I have been debating what my next blog post for awhile now. I have decided to write on something that has been on my mind, and be a bit transparent. As my oldest child is about to embark on his journey into adulthood as he graduates high school in less than two months and starts his college career, I am starkly reminded of the terrible experience with my mother at that same tender time in my own life. It lead me to the topic of my toxic mother.
You see, I was a smart kid, but I HATED high school. I didn’t really fit in. I wanted out, and an opportunity to graduate a year early was presented to me. I was excited! I couldn’t wait to be done, and all I needed to do to graduate a year early was to take a class through another high school via independent study. After a summer school class the summer in between junior and senior year, I was done! I was also super excited to go to Judson Christian college (about an hour drive from home, if that). This was a great start to my college experience, step one to my goal of becoming a lawyer.
I visited the college campus numerous times, was in contact with the admissions office, and had my test scores sent over; I even stayed over in a girls dorm with a few students.
I was ready to go, ready to start my adventure, when I got the news from my mother at the last minute. She wasn’t going to let me go. That’s right, LET me go. Why? Because no 17 year old daughter of hers was going to go live on a college campus. Those were her exact words. Since I had graduated early and all, I was still 17 during what would be my freshman year of college. Instead, she told me, I would be going to our local junior college. But SURPRISE, there was more! I had to pay for it myself because she wasn’t going to, which is fine if I could get a grant or a loan. No grants she says, she and Dad make too much. How about a loan? No loans, after all, I was ONLY 17, and not able to legally get one in my name, and she was not going to sign one.
I was to work to pay for college myself. No loans, no grants, all out of pocket. At 17. Problem is, she had controlled me for so long, she took all my money I made from working for “car insurance” and “gas” for her car that I was allowed to use, mostly to run errands for her (I did all the grocery shopping and child care errands for my three younger siblings). So, get a second job I did, to try and help save for tuition, books, and supplies.
Oh, I almost forgot the cherry on top! I happened to learn sign language throughout my childhood. Just on my own, since I once upon a time wanted to be a lawyer who helped the hearing impaired. One weekend the hospital my mother worked at needed an interpreter for a blind, deaf, mute patient. I was called to come in and help for a few hours while they worked on getting someone there. Well, they couldn’t find someone on short notice and I was offered $25 an hour to stay and miss work for the weekend to interpret. A $725.00 check was sent to me. That check, at that time, would have covered a full semester of classes. She took it all. Every last dollar.
And so, I ended up working two jobs, trying to go to school full time, and trying to balance any kind of social life I was allowed to have. I ended up dropping out of college the semester I turned 18. I decided to work and save up and re-enroll in the fall, which she ended up kicking me out of the house during the middle of. The end of my college career right after high school.
That is but one story of how my childhood was. It took me some time to realize I had a toxic parent, but it took no time at all to decide that I would NEVER be a toxic parent to my children. Having that type of childhood has shaped my parenting, and even though I suffered and struggled, I am so grateful I know how NOT to raise my kids. Here’s a few things I have learned about what a toxic parent is and how to be a loving parent:
A toxic parent will never let you feel secure.
Tough love is important sometimes. There are times where I have been really hard on my kids because they needed it at that moment. And I hope that one day they will see why I did it and why it was necessary. In fact, my oldest has already thanked me for being hard on him about school. However, when your child does not feel like they can come to you and talk, when they feel like there is no soft love, no compassion, they are left feeling like they are not worthy of that kind of love. My mother never hugged me. She hugged my younger brother, and really no one else. It is very easy for a child to ask herself why mommy never hugs her. What’s wrong with her?
I vowed to never let my children feel unloved, because I felt unloved. They all get hugs; they all get told I love you; they all get support. I try to make them all feel secure, home is their safe place. But, they also all get the tough love that they need when they need it because it can work, in moderation.
A toxic parent is overly critical.
It is one thing to criticize a child over lessons they need to learn (such as a poor job on a chore or laundry), but to criticize everything the child does, or how they look is too much. For me, I can’t remember so much the criticizing of what I did around the house, as we were taught to do things correctly within an inch of our lives, but the criticisms of what I looked like or my personality stand out. I remember one elementary school homework assignment where our parents were supposed to take our names and write a word for every letter. Every word she put down was negative. It was so embarrassing to turn in, and I remember how I felt when my teacher looked at the paper and looked back at me. I can not imagine making my children feel that way. There was also the constant criticism of how my hair looked or how big my hips looked.
Instead, I give my kids compliments. I actually did the same thing in my kids’ scrapbooks on a page with their names that my mother did in that assignment. I wrote their names out vertically and wrote out words like “joyful” and “silly” and other cute little kid words for each letter. Not negative words. This is not to say I do not tell my children when they are being ugly (in their actions, NOT in their looks), because I do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent. I try to be very aware of not just WHAT but HOW I say things that could effect them the way I was effected as a child. Of course, sometimes I fail at saying things in a nice way, but when I cross that line I do something my mother would never do…I (GASP) APOLOGIZE!
A toxic parent is controlling.
