lot of people got offended by the list (because it hits home with them).
“Normal” becomes “accepted” after a certain amount of time. Unfortunately, neither of those terms has anything to do with right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy. Many “normal” and “accepted” parenting techniques actually qualify as abuse in the eyes of professionals. It’s important for kids to know that their parents may be using unhealthy parenting techniques, currently labeled as normal and accepted, that may be negatively affecting their future and your future children.
6. You aren’t responsible for them.
You are responsible for you. You are not responsible for anyone else, including your parents.
Most families try to indoctrinate their children into believing that you do anything for family. Family helps raise and support you so you are responsible for supporting the family. This belief is very unhealthy. Can you choose to support the family? Of course you can. Are you responsible for the family? No. Parents will use their unhealthy belief to control you. They’ll ask things of you as if it’s expected and they’ll shame you if you don’t do it. I can’t tell you how boundariless and relationally unhealthy this is. Remember, you are responsible for you are they are responsible for themselves.
7. You are responsible to them.
People with healthy boundaries understand that they aren’t responsible for others. On the flip side, they also understand that they need to be responsible to others. Notice the use of “to” and “for”; there is a big difference between the two. Being responsible to someone is based on the value of respect. I am responsible to you in the fact that I respect your boundaries, I respect your choices, I respect your beliefs, I respect your feelings, etc.
If you are boundariless toward someone–you step on their toes, give unsolicited advice, express yourself in an unbridled manner, disrespect them, hurt them, etc.–you are not being responsible to that person. As healthy people, we should be responsible to everyone, especially our parents.
8. They should be responsible to you.
As you should be responsible to your parents, they should be responsible to you. Remember, being responsible to you is based on respect; respecting your beliefs, your feelings, your sexuality, your boundaries, etc. They should not give you unsolicited advice, subject you to unbridled self-expression, disrespect you, abuse you (physically, sexually, or emotionally), or disregard your privacy. Many children feel they are helpless at the hands of their parents. This is such a sad reality. Of course, it’s hard to break the chains our parents put around us. If children could only learn how to protect themselves from those closest to them, their lives would be completely different.
9. They don’t determine your worth or success.
What your parents did or didn’t accomplish has nothing to do with what you are or aren’t going to accomplish and your parent’s lifestyle does not have to become your lifestyle. I will often here people make excuses for their societal status such as, “I grew up poor”, or, “My parents couldn’t afford to get me a quality education.”
So you have an excuse, now what? Other children allow parents to determine their worth through words and feelings. A parent may shoot down a child’s dreams, may cause the child to develop other-esteem rather than self-esteem, or may directly tell the child they are worthless. If you allow your parents to determine your worth or success, you’re giving them a huge amount of control over you they don’t deserve to have. It’s not healthy, it’s lazy, and it’s a waste of your life.
10. You don’t have to be them when you grow up.
Children learn what they live and live-out what they learned. If their parents are boundariless, expect the child to be boundariless. If the parents are controlling, expect the child to be controlling. If one parent is passive aggressive and the other parent is abusive, expect the child to be either one of them. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. Children can change the cycle–I call it changing your family tree–through therapy, personal development, and by learning healthy relationship skills. The problem is that most people don’t see the issues their parents have or the way it has affected them, and they certainly don’t know they have any control over it. If children were taught that they don’t have to grow up to be spitting images of their parents, I think it could completely revamp their life.
Looking back, how do you feel about this list in regards to your parents and your childhood? And as a parent, which of these do you identify with?