In my reading of what a toxic parent is, I came across that toxic parents try to control you with guilt or money. I have to say I disagree it needs to be that specific. In my case, it was just control in general. Here’s a little example: when I was in my first college semester at the junior college (remember I was 17 at the time), my college friends wanted me to meet them out for pizza the night before Thanksgiving. I asked my mom if I could go, and was asked “what are you going to do for me?” I was told I could not go unless I cleaned her master bathroom. That’s right, a bathroom inside a bedroom I was not allowed to enter. A bathroom I never used. And that’s how it was for me. Another example, a friend of mine was over and wanted me to go over to her house for a sleepover. I had to paint the fence…I’ll say that again…PAINT THE FREAKING GIANT ASS FENCE before I could go. No, I’m not joking.
Now I won’t say I haven’t exercised my right to control my kids when needed, or that when they were younger that they were able to do everything they wanted to do. Why? Because that is not life! But as my kids get older, even though I DO expect my kids to ask permission before making plans or tell me where they are going if they would like to leave the house, I usually say yes if there is no family plans or groundings in place.
A toxic parent does not allow you to express negative feelings.
I can’t say much about this as far as my childhood goes. I know that I spent many hours in my room avoiding people because I was not allowed to show my emotions. I spent so much time away from the people in my house I was grounded FROM my bedroom as punishment.
I CAN tell you I have been a huge supporter of my children and their negative feelings. I tell them all the time they are allowed to have bad days, and be in a bad mood. It is human. It is allowed. They are reminded it is not allowed to treat people like crap even if they are in a bad mood. My hope is to show them it is okay to have negative emotions, and to spend time away from us only when they feel they need the space and not all the time like I wanted to do.
A toxic parent will always put himself/herself first
This statement right here just about sums up my childhood. I have always described my mother as selfish. She always put herself first. When my older sister was set to graduate high school. my mother decided she was going to go away to college with her. Not like “live on campus” kind of college, but stay in a hotel 4 nights a week and not be there for her other children kind of college. While she was gone doing what was “best for her,” I was stuck doing all of her motherly duties (running the other kids around, grocery shopping, cooking, bill paying, household errands), and my younger siblings…well they dropped out of school. Oh, she will tell you my youngest brother was “homeschooled” (that’s a joke, but also a completely different topic), and my other brother did get a degree through a BD school. Eventually my younger sister got a GED when she was in her 20’s. But this is the time frame of her life that she put herself first more than anyone. What kind of mother puts her own education above that of her children at the very pivotal time of junior high and high school?
This point has especially hit home with me lately. What I went through in that time of my life has shaped so much of my parenting style, especially with my kids’ education. As my oldest is about to graduate in less than two months. I have spent hours and hours trying to get everything ready for him to have a successful transition into his college career, as I will do for all of my children. I have extremely high expectations for ALL my children when it comes to education. Had my mother done the same, perhaps all of our lives would have turned out differently.
A toxic parent will co-opt your goals
Well, this didn’t happen to me, but it DID happen to my sister. When my sister decided on her college, my mother decided she would go there as well. Like I stated earlier, my mother stayed in a hotel near a college that was around a 45 to 50 minute drive one way. She thought that would be better than driving to and from, so she pretty much was gone all week. My sister stayed at the hotel with her instead of staying on campus. I would be lying if I said I was not bitter about this situation. It was essentially what stole my teen years away as I played her role at home so she could go and live her strange college years with my sister.
My whole life could have turned out differently had my mother been there to mother me when I needed her to. Clearly, I am aware of this type of situation, so I try to allow my kids much autonomy, especially in their goals. My oldest will be going to a major Chicago University and is going to travel a completely different road than I did, and I hope each of my other children get to have that opportunity for themselves. I will do everything I can to help them reach THEIR goals, not hijack them as my own.
A toxic parent will use the silent treatment
If this doesn’t describe how my mother reacts to ANYTHING! The silent treatment, my mother’s quintessential way to deal with ANY situation she did not like or agree with. And that was to anyone: her children, her parents, her brothers, her cousins, my dad’s entire family. It’s ridiculous and childish really.
Listen, I understand that we all have people in our lives that we can do without (as in people who we would be better off without them in our lives). There are people that I have stopped talking to because we needed to part ways, but I don’t use the silent treatment. As far as my parenting style, I could NEVER treat my kids like that. If I have an issue with them, I will talk to them directly. I could not imagine ever making my children feel like they weren’t worth talking to or worth the time to fix issues, which I was made to feel for as long as I can remember.
A toxic parent refuses to let you grow up
Lord knows this was the exact situation at the start of this post. “No 17 year old daughter is going to go live on a college campus.” I often wonder if it was more about my not being able to experience things she hadn’t experienced than anything. A parent is supposed to want more for their kids, for them to be better or do better. My mom didn’t see it that way. She thought about her goals first, and we weren’t ever supposed to grow up or reach our goals.
It just doesn’t make sense to me, as I could never hold my kids down like that. Don’t get me wrong, I am terrified about them growing up and not having my little babies any more, but I could never purposely hold them back from their goals like that! Kids will grow up, and it is our job as parents to set them up on roads for success. Once on those roads, it’s up to them to travel it, but I can lead them there. Me? I was not lead to a road of success. And because of how I was parented, I decided how to NOT parent.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you got something out of my story. I hope you can see that you can break the cycle, and give your children a better future if you did not have the best childhood. No matter what your past was, it is your job as a parent to give your kids the brightest future that you can.
For more reading on toxic parents, you can visit these sites: