It’s all well and good to tell overworked and overwhelmed parents to eschew perfectionism in favor of “good enough” parenting. But what, exactly, does that mean? We suggest using the process of elimination: “Good enough” is what’s left after ruling out anything that has been well-documented to cause kids significant harm. Our approach leaves things like screen-time rules up to parents, and focuses instead on the line between authority and abuse.
Psychological abuse is a dark topic that most of us would rather avoid. But shining a mental light on it will help you parent effectively, regardless of whether you’ve crossed a line with your kids in the past or are likely to do so in the future.
So what do you picture? Spittle flying and a child shrinking in upon themselves? The truth is that emotional abuse can be more subtle, with much of it occurring outside the frame of that mental image. With the help of two experts, we isolated 13 modes of verbal abuse that fall under three general umbrellas: focusing on character rather than behavior, prioritizing intimidation and control over connection, and choosing punishment rather than discipline.
“I don’t think somebody plops down and goes, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to call my kids stupid and lazy,'” said psychologist Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D., who has treated thousands of children and families as the founder and managing director of The Child & Family Therapy Center at Lowry in Denver. It’s usually automatic, unthinking. Maybe you talk to your kids the way you were spoken to as a child, or maybe your filter has disintegrated in the flames of overwhelm. In most circumstances, Ziegler said, “Parents are not doing this to be abusive.” And it’s important to keep in mind that good parents have bad moments.
At the same time, too many bad moments leave kids more predisposed to behavior problems, mental health issues (including obsessive-compulsive disorder, dissociation, PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation), and — as adults — chronic illness, heart issues, and even difficulty connecting with their own children. That’s true not just when a child is the target of verbal abuse, but also when they witness a sibling’s mistreatment. Attempts to repair after losing it with your kids are absolutely the right thing to do, but, Dr. Martin Teicher, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said, research indicates that “you cannot make up for verbally aggressive parenting by being verbally affectionate.” Few realize that verbal abuse is “one of the very most potent forms of maltreatment,” Teicher said. Its effects can be on par with those of extra-familiar sexual abuse in terms of depression and anxiety, and there’s some indication in his research and that of others that emotional maltreatment may be even more closely associated with psychological distress than physical abuse.
The good news? Though maltreatment impacts kids differently at different ages, researchers have identified a “dose-response relationship” between exposure and harm. Translation: Stopping these 13 behaviors now will help.
When doctors and researchers try to suss out childhood maltreatment, they often start by asking about insults, particularly statements that make one feel incapable or worthless. Think, “You’re stupid,” Teicher said. When therapists talk to adult clients and conduct surveys, they find that kids hold onto “things like that, that cut to the quick,” ruminating over them well into their adolescent and adult years.
Calling your kid a brat or a screw-up may not seem like a big deal, but these labels, Teicher said, “wind up as voices inside your head or the monkey on your back saying, ‘You can’t do this. You’re stupid. You’re always going to be a failure.'” Ziegler said this type of internalization can translate to surrender: “Like, ‘If I am that in your eyes, then I guess I have permission to act like that, to really go there.'” Parents who insult their kids also send a dangerous message: It’s unsafe to rely on them for caregiving. Children’s ability to depend on others and ask for help thus takes a hit right alongside their self-esteem.
So what’s the solution? The obvious answer is to just knock it off, but that advice works for pretty much no one. Sometimes name-calling happens when you project unconscious hostile feelings onto your kid. In other words, you think internal distress is coming from the outside, and you lash out at what feels like the source. Sometimes paranoia is to blame. Vulnerable narcissism is another common culprit. Only therapy has been shown to work for helping parents sort out where tendencies like these come from and how to overcome them. That said, some tips can help those who only occasionally name-call. In calm moments, try asking yourself, “What is the voice I want in my child’s head?” And then, Ziegler said, when you’re fired up, instead of saying, “You are lazy,” say, “I’m concerned that you haven’t done your chores today.” The goal is to get rid of labels and instead describe concerns. Then you’re talking about actions, not character. What I did, not who I am. “It’s processed very, very differently,” she said.
2. Using “you always” and “you never”
Even when a parent starts off on the right track with “it’s frustrating for me that you didn’t take the garbage out,” sometimes, Ziegler said, “the very next thing they say is, ‘See? You always forget. I always have to remind you.’ And then they start rolling.”
“You always” and “you never” can have the same psychological effect on motivation, self-esteem, and well-being as name-calling. If I always suck and I never do things right, why bother trying? Kids wind up with a “fixed mindset,” something that’s been tied to everything from unhappiness to lower academic performance. Instead, Ziegler explained, “You want to inspire your child that they can grow, that they can change.” If you notice an undesirable pattern in your kid’s behavior, lead with curiosity. She recommended the following phrasing: “I’m wondering if you’ve noticed ….”
But here, too, it’s hard for a parent’s behavior to change without introspection. Ask, “Why do I see things in black and white? During stressful moments, why do I assume the worst in people?”
Deflecting (a.k.a. diversion) is basically bringing up unrelated issues or past offenses during an argument. Let’s say your child comes to you and says, “Mom, it hurt my feelings when you called me a sloth because I never help out.” A parent’s first instinct might be to say, “Well, you also borrowed my shirt without asking last week. You have no respect for anyone or anything.” Ziegler explained what’s going on with that parent’s subconscious: “I’m just going to bring something up—that I’m going to say is somewhat related, but really is offtrack—so we can stop focusing on the fact that I said this terrible thing to you this morning.”
When you load a conversation with historical transgressions, a couple things happen. First, you’re fanning the flames of your own anger, causing it to swell. Deflecting also backfires by not only preventing your kid from having the clean slate necessary for a growth mindset, but also alienating them. Who wants to spend time with a person who constantly reminds them of the worst things they’ve ever done?
4. Other negative character generalizations
Other negative generalizations about your child’s character or worth include counterfactuals and comparisons. Teicher said some of the most abusive statements are “telling them you wish they were never born or that [your] life would have been so much better if they were never born. Or saying, ‘You’re never going to be as good as your brother or your cousin.'” Or, “you’ll turn out just like your deadbeat dad.”
During intense moments, parents who generalize about character tend to see their children as all good or all bad. That’s another thing therapy can address. In the meantime, try to muddy those waters by focusing on your child’s strengths. Strength-based parenting is a whole thing, but the gist is that every strength (e.g., persistence) has a flip-side (e.g., pestering) and most things that look like fatal flaws (e.g., vanity) can be reconceptualized and tapped as a strength (e.g., appreciation of beauty). “Being a strength-based parent is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people, but it works wonders,” Ziegler said.
Though the term “gaslighting” has been around for the better part of a century, its use has skyrocketed in recent years. Still, not everyone is familiar with it. Ziegler explained, “Gaslighting is a type of mental manipulation, where a person makes someone else question their sanity, their decisions, their recollection of an event, even their own reality.” If a parent is gaslighting their child, she said, “That’s a pretty huge red flag.”
Common examples include “I didn’t say that” and “I didn’t shove you; I just moved you out of the way.” Like deflection, gaslighting can be a way to dodge a mea culpa. Let’s say I called my kid “a disrespectful ingrate.” They said it hurt their feelings. If I reply, “You’re just always so sensitive,” Ziegler said, “that would be an example of gaslighting.” She thinks it often comes from a parent fearing a loss of authority. But validating your child’s feelings and apologizing can actually increase your pull with them.
You can also ask why you feel the need to demonstrate that you hold all the power and your actions aren’t to be questioned. Where is that coming from? Could you be projecting your shame onto those around you, giving others a sense of worthlessness and powerlessness in order to have company feeling that way?
6. Condescension and belittling
In this same vein, being condescending, “really is a hallmark of needing to be in control and to actually exert your power in the form of shaming your child,” Ziegler said. Your subconscious goal “essentially is to make … yourself look quicker, brighter, and smarter.” It hurts them and undermines the parent-child relationship. “If you are sarcastic, if you are condescending, if you trivialize their experiences, kids are not going to talk to you about hard things … because there’s not safety in a relationship that’s like that.”
7. Blaming and shaming
When Teicher and his colleagues assess people for childhood maltreatment, they also ask how often their parent blamed them for things, scolded them, ridiculed or humiliated them in front of others, criticized them, and made them “feel as though you were incapable or worthless.”
“Discipline in and of itself is a good thing,” Ziegler said, “Your challenge is to be able to do that in a way … that doesn’t make them feel bad about themselves.” Constant reprimands and accusations pile up, diminishing a child’s self-construct and, often, their potential to live a fulfilling life.
She said, “When you engage in any one of these gaslighting kinds of styles of parenting for long enough — not once in a blue moon, but consistently — what’s going to happen is, when you are told it enough, you believe it.”
8. Frequent yelling
Also on Teicher’s list are “raise her/his voice with you,” “scream at you for no apparent reason,” and “yell at you.” We’re not talking about kind or neutral words in a booming baritone, and we’re not talking about a one-off explosion.
Ziegler said, “Every family I work with at some point says, ‘Yeah, I really lost it, and I yelled. It wasn’t my finest moment.” That’s not abuse. But berating is. Creating a threatening environment is. Frequency is. And not just for the obvious reasons. In “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent,” Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., wrote, “The more you lose it with your kids, the stronger and more connected your ‘lose it’ neuronal pathways will become, allowing your brain to freak out more quickly and easily in the future.”
That’s a problem because, as Ziegler put it, “All the research shows that yelling doesn’t work as an ongoing parenting strategy…. Yelling equals fear, and fear is the opposite of love.”
She urges parents to get heard in other ways. “Learn to change your tone, learn how to even change your face and your body language — not to be intimidating, to be serious.”
Parents who yell often have trouble regulating their own emotions; building “distress tolerance” resources can change that. The underlying problem can really just be a lack of tools: the ability to understand their own triggers, the ability to take space when they need it, and more. Naumburg’s easy-to-digest book contains several additional strategies for remedying that situation.
9. Intimidation and invasion of personal space
When Ziegler first said infrequent yelling isn’t abusive, she checked herself: “I mean, I guess if you did it one time but you’re in their face, and you’re trying to intimidate them, that’s different.” She said parents tend to forget how big they seem and how vulnerable kids feel. “Think about your height, think about your weight, think about the depth of your voice.” Even if you’re now the same physical size as your teen, your past (and current) parental power makes you loom large in their estimation. If you use your proximity to get what you want, by hovering over them or backing them up against a wall, “that’s bullying type behavior,” Ziegler said.
Find another way. As Naumburg put it, when you’re triggered, “You have two choices: You can either lose it or do Literally Anything Else.”
Another common strategy to control and intimidate is getting your target alone. That looks like waiting for an older sibling to get out of the car before ripping into your youngest or insisting on getting someone on the phone, off speaker, to berate them one-on-one. “If you find that you behave in a different way whether there is another adult around or not,” Ziegler said, “then it might be a sign that you shouldn’t be doing it.”
11. Withholding affection
An academic paper offered a summary of what it means to live in a controlling environment: “[T]he person is pressured to think, act, or feel a certain way.” We’ve already covered “[d]ismissing, minimizing, and invalidating another person’s feelings and ideas, criticising and inducing guilt.” But there’s another piece to it: “creating an environment in which acceptance and love are contingent on the other person’s behavior.”
The other term for emotional withholding is “avoidant abuse,” and it basically looks like running hot and cold — warm so long as your kid does what they’re asked or expresses concordant opinions but icy (think the cold shoulder and the silent treatment) when discrepancies arise. Children end up destabilized, believing their parent’s regard — and their own worth — is conditional.
12. Swearing at
Swearing around your kids is very different than swearing at your kids. Kids know that cursing is often associated with anger, frustration and disapproval. Ask them, and they’ll say, “It’s bad.” Swearing at them takes all those negative associations and dumps them on the kid. To them it can feel like another way to say, “You’re bad.” That’s likely why it’s on Teicher’s list.
Most of us understand that threatening to harm your kid physically is wrong, but not all parents know that threatening non-physical harm is also abusive. If you find yourself promising — if they won’t do things your way — to call the cops on your kid, stop paying their school tuition, put their father in jail, or move them away from their friends, stop. Just stop. For alternatives, Google the phrases “warnings not threats parenting” and “parenting logical and natural consequences.”
Ziegler sees commonalities in these 13 behaviors. “One of them is being pain-triggered, being triggered to be angry, and not slowing down enough to think about what you’re trying to say.”
But it’s important to keep in mind that although this list is long, it’s not comprehensive, and other forms of psychological abuse aren’t as in-the-heat-of-the-moment. For example, another total mind-f**k is laying traps or creating scenarios designed to test how much your kid loves you. While you’re at it, watch out for “non-verbal emotional abuse,” which is characterized by, among other things, a parent being very difficult to please or causing a minor to prematurely shoulder adult responsibilities (a.k.a., “parentification“).
If you realize you do any of these things, Ziegler said you can share your personal or cultural history with your child: “Gosh, I realized what I’ve been saying and doing to you for years, and I think I was also raised that way, and I thought that was acceptable, and I now realize it’s not.” Try to connect in unrelated ways, too (“Just ask them: ‘What would you like to do?'”), because a strong bond is better than control for your kid and for your bottom line. The more connected your child feels, the better alternative discipline strategies, like a tone shift, will work, and the less you’ll feel you need intimidation and punishment to create the home life you want.
She mentioned one last overarching principle: consistency. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, gosh, I read this article … I’m going to stop doing this one thing, but I’m still going to do nine other things.” Your commitment has to be full-throated.
And it has to hold up over time. “Abusive relationships feel like, when somebody who is the abuser says, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, and I really realize how wrong it is,’ and the other person is on edge. They are waiting for you — they are expecting you — to do that thing that you just said you’re not going to do. And when you do it just once after a proclamation that you are not, you are just starting all over again with the trust. It gets harder and harder to believe somebody like that.”
Subjecting kids to that cycle just isn’t good enough parenting. Still, engaging in these 13 behaviors doesn’t mean you’re not a good enough parent. As with our kids, it’s about actions, not character, and a growth mindset wins the day. “The sooner they stop,” Teicher said, “the better it’s going to be on how much you can reverse it.”
Gail Cornwall works as a mother and writer in San Francisco. Connect with Gail on Twitter, or read more at gailcornwall.com.
Grace loves to write commentaries on psycho-cultural and sociocultural dynamics in their myriad forms.
Why Sheltering Children Prevents Them From Coping in the Real World
More and more studies have confirmed that children of overprotective parents are risk-averse, have difficulty making decisions, and lack the wherewithal to become successful in life.
Furthermore, children of overprotective (OP) parents cannot deal adequately with hardships and other frustrations of life. In other words, they have a very low tolerance for frustration and crumble at the first sign of it.
What Is Overprotective Parenting?
Constant Supervision and Micromanagement
Prevention of Taking Responsibility
Excessive Catering and Over-Consoling
Controlling of the Social Sphere
Protecting Versus Overprotecting Your Child
I remember when I was in eighth grade, there was a boy whose mother took him to school everyday. There was nothing wrong with the boy and he was an honor student. The other pupils in the class found it totally absurd and ludicrous that a mother would take her 13-year-old child to school.
He was constantly derided by the other children, and called a mama’s boy or worse. If his mother did not take him to school, his father did! Even the teachers disrespected him, calling him an infant. When the weather was bad, he stayed home from school.
This boy never participated in school events as many of them were unsupervised. His parents insisted upon being present at his every move. Of course, he never had any friends while in the eighth grade. The other children thought that he was too peculiar and babyish. Some of the other boys consistently bullied him to no end. Everywhere he went was with his parents. This is clearly abnormal for an early adolescent who should be forming some type of friendship and independence.
What Does Helicopter Parenting Mean?
Helicopter parents, cosseting parents, cosseters, bulldozer parents, or lawnmower parents are terms used to describe intrusive parents who are overly involved in their child’s progress in life, especially in education. According to expert Alicia Bradley, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and adjunct professor:
“This term is used a lot with adolescents or even adult children [and refers to] trying to always be involved in every aspect of that child’s life, not just in a supportive way, but in a controlling way. Many times this can be difficult for the child and end up causing stress or tension in the relationship.”
If helicopter parenting is detrimental to children, when and why did it evolve? Former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, details the events spanning from the 1980s which contributed to the evolution and coining of the term “helicopter parents.” This decade was characterized by an increase in child abductions throughout the U.S. and included the abduction of Adam Walsh which gained national attention and pushed Congress to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 1984 later saw an increase in the popularity of the “playdate,” during which kids were no longer left unsupervised by parents. By 1990, child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay formerly coined the term “helicopter parent.”
Actions, Intentions, and Traits of Overprotective Parents
Oftentimes, overprotective parents believe that they are doing the best thing for their children. Parents often shelter their kids from the “harsher,” “more difficult,” and “less desirable” aspects of childhood. According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in which 190 children were examined for anxiety and co-concurring child behavior symptoms, “Maternal overprotective parenting was significantly higher in the group of children with behavior disorders . . . .” The study suggests that OP parenting styles negatively impact behavior in the long-run, despite the parents’ intention for their children to have the best life that can be offered.
Constant Supervision and Micromanagement
These children are often not free to indulge in unsupervised activities like other children. Their parents are of the school that the best activities are supervised ones. Parents who constantly micromanage deprive their children of free will and prevent them from becoming proactive adults.
Prevention of Taking Responsibility
OP children are not assigned household chores and other responsibilities because their parents contend that these are anathema to a carefree childhood. Children who are not given responsibilities, not asked to pitch in, and not self-reliant, fail to thrive in standards situations.
Excessive Catering and Over-Consoling
Children who are excessively catered to expect everything at the drop of a hat. Patience and resiliency is not something that is learned from over-indulgence. A study published by the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford Univerity found that coping with early life stress expanded regions of the brain that help control resiliency. For instance, a child who is consoled for receiving a bad mark on a paper does not benefit. Instead, the lesson should be character building and further prepare the child for the future. Rejection is a part of a life and offers a good opportunity to teach a child the power of bouncing back.
The Differences in Reported Stress Levels Across Generations
The American Psychological Association commissions an annual study termed Stress in America. 2015 data revealed that younger generations are experiencing more stress than older generations: “On average, Millennials and Gen Xers report higher levels of stress than Boomers and Matures . . . and have done so since 2012.”
Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., explains how secure and relaxed parenting styles help to keep cortisol levels low in children, reduce stress, and encourage the development of self-soothing techniques. Dr. Dewar adds that this style of sensitive, responsive parenting is thought to enhance problem-solving abilities, attention skills, and school readiness.
Controlling of Social Sphere
Parents who control their child’s social sphere hinder them from branching out on their own and developing essential social skills that will later serve them in the adult world. By worrying about the influences of other children, parenting styles, and lifestyles, sheltered children miss out on learning how to embrace and adapt to differences in opinions, preferences, and life choices. Underexposing a child makes them maladapted to the real world.
When a parent incessantly worries, tracks, or snoops on a child (via cellular devices, social media, or by reading private content such as written diaries), the child loses their sense of individuality and sense of self. The parent tries to pacify their fears by digging into their child’s private life rather than developing a healthy relationship founded on trust and open communication. Parents who worry about catastrophic events and bar their child from living life raise an adult who will be risk-averse later in life.
Overprotective parents are invasive in other ways. They solve problems for their children that the latter are often capable of solving themselves. They infantilize their children by making them feel incapable of charting their own course. In fact, these parents are making their children extremely dependent and infantilized past an appropriate age.
The overprotected child will likely not learn the skills needed to form their own identity and learn how to solve problems independently. They will not know how to use critical thinking skills to handle different life situations. Their frustration tolerance can be low and anxiety can be high.
— Alicia Bradley, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
How Overprotecting a Child Affects Them at School
Traits of an OP Child in School:
Dependent on Teachers
Labeled a Difficult Student
Lacking in Maturity
Sense of Entitlement
Easy Target for Bullies
Academically Ahead, Socially Behind
Lacking in Knowledge of Age-Appropriate Life Situations
Dependent on Teachers
Teachers are not especially pleased with OP children. Teachers often have to assume quasi-parental roles with these kids, doing things such as tying their shoes and performing other tasks that they should be performing themselves. Many teachers voice utter dismay at the backwardness of overprotected children. These are the children who have poor or nonexistent social, emotional, and survival skills.
Labeled a Difficult Student
Furthermore, such children are often the most difficult pupils around. These children often expect teachers to mollycoddle them as their parents have done. They get quite a surprise when teachers treat them like their other students. Oftentimes, these children cannot adjust well to the school environment where some sort of independence is required.
Lacking in Maturity
Children of overprotective parents are often years behind in maturity in comparison to their more free-range peers. Teachers further remark that these kids are highly dependent and insist on being assisted as much as possible. Teachers do not have the time to individually assist each child as there are often many kids in the classroom setting. In other words, overprotected kids are quite problematic for teachers.
Sense of Entitlement
Because of their upbringing, sheltered kids have a sense of entitlement and feel they should have their way. They were not told by their parents that they are not the center of the universe and they must learn to cooperate with others. Because they have a high sense of specialness, they often become quite unhinged when situations are not in their favor.
Easy Target for Bullies
Many such children are often prey for school bullies because they did not develop the social and street savvy needed to survive the school environment. Bullies usually target children who are quite defenseless and extremely vulnerable. In other words, bullies do not attack children who possess self-confidence, social and street savvy, because they know it would be a losing battle. In a study of 197 kindergarteners published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, researchers concluded that:
“Relations between shyness and certain indices of maladjustment were stronger among children with mothers characterized by higher neuroticism, BIS sensitivity, and an overprotective parenting style . . . . “
What Is BIS Sensitivity?
BIS sensitivity or behavioral inhibition sensitivity helps to regulate aversive motives, during which a subject moves away from an undesirable stimulus. OP children of BIS-sensitive parents find it difficult to try new and different situations and they are often risk-aversive themselves. They tend not to be adventurous and are quite timorous regarding life situations.
OP children are often not respected by their peers because of their infantile mannerisms. Their peers consider them utter misfits. Such children do not have the bounce and competitiveness that children from free-range environments often possess. They are often needy and dependent at an age when gradual independence should occur.
Academically Ahead, Socially Behind
Oftentimes, OP children are years behind in development in comparison to their peers. Of course, when parents excessively infantilize their children, it makes them socially, emotionally, and psychological retarded. Even though these children earn high grades, they lack common sense. Other children sense this and these children are often targeted not only by bullies, but other stronger children.
Lacking in Knowledge of Age-Appropriate Life Situations
These kids are sheltered and not aware of age-appropriate life situations. An overprotected 13-year-old often acts as if he or she is several years younger than their actual chronological age. They are also overly dependent upon their parents as they were seldom, if ever, allowed to independently explore their social environment as other children do.
The Consequences of Treating Teenagers Like Children
Overprotected teenagers are often lost in comparison to their more free-range peers and tend to be:
Outcasts and Pariahs
Dependent and Risk-Adverse
While their free-range peers are free to explore adolescence in all its intricacies, the overprotected teenager is either kept under a severely tight rein or overly scheduled in activities of their parents’ choosing. They are treated more like children than like the burgeoning independent adults they are becoming.
These teenagers often have quaintly inappropriate curfews for their ages while other peers have more relaxed curfews. Many overprotected teenagers become resigned to their parental influence, just accepting it as their lot in life. Oftentimes, overprotected teenagers accept their overprotective environment as normal. Some are so infantilized and passive that they believe that they can do nothing about it.
Outcasts and Pariahs
Overprotected teenagers are more at a loss in the high school environment than their counterparts in either elementary and junior high school. These teenagers often have nonexistent or extremely poor social skills. This makes them outcasts and pariahs among their peers. Teachers furthermore find such teenagers distressing and disturbing to say the least. These teenagers are emotionally underdeveloped in many ways.
Dependent and Risk-Averse
OP teenagers are the most dependent and risk-averse teens around. Because many of them had no freedom and time to indulge in unsupervised behavior, many of them become quite unhinged when presented with an opportunity to participate in independent behavior. Teenagers who are the wildest and the most rebellious at gatherings are usually the sheltered ones who were kept under a tight watch by their parents.
Overprotected Children Do Not Possess the Life Skills Needed for College
During the college years, many overprotected young adults find it extremely difficult and onerous to adjust to college or university life and are often:
Likely to Become Unhinged
Incapable of Living Independently
Unable to Make Decisions
Alicia Bradley, LCPC and adjunct psychology professor, explains:
“If [a young adult’s] sense of identity is not formed, they may not know how to make some important decisions when they are getting out on their own, such as what field they want to get into, how to manage having a job and being a high-functioning, independent adult.”
This applies especially if they elect to attend a school away from their parents’ domiciles.
Overprotected college students are often the bane of their more independent peers and roommates. The latter do not understand how the former is oftentimes quite immature and do not possess essential life/survival skills every adult should have.
Likely to Become Unhinged
Many overprotected teenagers are under such extreme restraints that at the first opportunity when they are away from their parents, they become totally unhinged and wild. Bradley adds:
“[OP children] may also hold some resentment towards the parent for not allowing them the ability to grow and develop like their peers. This can cause a strain in the relationship and that child may begin to push back and engage in some risky or undesirable behaviors.”
Incapable of Living Independently
These are the young adults who possess very little or no sort of life skills. They are often a horror to the more responsible roommate who was raised to be independent at an early age. Many OP children, once they reach college age, find it arduous to live on their own without their parents.
Unable to Make Decisions
These young adults are extremely dependent and are unaccustomed to independent behavior and decision making. According to an article on PsychologyToday.com titled, “The Effects of ‘Helicopter Parenting:'”
“College-aged students whose parents are overly involved in their academic lives, or whose parents created rigidly structured childhood environments, are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. They may also experience academic difficulties.”
Many of these students have parents who choose their school and their majors in the hopes that everything will be smooth for them. They also find it onerous to use independent judgment regarding their college courses and in everyday life, however, many of these overprotected students flunk out because they clearly do not possess the prerequisite independence to survive and thrive.
Traits of an Adult-Child
How Overprotected Children Are Hindered in the Workplace
In the work world, overprotected young adults fare even worse. The signs of an OP potential hire include:
Parents Who Attend the Job Interview
The Adult-Child Complex
Lack of Independent Thinking
Supervisors and superiors are neither going to tolerate nor placate this infantilized adult. Many employers express dismal horror at incoming prospective employees whose overprotective parents come with them during interviews.
Parents Who Attend the Job Interview
This was never done before. It used to be when a prospective employee goes for a job interview, he or she went alone. Nowadays, there is a “new” style of parenting which the parent is very involved in even though that “child” is considered an adult in societal eyes.
The Adult-Child Complex
The OP child’s parents appear at their child’s job interview, informing the interviewer of how special their child is and the skills that can be contributed to the company. Of course, many interviewers are quite nonplussed at this. They figure, and rightly so, that something is quite amiss here. This adult-child is quite immature and would be bad news for the company. The prospect of this adult-child getting a job is now dismal to none.
Lack of Independent Thinking
If an adult-child is hired, they are going to be an immense burden on a modern corporate team. These adult-children make poor employees. They possess no concept of initiative nor independent thinking. They constantly want to be told what to do as befitting their familial environment. These employees are clearly not promotable. On the contrary, these employees are more likely to be fired or serially fired. Overprotected adult-children are more likely to be unemployable than their peers who were raised in a more independent environment.
Overprotected Children Tend to Struggle in Relationships
OP adult-children tend to wind up in defunct relationships, during which the following happens:
(The OP Adult-Child) Is Extremely Passive
Regarding relationships, these adult-children are often extremely passive in any relationship they go into. Most of the relationships, whether it is platonic or romantic, do not last very long.
No person wants to compete with the omnipresence of a parent or parents regarding relationships. People often avoid relationships with such adult-children as the relationship can be called vampiric in more ways than one. These people are viewed as babies and no one wants to babysit an adult.
Many adult-children, because of their lack of savvy or social skills, enter into abusive relationships when their partner is the more dominant and/or parental partner. Even though this relationship is often abusive and unequal, these adult-children reluctantly remain in such relationships because they do not possess the means to dissolve it.
The Consequences of Overprotecting Children
Why OP Children Fail in School
In conclusion, overprotected children are slated for failure in school and in life. These children are so infantilized by their parents that they cannot survive the school environment. Teachers view the child as emotionally, socially, and psychologically backwards even though they can be academically prodigious.
Other children avoid OP children because of their needy and dependent nature. They are often a target for bullies because of their lack of social skills and street smarts.
Why OP Children Struggle With Socializing
Overprotected teenagers do not possess the skills that other teenagers possess. They are often not capable of indulging in independent social activities which is necessary in their development. Many overprotected teenagers are given harsher and stricter curfews than their peers.
Oftentimes, the only non-school activities that OP teenagers indulge in are those mandated by their parents or supervised by adults. Many parents believe that the teenage years are highly vulnerable and it is best that their teenagers be supervised as much as possible in order “to stay out of trouble.”
Why OP Children Drop Out of College
During the college years, many OP children cannot reasonably adjust to the rigors of college life. This is especially true if they elect to attend school away from their parents’ domicile. Because the university is a more independent and unstructured environment than either grade school, junior high, and high school, the typical overprotected student cannot survive, thus they often flunk out.
Why Adult-Children Struggle in the Workplace
In the work world or the “real world,” OP children are quite abysmal failures. They often do not possess the skills necessary to thrive and survive in the workplace. They possess no or low self-confidence, no initiative, and a low tolerance for frustration and hardships which is often commonplace in the work environment.
Furthermore, the supervisor is not their parent but someone who expects them to contribute and pull their weight. Many of these children end up being terminated from their employment—not once but several times. More often they become quite unemployable.
Why Adult-Children Struggle With Relationships
Overprotected children fare worse in relationships where equality is required. They are often at the extreme passive end of relationships as they were raised that way by their parents. Oftentimes, because of their extreme lack of social skills and their passivity, they are drawn into relationships where their partner is more dominant than they are.
Even though these relationships are quite abusive and Svengali-like, they prefer to stay in the “safety” of such relationships than to develop a backbone and have a more fulfilling relationship.
The Importance of Raising Independent, Happy, Successful Children
Overprotected children end up to be failures in life in more ways than one, and OP parents are only damaging their children and either do not or refuse to acknowledge this. Many kids remain in their infantile state until it is quite too late to change! Learn to let go as a parent and let your children grow up. Let us raise our children to be fully functioning and independent adults!
Tips for Raising Independent Children
Encourage Trying: Encourage your children to try new things, branch out, and get out of their comfort zone. Celebrate effort independent of outcome. If it’s trying a new sport or a new activity, celebrate the fact your child gave it a try.
Encourage Contributions: Invite your children to be part of the team and encourage them to make age-appropriate contributions. Have them help with walking the dog, putting the dishes away, or helping a sibling get to school in the morning. Responsibilities help children learn the value of trust and teamwork.
Encourage Problem Solving: Rather than getting involved at the first sign of conflict or challenge, let your child work it out themselves. Don’t always give the answers away. Encourage them to communicate and analyze the situation. What if they are forgetting their soccer shoes on the way to the game? Ask them what they can do to help themselves remember (e.g. leaving the shoes at the front door the night before).
Build Confidence: By teaching your kids new tasks every week, you encourage them to develop their repertoire of skills. Learning new skills increases confidence and helps them to take those skills with them into adulthood.
Let Them Choose: Rather than arranging everything for them, allow them to make decisions for themselves. For instance, ask them, “Red shoes or black shoes?” or “Orange juice or apple juice?” By encouraging the power of choice, you help them to develop skills as an independent thinker. Independent thinking is another means of helping your child to develop leadership skills.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Any tips on an adult-child where the damage has already been done to reach recovery?
Answer: Seek psychological or psychiatric help regarding the matter.
Question: Why don’t some parents let their children choose what makes them happy?
Answer: Some parents believe that because of their extensive years/experience that THEY know what is BEST for their children. In their purview, they want to protect their children from unseen mistakes/sorrows. They also don’t want their children to fail. They furthermore don’t want their children to experience any unneeded frustrations in life. They want their children to have it better than they(the parents) had it. However, in order for children to be happiest and to reach their furthest potential, children must do what makes them happy as long as it isn’t detrimental.
Question: How to report overprotective parents?
Answer: Unless the parents are physically, verbally, and/or emotional abusive, you really can’t report them. You have to truthfully state that your parents are doing the aforementioned things. Otherwise, discuss the matter with your parents, counselors, or an impartial relative.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 10, 2020:
You should discuss this matter w/an impartial relative or better yet, a school counselor. Your parents are doing you a great disservice. They are crippling your life skills.
tate on July 10, 2020:
I just wish there was a way to make my own parents understand that maybe they don’t know what’s best for me, and maybe what they are doing is wrong and doesn’t work. They always become too involved in all aspects of my life. I feel like I have no privacy. They don’t give me the ability to make mistakes. They take away anything that I could possibly do to make a bad decision.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on May 31, 2020:
Thank you for your commentary & suggestions. What you have stated is pure genius, thank you!
Camry on May 31, 2020:
Don’t be over protective and learn your kid how to play chess. A child who realizes that one does not always win but also loses, learns humility and respect for other people. I can recommend a very good and briliant book, that can bring you a lot of fun. It’s alll about chess. The rules of chess are very simple and children can learn them already from around the age of three. Not everyone can or wants to become a professional chess player but everyone can use chess for learning. For this purpous I can recommend a book (net-boss.org/chess-puzzles-for-kids-by-maksim-aksanov) with bunch of great exercises, which will help you and your kids to be better in this 🙂
Boris on March 25, 2020:
I kept living my life with guilt thinking it was all my fault. Considering that this is nearly 90% spot on I’m done with that. Thanks.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 08, 2020:
Speak to an impartial relative or friend about your parents. Arrange to have family counselling as your parents are toxic & are infantilizing you. Your parents are abusive. Your parents are sabotaging you. When you are able, get a job so you can move out & totally disassociate from your parents.
Lauren Rebecca on March 08, 2020:
My parents are making me miserable! I am 20 years old. I am currently a college student who has dealt with my parents for years. I feel like my parents don’t listen to me AT ALL. I have tried, time and time again, to have a talk with them, but have been shut down at every attempt to do so. Failing miserably. Oh, has it been rough. I have been able to make friends, but find it hard to create lasting and less “classroom” friendships. It is hard because when I do attempt to introduce or talk about my friends to my parents, they just right them off as a “bad influence” without getting to know them! If a friend invites me out, I’m given the third degree and a long run around as to why I can’t go. They try to cover it up by saying that they understand, while bashing the person. They same can be said when it comes to dating. I’m scared of someone I like meeting my parents because they put a lot of pressure on people especially when they/I are not at that stage and ready for all of the formalities that comes to meeting someone’s family. I find this ironic because they want me to be able to get married one day. I keep trying to gain my independence by trying to get a job and learning to drive, but they dismiss how I feel and make me feel silly for wanting something. I have lost great opportunities because of my parents’ inability to cooperate. (Example: My dad felt it was burdensome to take me to an interview and then proceeded to bash me to my mother about my birth condition, saying that would be the reason I wouldn’t get the job while I was waiting to leave, I didn’t get it.) There were other situations similar to this one where he would ignore me completely. I try so hard to live by their rules and expectations while I live at home, but it hurts me. I have little to no life skills. I’m unable to express myself because they get angry when I do. This shows up mu other relationships sometimes as well. Then attempt to make me feel bad when they excuse their need to get physical sometimes (my mom). It gets to the point where even when I think I’m doing the right thing for myself, they ALWAYS find a way to rain on my parade. I can’t do anything without asking them. If I did, it would have to fit their life schedule to even attempt to remember (ie. their plans) or acknowledge my own goals. I’m at a loss for what to do?
Patty Poet from Suffolk, VA on February 09, 2020:
This sounds like my family. Even today, I carry the fears that my parents pushed on me when I try to step out on my own and make my own decisions. My brother is 48 years old and my parents still try to steer him and how he raises his own son. Its tough to build your own self confidence when parents treat you as if you can’t make a good decision without them.
jules tea on December 07, 2019:
Retarded? Abysmal? Failure? Misfit? Outcast? Pariah? Slated to fail?
I get it: overprotecting kids is bad.Very bad. Undeniably true. But the author is really laying it on thick here with pathos laden language. Overprotected kids have to fight and struggle harder to prove themselves. From the tone of this article, you’d think that the sheltered child is one step below a psychopath: though nowhere near as cool.
Igor on October 18, 2019:
Based on most of the comments here it appears that the parents are greatly responsible for why their children have a hard time growing up.
Sylvia Davis on June 13, 2019:
I am a overprotective child. I am 23 now and everything that i read is exactly whats happening now to me!! Nobody has no idea how hard it isbto have an overprotective parent!!! Its not easy and life is soooo difficult for me because all i know is whats going on at home. I also can’t seem to do anything without askin my parents first. My relationships don’t last long at all, i had to dump couple of guys because im worried of what my parents will think of me having a boyfriend. I also hang around children and i got fired at a daycare because i was involving with kids like im a child. I got fired at a nursing home because the workplace seem to be much different than home or school. I am going through a lot! I am so far behind! I don’t even think like a 23 year old. Im glad i read this article..maybe i can talk to a counselor about this! So plz parents, dont be afraid to let your kids grow up!! I can teach other kids n parents about what im going through so that they can do better than me! Thanks.
kaleb on May 22, 2019:
YO! STOP BULLYING! ITS GONE ON LONG ENOUGH!
DrySeasons on May 07, 2019:
Sadly,wether one like it not, what is said mostly covers, what myown like has been / or goes through – because of how my parents were – NOT GOOD PARENTS ! The more Ithinkof in all ways things did go wrong – and how all of this hurt and destroyd my youth,young years and middle age – in different ways – I CANT BUT HATE THEM AND LOATH THEM !
When growing up – Ilived just for them – to please them – nomatter what. In the years I was supposed to be with friends,running around,and learning bout life,girls and having fun – they isolated me from them. And as i did notparticipate in the youth groups parties,dates, get togethers,and things – they letme forever be,and as I got obsolete I got always dumped as I must never has fitted in (wish I at that point in time,just partly started to sense – but not fully ).
My parents was to afraid for me hooking up on drugs – butin our tiny town,that was hardly great dealin the 1980s,andmost youth in that era in my area,was just into stealing beer, wine or some Vodka !
Later – i Was forever crushed byt their kind terror and need of controle – having been put down and all alreaddy when younger.
I fear – thier way of rising me, and all depressions that my isolation putme through – has created a Bordeline – and Its just yet more saddening. My current fear is – that asimin many ways not a full person – and Imyself has been growing upthis way, it will negatively impact my ownparenting ofmy daughter, though I try not to repeat my own parents mistakes with me,by trying thinking of things.
I feel wery angry, sad,empty and filld of all loss of the life others had but i never had – Its so unfair !
Nature Lover77 on April 24, 2019:
This article covers the subject very well. This sentence, “This boy never participated in school events as many of them were unsupervised” brings up additional issues. I think also that many overprotected kids don’t participate in school events because they’re afraid their parents will get overly involved in the event or get overly chummy with their sons or daughters friends because 1.) they’re possessive and are threatened by their child having friends so they want to muscle in on their kid’s friendship and/or 2.) the OP parents don’t have friends their own age.
I think #2, the parents not having friends their own age is often an elephant in the room. There is often a lot of embarrassing behavior associated with parents who never had friends of their own.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 27, 2019:
Also you are of legal age; however, in your current state, you aren’t equipped to take care of yourself. You need to seek counselling which will help you develop the skills to eventually move out & be on your own.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 27, 2019:
Both of you should seek psychological counselling. What your dad did was to cripple you- please seek counselling.
Shyla Wickens on March 27, 2019:
I am a 17 year old girl and I’ll be 18 in a few months. while growing up with my dad, i was very lonely and isolated as an only because my dad didn’t want me and allow me to make friends with kids growing up due to the fact that he attempted to protect me from bad people and influences. this backfired and caused me to lack basic social skills and i developed extreme social anxiety. I couldn’t go out, couldn’t make friends, I lived in a shell and I didn’t know what to do with myself. with me being 17, studying hard in school, working part time, having a car and only recently being able to overcome my anxiety and make friends, its hard for my Dad to adapt to. growing up, he picked and chose my friends. Whenever im out, he texts me and phones me every 30 minutes to see where I’m at. he uses a phone tracker to track me. now that I’ve been making friends as of recently, he has to set up an interview with my friend and the parents to make sure they’re a good fit for me. my Dad tells me I’m NOT allowed to move out at 18. he makes all my decisions for me and does everything for me because he doesn’t trust my ability to do things myself. this has caused me to sit back and think “where’s my dad? I need his help.” when accomplishing the simplest of tasks. I feel like a little kid that constantly needs her dad there to do everything for her. i am a great kid. I don’t drink or smoke, I work and study hard. but this has honestly killed my self esteem. I feel like I can’t do anything for myself. I feel like they don’t trust me. people are always like “just talk to your dad” well it doesn’t work that way. My dad has ALWAYS been in control of my life and no matter what I say, my opinion doesn’t matter. he doesn’t trust me to make friends and do things myself. I feel like I’m just going to stop seeing my friends as there’s really no point on trying anymore. I need help. I feel so miserable living at home and I wish I could just branch out and gain independence. I’m afraid that I won’t even know how to take care of myself when I hit the real world. what do I do? do you think if I just leave at my age of majority then that will damage our relationship?
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 23, 2019:
The whole family needs counselling, especially your mother.
Mark Thatum on March 23, 2019:
Hi! This article was extremely helpful, insightful, and relatable. I dealt with a lot of this growing up, and in many respects feeling the collateral effects of having been brought up this way by a controlling parent. Despite my having been brought up in a two-parent household, my mother was the one who kept a very tight leash on me, as my stepfather was often very detached. I had many conflicts with my parents, especially my mother, growing up and, thus, harbored many resentments towards her for a good chunk of my adolescence, and early 20s (I’m now 28).
She still attempts to be very controlling but I have learned to stave off many of her toxic behaviors. I no longer harbor any resentment and understand that we’re all different.
Now my fear is regarding my two younger siblings, a brother of 19 and sister of 13. I fear my brother’s lot the most because he is at university. He was never as robust and as independently minded as I was, and fears going against my mom very much. He’s 19, stays at home as his college is not far, my mother, for all intents and purposes, forbids him to have many friends, leave the house for extended periods of time, doesn’t allow him to cook for himself, he has no college friends, and is being inculcated with the notion that his education should be his only friend. He called me two days ago and told me something that hurt and disturbed me very much in that he was forbidden to go to his cousin’s wedding in Michigan because of the distance (they live in Delaware…i currently reside in France), and due to issues our mom has with that side of the family as she and my stepfather have divorced.
My brother was very vexed and I felt very sad. And also, my brother is very emotionally handicapped as he acts, expresses, and carries himself much in the manner a 13 year old would. He tells me he wants to transfer to another 4 year institution that way he could reside in the dorms but I told him he knows our mother, who has expressed that she doesn’t want him to move away from home until he has his degree. And also, were or should he move, I know he would have a strenuous time as he has been kept from experiencing the real world. Often isolated and alone with my mom hovering over him.
Long story short, I don’t know what to do, and I want to help and am in dire need of advice as I know this is a ticking time bomb.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 05, 2019:
Jim, this is a dilemma. Your wife needs psychological counselling. She is crippling the daughter, making her immature as well as fearful. I suggest psychological counselling immediately!
Jim Avitable on March 05, 2019:
My wife does not allow our daughter to walk to school as she is afraid that someone will kidnap her. Also she does not trust our daughter to be alone at home after school as she is afraid she will go out with or invite boys.
Andrea on December 31, 2018:
I am honestly screwed as a person now because of the controlling hovering helicopter parent who has raised me as a 12 year old for 7 years I am 19 living with my parents I don’t know how to make a freaking phone call, don’t have a drivers license been working on that for a while. don’t know how to even really do college and now she wants me to get my license and go out in the world (basically kind of kicking me out soon) I have no idea how I am supposed to live I feel like I am 12.
Teacher on December 14, 2018:
This is spot on!! I’ve taught pre-K through 6th grade for over 30 years and there is a literal epidemic of these children. And the parents are absolutely clueless!! These parents are THE most defensive people, and really believe they’re the best parents. They actually look down on others and criticize THEM. This will be the reason I retire. These clueless parents and their dependent, draining, immature, anxiety ridden children. The parents take up more of my time, the children take up more of everyone’s time. There is them – and then there is the class. An absolute stick in the wheel of progress to everyone around them. These parents hurt everyone, not just their child.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on November 04, 2018:
Thank you for your response. There are ALWAYS two sides of the argument. I totally agree w/your premise. What you are mentioning is normal parent protection.
Angigi on November 04, 2018:
This reads like an opinion piece and a one sided one at best. Maybe it is more of a personal scorn with her own parents.
I remember admiring my friend for being such open parent and gave so much freedom to her kids. She wasn’t neglectful, She just believed that her kids should be allowed to fall and learn from their mistakes. After all, she turned out fine. Lofty idea. I couldn’t do it. I set bright line boundaries. I took a proactive but approach teach them time management, prioritization, decision making skills. I helped them choose friends. I teach them good study habits. I teach them values and long term thinking about what’s important in life. All the things author described as overprotection. But Kids don’t just turn 10 and magically know all these things. Adults are still learning all of that as evidenced by many business books teaching those skills in the market. What’s wrong with learning it younger and from your parents? My kids have many friends and are active in school with leadership positions. I see no issue with my overprotective style of parenting. We have great relationships and talk openly about all topics including sex and drugs.
My open parenting style friend’s kids did do what she wanted – experimented freely- but seem not to have learned from any of the falls. Instead they turned bitter for the lack of guidance and now blamed her for their failures in life. One lives with her and watches TV all day, refusing to work. One just had a miscarriage with a baby she didn’t want anyway, after being assaulted by her jail bound boyfriend, both high when police arrived.
Kids need boundaries. Over and over again I see the kids from the hands off parents not living up to their potential. One friend’s two kids got kicked out from Christian school for underage drinking, another for posting semi nude photos on IG underage. Both were very smart and talented in sports. They dropped out of sports now.
If over protection means 100% dictatorship and restriction of all school and sports activities, prohibition from leaving the house and all social interaction outside the home, then yes, that would be very harmful, but I wouldn’t characterize that as over protection but borderline unlawful detentment or child abuse. But that is not the sense I get from author’s description of overprotection.
Truth is, every child is different and there is no one formula for every kid. Some kids thrive with boundaries and some rebel. I disagree with author’s assertion that overprotection would always 100% lead to all those problems cited from her observation as a child many years ago.
Finally, most 13 year olds are dropped off by their parents to school at our middle school. No one picks on them. I don’t know what kind of school author went to.
CJ on October 15, 2018:
I am goin through this and im over 20 its not nice idk how to live true this
TJ on October 01, 2018:
I know and love children set up for this painful end. You cannot avoid the trials of childhood. They just come out later. My only solution is to not let it happen to my kids. I have fought battles against this method of parenting and endured judgement, but my kids are turning out perfectly, surpassing those that judged me. My children are a pleasure to have around and sustain their behavior without me. They are surpassing all the milestones and choose to behave out of their own free will, nurtured and disciplined with boundaries and rules.
This whole culture of pushing off the lessons of childhood to appear to be a nicer parent is revolting. What happens when these kids hit the real world? They will be lambs for the slaughter.
Removing children from the processes of life robs them of the products. An untempered sword shatters. How do you convince a parent that difficulty is good? That the mess is more constructive than their perfection? That temporary conflict is actually better while the consequences of mistakes are small rather than putting those lessons off until the consequences are far more damaging in adulthood.
Who came up with this horrible model for parenthood? It is so unwise…
It is all about the results. I will endure whatever it takes to keep my children out of this strange infantilization culture. My gift to them is when they spread their wings they will fly.
My heart still aches for those who simply have no foresight.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on September 11, 2018:
You have made an eloquent response to the hub, thank you for responding.
Lisa on September 11, 2018:
There are several issues with this piece. First, it places all the blame on the parents, dismissing the responsibility that children have for their own lives. Second, it makes illogical sweeping claims and leaps about the development of children, deeming them failures from the outset. On what terms? Third, it inaccurately implies that parenting style is the sole factor in the success of children. Often, many children grow to realize that they have to take responsibility for their own lives, and they have a CHOICE on how they want to live. It’s counterproductive to just sit there and complain about how their parents were overprotective.
What this article fails to account for is that many children, who lived with this ‘overprotective parenting style,’ have grown up to become fully functioning members of society, as opposed to the incompetent burdens that this article paints them out to be. They can work. They can contribute. They have GRIT to get through the bad stuff.
Moreover, social teasing and bullying are just natural phenomena. It’s possible for them to learn to cope. They can disabuse themselves of the notion that the world is a rosy place full of rainbows and butterflies from an early age. Yet this article depicts such children as incapable of dealing with the real world. On the contrary, they can get a clearer look at the true nature of certain social interactions, enhancing their alertness as they get older.
Further, it is understandable that parents want to ensure the safety of their kids, since they bear the primary role in taking care of their well-being. It’s costly financially to raise children, so it’s conceivable thay parents would take more precautionary measures in caring for them. Enough shaming already. Let parents choose how they want to parent. After all, they were the ones who gave life to their children.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on August 29, 2018:
Have a mature discussion w/your dad. Delineate your concerns.
Lucine Rawiya from S- on July 13, 2018:
My parents are paranoid to the extreme. I’m never allowed to even hang out with my friends (without one of them tagging along) and I’m 17 in a month. I realised there’s no arguing with them so now when I want to do something I just do it behind their backs or without permission. I’m going to have to move out just to be able to get a job. It’s completely ridiculous and it’s preventing me from developing basic life skills. Hopefully I can get out of this situation when I am 18.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 01, 2018:
In this case, your father isn’t being overprotective. He is simply looking out for you. Your father cares, he isn’t being overprotective.
Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on June 29, 2018:
Keep telling them that they are psychologically, even psychically undermining their daughter by their remarks. Recommend counsellng for the entire family.
Alan on June 29, 2018:
I’m trying to help a couple break this habit. They are having a hard time because their daughter is an adult now.
Their protection takes the form of reminders. “Don’t forget to take the car to the DMV… pay your bills… your boyfriend doesn’t respect you…”
They’re afraid of her being hurt. Especially by other men. I’m trying to help them equip her. I think their reminders are telling her “You can’t handle it… we’re responsible for you…”
Liisabjork on June 25, 2018:
My fiances son is 13 and is being raised just like this. It came down to now that his mother said he is not allowed here at his father’s house anymore because the son feels awkward and uncomfortable because of me. (I maintained my ground and most likely he felt intimidated by me) which is not my problem. I had a responsibility to have the boys best interest. But I was seen as crazy and stern. The mother allows him to sleep with her still. She dressed him and cuts his food. I get sick thinking about it. But needless to say I did all I could to stand by my morals . Like I said the son does not visit his father anymore. But, I feel and know the son was trying to get his way and constantly went home telling his mom how he doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. He was trying to manipulate his way to see only his father in some way or form. Also to get attention at home from his mother. He had a motive . we had told him to keep our life business out of his mother’s ears. But he chose to go back home to his mother’s and tell her things by exaggerating . I see it that he is old enough to know how to choose his words and what to say to try to have an outcome in his favor. After the last incident I had enough! His actions had consequences. We were not going to drop everything and take time out of day to fall for his schemes. His father told him that he chose this . He CHOSE to be not allowed here. So that his father would have to drive all over creation so he can be with him. I put my foot down and refused to fall into the boys agenda because he wasn’t getting his way here and. Because he didn’t he coddled by his father anymore and he wasnt waited on anymore or babied. The boy chose to disclose and act the way he did when he went back home to his mother’s. The information he disclosed to his mom was utterly disrespectful to me . His exaggerated stories and fantasiful tantrums was the last straw. Sometimes the only thing you can do is give tough love and difficulty stand up for ethics. This kid is doomed but at least I can say to myself I alw
Becoming a stepparent? Read these 8 important stepparenting no-no’s and how to solve sticky situations.
By Kate Bayless, January 12, 2014
Credit: Fancy Photography/ Veer
A stepfamily offers a new chance at love and family life, but it is also an attempt to bring together various parents and problems, different spouses and siblings. “A stepfamily is a fundamentally different structure and it makes a different foundation for relationships than a first-time family,” says psychologist Patricia Papernow, Ed.D., a member of the National Stepfamily Resource Center’s expert council and author of Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn’t. One of these differences is that in a stepfamily, the spouses do not have an equal relationship to the children or in the parenting process. This dynamic sets up a web of boundaries that stepparents are wise not to cross. Here we tackle eight common slip-ups to avoid and how stepparents can handle these situations.
1. Trying to take the place of the mother or father. Whether the new marriage is a result of divorce or death, you can never take the place of the other biological parent and should not attempt to. “These children are not yours,” says Derek Randel, parenting expert and certified stepfamily coach through the Step-Family Foundation in New York City. “No matter what the biological ex-spouse has done, respect the child’s need to love that parent.” The same goes for requiring that the stepkids call you “Mom” or “Dad.” Don’t ever demand it or even ask for it.
Instead: Be clear with yourself and the stepchild about your role in the family. “A stepparent can become a loved, respected mentor to the child while realizing that he can’t reconstitute the biological family,” Randel says. Remember that a stepchild can develop feelings of love and respect for you without using the term “Mom” or “Dad.” And if the kids do decide, on their own, to use that term for you, demonstrate a quiet gratitude and a responsibility to live up to the label.
2. Spanking your stepkids. Even if you believe in spanking, a stepparent should never cross the line of administering physical consequences to a child. “Always refrain from losing your cool and hitting, swearing or ‘losing it’ with your stepchildren,” says JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies to Help Children Thrive Through Divorce. “It’s hard enough when tempers get out of control between children and their own parents. The incident and the painful memories of [physical discipline from a stepparent] can last a lifetime and take a toll on any chance of building trust and respect in the new family.”
Instead: Remove yourself from the situation if you feel yourself getting overly worked up and report any misbehavior to the biological parent to determine if consequences are necessary.
3. Assuming a position of authority. Young children, under the age of 5 or 6, may be more willing accept a stepparent’s authority in the new family, but school-age children and teens will often rebuff a stepparent’s attempts at automatic authority.
Instead: “For new stepparents, it is best to proceed slowly–not as a disciplinarian, but as a supportive friend to the child and a supportive resource to your partner,” Dr. Pedro-Carroll suggests. You may have won the heart of your new spouse, but if he or she is a package deal with kids in tow, you’ll need to earn the love and respect of your new stepchildren too. Basic respect is a must, but you’ll need to put time and effort into the relationship with your stepchildren if you want more.
4. Getting involved in parenting discussions between your partner and the ex. It can be tempting to weigh in on a parenting discussion between your spouse and his or her ex–but don’t. “The ex didn’t agree to coparent with you and will likely feel ganged up on if you give unsolicited advice,” explains Jenna Korf, a certified stepfamily foundation coach at Stepmomhelp.com and co-author of Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict. “Exes who are still holding on to anger or hurt from the divorce can cause a world of pain for you and your spouse, so try to avoid inserting yourself into their discussions.”
Instead: Although stepparents can certainly provide their input into a parenting situation, this should be done privately with the spouse, not during the conversation with the ex. “Any decisions or information should then be shared with the ex by the biological parent,” Korf says. Make a concerted effort to build a positive relationship with your spouse’s ex so that your interactions and input can be well received.
Getting involved in parenting discussions between your partner and the ex.
4. Getting involved in parenting discussions between your partner and the ex. It can be tempting to weigh in on a parenting discussion between your spouse and his or her ex–but don’t. “The ex didn’t agree to coparent with you and will likely feel ganged up on if you give unsolicited advice,” explains Jenna Korf, a certified stepfamily foundation coach at Stepmomhelp.com and co-author of Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict. “Exes who are still holding on to anger or hurt from the divorce can cause a world of pain for you and your spouse, so try to avoid inserting yourself into their discussions.”
Instead: Although stepparents can certainly provide their input into a parenting situation, this should be done privately with the spouse, not during the conversation with the ex. “Any decisions or information should then be shared with the ex by the biological parent,” Korf says. Make a concerted effort to build a positive relationship with your spouse’s ex so that your interactions and input can be well received.
5. Getting involved in arguments between your stepchild and your spouse. “If you want to preserve your relationship with your stepchildren and partner, it’s best to let them work conflict out on their own,” Korf says. “Unless the stepparent and child are well bonded, the child will likely feel that the stepparent is butting into their business, and this can cause the child to feel resentful of their stepparent.” Even if you have the best intentions, Korf says, your interference can prevent your spouse and your stepchild from learning how to resolve problems on their own and can have a negative impact on your marriage. “For stepmoms, if you swoop in and try to fix everything for your husband, he may feel emasculated and view your action as a belief that you don’t think he can handle his own child. This will surely cause some tension in your marriage.”
Instead: Be your partner’s support system, Korf suggests, giving him feedback only if and when he asks for it. If he doesn’t come to you for help, then assume he’s got it covered.
6. Ignoring or countering the wishes of the ex. If your stepchild’s mom has forbidden dyeing her hair, midriff-baring shirts, or dating before she’s 16, it’s not your place to override her wishes. “Realize that there are no ex-parents, just ex-spouses,” Randel says. Your new spouse may no longer be married to the ex, but the ex still gets a say in parenting their children.
Instead: “Your spouse needs to coparent with the ex. The more helpful and understanding you are, the easier it will be for the entire family,” Randel says. If you have serious concerns about the stepchild’s health, wellness, or safety because of the ex-spouse’s rules, talk with your spouse about it. If you just don’t like the rules the ex-spouse has made for the child, step back and realize you don’t get to control everything.
7. Bad-mouthing the ex. As tempting as this may be, talking poorly about the ex-spouse is always no-no–even if the stepkids are doing it. “It is important for a stepparent to listen with empathy and kindness but not put down the parent to the child or allow the child to hear negative comments about their parent,” Dr. Pedro-Carroll says. “After all, the child is 50 percent of that person, and they may experience negative comments as an attack on their very own DNA. Children can be damaged by exposure to ongoing conflict and repeated negative messages that put them in the middle of conflict.”
Instead: Be a sounding board if your spouse or stepchild needs to vent, but don’t contribute to the bad-mouthing. When possible, contribute to the quality of family life by helping to contain any conflict between your partner and their ex. “You can be a tremendous support to your partner and your stepchildren when you maintain some objectivity and do not enter into every conflict,” Dr. Pedro-Carroll says.
8. Pressuring your new partner to always put you first or seeing your stepchild’s need for one-on-one time with his parent as a threat to your marriage. Children often worry that a parent’s love for a new spouse will mean less love for the child. “This fear may cause children to behave with anger and resentment that seems unjustified,” Dr. Pedro-Carroll explains. If a stepparent does not understand the need for a child to have a deeply connected bond to his biological parent, problems in the family and the marriage can arise.
Instead: First, understand the importance of a strong parent-child relationship and have confidence that their relationship does not undermine your relationship with your spouse. A jealous attitude towards your stepchild will negatively affect your marriage. “Because parents have strong bonds with their own children, they instinctively protect them against harm,” Dr. Pedro-Carroll says. “Thus, hurt feelings or problems between a stepparent and stepchild can easily undermine a remarriage. Stepparents and stepchildren developing positive relationships is critical to the new family’s success.”
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For better or worse, how your parents behaved when you grew up has had — and likely will have — a lasting impact on who you are today.
Clinical and research psychologists have studied how adults suffered from poor parenting for decades. Whether your mom or dad was over-involved in your life or neglectful, there are negative consequences to certain types of parental behavior.
“Parents are hugely influential for who [their children] are and how they act,” Pickhardt told Business Insider. “However, what mediates that effect is the decision by the child to want to decide to follow that example or to differentiate from that.”
Here are seven ways your parents’ behavior growing up may have had a negative impact on who you are today.
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Having abusive parents can lead to higher stress and likelihood of developing age-related issues like cardiovascular disease.
Growing up with physically abusive parents can have lingering adverse effects on your long-term physical health, according to a 2013 study out of the University of California-Los Angeles.
Researchers analyzed survey responses from 756 subjects, and found those with high levels of childhood stress had a greater chance of developing multi-system health risks like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
The research suggests high amounts of stress during your childhood leads to difficulty controlling stress into your adulthood, which in turn allows for the adverse health effects.
“Our findings highlight the extent to which these early childhood experiences are associated with evidence of increased biological risks across nearly all of the body’s major regulatory systems,” Teresa Seeman, author of the study and professor of epidemiology at UCLA, said in a release.
If your parent was drug-dependent, you may have ended up having to take care of them as a child — which can cause problems with having fun as an adult.
Growing up with alcohol or drug dependent parents can lead children to take on the caretaking role early in life, Mark Borg, Jr., a NYC-based clinical psychologist and a psychoanalyst, told Business Insider.
In turn, kids may lose out on a childhood to take care of their parents. As they themselves get older, this could lead to trouble having fun or letting their guard down, according to Portland Lifestyle Counseling.
Or, depressed parents may lead children to act like they’re happy. This can lead to a hesitation to open up emotionally in adulthood.
If children recognize their parents are unhappy, they start performing in a way they know can cheer their mom or dad up, Borg said. Children grow up being used to taking care of their parents by performing behaviors they know will please them, but might not be what they want.
In adulthood, these children continue performing for other people instead of being vulnerable and open with their emotions.
“You’re basically preforming to make your parents feel better so they can be more active and parent you,” Borg said. “What they wind up doing inadvertently as adults is they wind up being unable to take in what other people have to offer. The caretaking works against being vulnerable.”
Over-involved “helicopter” parenting during childhood has been linked to anxiety problems in adolescence — and even the abuse of pain pills.
“Helicopter” parenting describes adults who take an over-active role in their child’s lives through not allowing them to play unsupervised and spending too much time with them.
After growing up, children of helicopter parents have a higher likelihood of developing depression and anxiety, as well as recreationally using prescription pain pills. The results come from a 2011 study which sampled 317 college students on the impact their parents had on their mental health.
Over-involved parenting also may lead to feelings of entitlement and less self-efficacy when you get older.
In a 2012 study of 339 groups of parents and their young adult children, researchers looked at causes of self-efficacy — or confidence you can do something — and entitlement.
Researchers found that if parents emphasized control when their children grew up, young adults reported having lower levels of self-efficacy, yet greater feelings of entitlement.
When parents had open communication and adequately set rules, young adults felt higher levels of family satisfaction than those with controlling parents.
Stressed out or emotionally abusive parents lead to children with higher levels of “defenses” to shield themselves from experiencing pain. These traits carry on into adulthood and lead to trouble nurturing their own children.
While these defenses work as emotional barriers to feeling pain when you’re young, they can lead to trouble opening up emotionally with others — including your own kids — into adulthood.
“These early adaptations may have served us well when we were young, but they can hurt us as adults, particularly as parents,” Firestone wrote in Psychology Today.
“Snowplow parents” could unknowingly transmit anxiety onto their children.
While “snowplow parents,” or mothers and fathers who bulldoze obstacles out of their children’s path as they grow, may think they are helping their children avoid challenges, they are actually doing the opposite.
Unlike helicopter parents who hover, snowplow parents “smash down” obstacles usually by using their wealth, status, and sense of privilege, wrote Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, in a blog post on Psychology Today.
These parents place great value on the outward appearance of success, and, snowplow parenting, at it’s most extreme, comes at the price tag of tens of thousands of dollars, Gray wrote.
But snowplow parenting doesn’t adequately prepare kids for adulthood and could ultimately backfire by transmitting feelings of anxiety onto a child, Graham Davey, a professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, wrote in a blog on Psychology Today.
“Given that genetic inheritance is not an overwhelming contributor to the variance in our anxiety levels, this strongly suggests that anxiety may somehow be socially ‘transmitted’ within the family,” Davey wrote, although the transmission may go both ways, also from child to parent.
Sometimes, the people that it is the most difficult to set boundaries with are the people to whom you are the closest. Even if your family is relatively happy and functional, there might still be members of that family that routinely cross the line or that simply treat you in a way that you would prefer not to be treated. Many people will play the role of the people pleaser with their families, but if there are members of your family that are being difficult and that are cutting into your happiness, it’s time set boundaries for those difficult family members. Here are nine ways to do exactly that:
1. Understand that your needs are important.
Often, people will avoid building boundaries because they are afraid about hurting the other person, despite the fact that the other person does not appear to grant them the same courtesy. This is especially true of difficult family members, but it is important to keep in mind that your needs are just as important as that person’s needs. This is a kind of manipulation, to make you feel as though you can’t set up boundaries because their needs are more important than yours.
2. Seek out people who value you.
If there are members of your family that do genuinely value you, seek them out and use them to help you set boundaries with the family members that don’t seem to value you. If there are not members of your family who can help you with this, find people outside the circle of your family. Your friend group is a good place to start. You are bound to have at least one friend that can help you start to build the boundaries that you need.
3. Be firm, but kind.
Setting boundaries doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be callous. In fact, when you build your boundaries with those difficult family members, it can actually be more effective to do it with kindness. Anger or defensiveness will only rile them up and cause them to lash out at you. Kindness, however, leads to a greater likelihood of a calm exchange.
4. Keep your expectations realistic.
For example, it is not realistic to agree to attend Thanksgiving at that family member’s house, when you know that they are going to belittle you the entire time that you are there. Giving in and attending family events or actively seeking out situations in which you and that person are together is the opposite of setting and keeping boundaries. Be realistic with yourself about how much time feels tolerable to you with that difficult family member and in what situations you are willing to see that person.
5. Be willing to walk away.
Something that most people forget is that if someone is being toxic, you do have the option to get up and leave the situation. You might feel like you want to defend yourself, but if your difficult family members are experts at making you look like the bad guy or making you feel bad for blowing up after the have been toxic to you for hours, the best thing to do is simply leave. Just get up and go. You don’t have to explain yourself, you don’t have to apologize.
6. Keep in mind that you are in charge of what you do.
No one else can make you do or feel anything. You are in charge of whether or not you maintain your boundaries. For example, say that you are at a family gathering and your difficult uncle says something derogatory about your job. When you tell him to stop making fun of you, he says something about how you’ve never been good at taking a joke. Right now, you have two choices. You can either pretend that everything is fine or you can say something like, “That crosses the line. If you’re going to continue, I’m just going to leave.” This establishes what is and what is not okay and puts the consequences of the action back on the difficult family member.
7. Be direct.
Dropping hints or being passive aggressive about your boundaries is the worst way to make sure that anyone understands what they are, especially because many difficult family members are difficult expressly because they are careless. Being very explicit about what is okay and what is not okay is the only way you can make sure that they understand what your boundaries are.
8. Seek to take care of yourself.
When you take care of yourself, you are very willing to set up and stick to your boundaries. Self-care can help you understand the importance of your own boundaries and can also help to motivate you to make sure your boundaries are defined and that they are being observed. While putting yourself first all the time isn’t healthy, occasionally taking the time to care about yourself first and foremost, especially when dealing with difficult family members is very important.
9. Learn to be assertive.
Many difficult people get away with being difficult because no one stands up to them. Whether your father seems to enjoy cutting you down or your cousins’ teasing often crosses a line and goes too far, simply being assertive and telling people what you need and what you want can be enough to set the boundaries you need. If you are assertive, you become someone that people do not trifle with, someone that is respected, rather than ridiculed. Stand up for yourself!
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As a psychotherapist, one of the most common questions parents ask me is: What are the key strengths I should be teaching my kids?
There are several, but the type that will really help them become their best selves and get through life’s toughest challenges is mental strength.
Mental strength requires you to pay attention to three things: the way you think, feel and act. Thinking big, feeling good and acting brave helps us grow our mental muscles. Of course, it takes practice, patience and constant reinforcement to get to a point where you’ll do these things naturally.
But I’ve seen many young people successfully achieve it over time. Here are seven things mentally strong kids always do, and how to help your kids get there if they haven’t already:
1. They empower themselves
If your kid says, “My friend got a higher score on the quiz, which makes me feel bad about myself,” they’re essentially giving someone else power over their emotions.
But kids who feel empowered don’t depend on other people to feel good. They choose, for example, to be in a bright mood even when someone else is having a bad day or tries to take their anger out on them.
Create catchphrases: Work with your kid to come up with phrases that they can repeat to themselves. Use words that show they are in charge of how they think, feel and behave — regardless of how those around them are doing.
This will help drown out the negative voices in their head that try to convince them they lack the potential to succeed. The most effective catchphrases are short and easy to remember:
“All I can do is try my best.”
“I’m good enough.”
“I choose to be happy today.”
2. They adapt to change
Whether it’s moving to a new school or not being able to play with friends during the pandemic, change is tough. Your kid might miss the way things used to be or worry that what’s happening might make their life worse.
But mentally strong kids understand that change can help them grow into an even stronger person, even though it might not feel that way at first.
Name your emotions: Change feels uncomfortable. But just putting a name to your feelings can lessen the sting of these emotions.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about how we feel. In fact, even as adults, we tend to put more energy into fighting our emotions.
So when your kid is faced with a major change, have them talk elaborately about how they’re feeling. More importantly, help them find — and define — the right words to describe it (e.g., sad, happy, frustrated, nervous, eager).
3. They know when to say no
Everyone struggles to speak up, say no, or express their feelings once in a while. But depending on the situation, choosing not to say yes makes you stronger.
Kids often struggle to say no because it can feel awkward and weird. By finding the courage to do it more often, however, they’ll find that it gets easier over time. It also reduces the stress of having to commit to things they don’t want to do.
Try the “give up” test: When your kid is faced with a decision to say yes or no, ask them what they will have to give up if they say yes. For example, saying yes to a playdate at a friend’s house might mean giving up time spent with siblings.
Ask them: “Are you willing to give that thing up?” If they decide they don’t want to, then say no. If they decide they don’t mind, then they can go ahead and say yes.
Help them find the courage to say no by coming up with polite ways to turn someone down:
“No, I’m not able to.” (You don’t always need to offer a reason.)
“Thank you so much for inviting me, but I’ve got other plans.”
“I’ll have to check and get back to you.” (Use this if they need some time to think about it.)
“I don’t really feel like doing that today, but I appreciate you asking.”
4. They own their mistakes
Kids are often tempted to hide their mistakes because they don’t want to get in trouble. Maybe they forgot to do their homework or accidentally broke an expensive vase.
Owning your mistakes helps you build character. Kids who are brave enough to practice this recognize what they did wrong, and mentally prepare themselves to fully admit to what they did.
They also apologize and find ways to avoid making the same mistake again.
Create an environment for success: If your kid is disorganized, they probably have a hard time remembering all their assignments. Or if their room is filled with tons of treats, they might not be able to resist eating too much sugar.
When your kid makes a mistake, remind them that they can change their environment in a way that will prevent them from making the same mistake twice.
For example, they can write down assignments as soon as they receive them, or remove all unhealthy snacks so they’re not within easy reach.
5. They celebrate other people’s successes
It’s normal for kids to feel jealous when their friends get a new toy, for example, or when the other team wins another game.
But feeling negatively towards other people only hurts them, and not the other party. Encourage your kid to cheer people on when they do a good job.
Mentally strong kids are supportive of their peers, and they focus on performing their best without worrying about how everyone else is doing.
Act like the person you want to be: Have your kid come up with a list of traits they admire. Maybe they want to be more confident like their sister, or optimistic like their teacher. Encourage them to act as if they already possess those traits.
This doesn’t mean they should be someone they’re not. It simply means putting their best foot forward. When we feel good about ourselves, it’s easier to celebrate other people’s successes.
6. They fail … and try again
Failure hurts — it can feel embarrassing, disappointing and frustrating. But the most accomplished people reached their goals by failing along the way.
Kids who do well later in life focus their attention on what went wrong and how they could fix it. They have growth mindsets that help them turn failures into positive learning experiences.
Remember successful people who failed: Experts have found that kids actually perform better when they learn that many success stories began with failure.
The next time your kid feels down because they feel they’ve failed at something, educate them about people who made similar mistakes, like Thomas Edison. Edison helped invent the lightbulb, in addition to many other great things. But he also had more than 1,000 inventions that didn’t work.
This will give your kid confidence, and they’ll know that one poor grade, for example, doesn’t mean they’re bad at science.
7. They persist
When it takes a while to reach a goal, or when you don’t feel like putting in the hard work to succeed, your brain might try to convince you to give up.
Mentally strong kids who persist will continue to work hard even when they don’t feel like it. Often, they eventually succeed and discover that they’re stronger than they initially thought.
Write a letter: Have your kid write a letter — filled with words of kindness and encouragement — to themselves.
It can be a long note, or a short and simple one that says: “I know things are tough, but you can do this because you’ve achieved challenging goals before. And you can do it again.”
Each time they feel tempted to give up, tell them to go back to that letter. It will motivate them to push forward and persist.
Here are 15 positive parenting affirmations to encourage you, even on the roughest days.
1 – I’m the best mom for my children.
You are. No one else can be a better mom to your little ones than you!
2 – I’m the calm in the chaos.
When the house is a disaster, and the phone is ringing off the hook, and your children are fighting with one another, and the dog has peed on the floor (again), there is one thing you can control… YOU! Be the calm in the chaos and the rainbow in the storm.
3 – This too will pass.
I don’t know where this phrase originated, but it’s one of my favourite affirmations. Many times I’ve encountered a challenge or a frustration, only to discover that while in the moment, it felt huge, but when it passes, it seems small in retrospect.
4 – Love. Love. And Love Some More.
Love is the key to keeping calm with my children. It’s hard to get angry or frustrated with a child snuggled on my lap, or while locked in an embrace .
5 – I love being a mom.
Yes, there are challenging times, but when you tell yourself over and over how much you love motherhood, how can you NOT love it?!
6 – I will fully embrace today.
Do you torment yourself over what happened yesterday and worry over what will happen tomorrow? Embrace today… the here and now. You’ll be happier if you do.
7 – I will do what I can. No one expects me to do it all.
How often do we need this reminder to only do what we can?! Overextending ourselves leads to frustration and discontentment.
I recite this one often. I tend to default to thinking that having a bad day means I’m a bad mom.
It’s not true. We all have bad days… and that’s okay!
10 – It’s okay to ask for help.
Sometimes we need help. It’s okay to ask for it.
11 – I might not see it now, but the time I’m investing does matter.
It’s hard to envision that the board game we played, or the extra book we read at bedtime will have any impact… but the time we invest in our children will add up to a treasure chest full of positive memories.
12 – My children don’t want perfect, they want me.
I often get caught up in the “perfect” mom trap. My kids don’t want or need perfect. They just want me. They want their mom to love them and hug them and let them know how special they are.
13 – I will treasure my children as the unique individuals they are.
I always want to remember that my children are their own people. I never want to expect them to be anyone other than themselves and I want to cherish their uniqueness.
14 – I am building a legacy of love.
My heart’s desire is for my children to always know that they are loved. My daily actions may seem small, but over time, they accumulate into a legacy of love.
15 – Our home is a safe and peaceful haven.
While it’s unrealistic to expect all the moments to be peaceful, I want my children to felt that our home is a safe and peaceful haven for them.
There are plenty of challenges in motherhood, but with these positive parenting affirmations for moms, we can cling to the truths that our journey is an important one.
So what about you? Do you have any positive affirmations that you rely on? Which of these speak to you the most?
Severe Narcissism in even one parent can result in Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or CPTSD. CPTSD has five symptoms. This post discusses its most noticeable symptom, emotional flashbacks.
What are emotional flashbacks?
Many people don’t realize what’s happening during an emotional flashback due to the lack of a visual component.
Often, an event happens resulting in a very overwhelming but vague residual emotion. There is no visual component to define it as a past event from childhood. You are left in a state of illusive disquiet.
Suddenly, you feel hyper-aroused by a non-visual memory. Your fight-or-flight system kicks in. You are feeling overwhelmed with intense emotions that are far deeper than the current situation warrants.
Emotional flashbacks vary in intensity and the emotions they provoke.
Source: pixabay free images/johnhain
Fear. If fear is provoked, you may become overwhelmed, anxious, and panicky without understanding why. You know that the panic is excessive. You feel helpless and succumb.
Despair. If despair is triggered, you might suddenly dissociate and not understand why you feel so numb and detached.
Pain. In pain, you may protectively overreact with extreme anger and self-recrimination.
CPTSD doesn’t go away until you do the work necessary to resolve past issues.
The first step in recovery from narcissistic abuse or neglect is acceptance. Next is grieving what you missed as the child of narcissistic parents.
Gaining self awareness increases self confidence. Acceptance of yourself with strengths and vulnerabilities helps make emotional flashbacks occur less frequently.
Overwhelming feelings of rejection (especially self-rejection) may be an emotional flashback to previous childhood experiences of rejection and abandonment, which created profound sadness and anxiety. These overwhelmed you as a child. The child inside you, still needs your love and support.
Source: Pixabay free image/EliasSch
Acknowledging flashbacks helps you validate your emotions and reminds you that your past is gone and can’t hurt you now.
Dealing with Emotional Flashbacks
Caroline Foster in “Mothers: How to Handle a Narcissistic Parent and Recover from CPTSD” said.
1. Save yourself
Emotional flashbacks take you to a timeless part of the psyche that feels helpless, hopeless, and surrounded by danger as you were in childhood.
The feelings and sensations you’re experiencing are memories that cannot hurt you. They remind you that you still feel afraid, but you are not in danger and are safe in the present.
2. Have boundaries
If someone is currently provoking these feelings, remind yourself that you don’t have to accept mistreatment.
I would add, “You’re always free to leave uncomfortable, emotionally “disenfranchising” situations.
3. Speak Reassuringly to Your Inner Child
Children need to know that you love them unconditionally and that you will comfort and protect them.
4. Remind Yourself that You’re an Adult with More Resources to Protect Yourself
5. Ease Back Into Your Body
Fears and insecurities can cause us to numb and dissociate.
Try de-stress breathing, exercise, eating nutritiously, adequate sleep, and fun.
Find your passions and purpose.
I encourage practicing moderating your Fight, Flight, Fawn, and Freeze responses.
6. Resist the Inner Critics
Say No to your mental critics.
Replace negative thinking with a prepared list of your qualities and accomplishments.
7. Allow Yourself to Grieve
Flashbacks are opportunities to release those unexpressed feelings of fear, hurt, and abandonment.
Seek professional help to face your fears or join a CPTSD-informed support group.
8. Cultivate Safe Relationships and Supports
Take alone time as needed without isolating yourself.
Remember feelings aren’t facts and don’t define who you are. They’re just feelings—representations of how you are processing something.
Fear doesn’t mean you’re not brave. Brave is being afraid and doing it anyway with tools and supports.
Educate your closest friends about flashbacks. Ask and accept their support as you talk and feel your way through them.
9. Identify Types of Things that Trigger You and Lead to Flashbacks
10. Determine What You are Flashing Back To
View flashbacks as opportunities to discover and validate the experiences you need to heal from the past that led to feeling “not good enough”. Flashbacks also point to your current unmet needs and can provide you with motivation to finally get them met. Accept no substitutes for what will meet your needs.
Start researching the developmental milestones of children at the ages you identify these unhappy events occurring at, and consider working to enhance your acquisition of these.
No parent wants to see their child upset, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to react when your child is nervous or afraid. Do you hug them? Do you let them cry it out? There’s so much conflicting advice out there! Next time you’re faced with reacting to your nervous or fearful child, try these tried and true tips.
Do Be There For many children, your presence will help calm them. Hug them or hold them on your lap. Even holding their hand can help give them a sense of security and comfort.
Don’t Be Too Involved By telling your child exactly what to do or even what to say in stressful and challenging situations, they are not able to solve problems on their own or learn ways to cope by themselves. This doesn’t mean they’ll never need help, but you should let them try to problem solve first before offering a helpful hand.
Do Get Moving Physical activity can be calming during times of high stress. Running, doing cartwheels, or playing a game involving gross motor movements can help distract them from their worry or fear.
Don’t Avoid Activities When children constantly avoid situations that make them afraid or uncomfortable, their fears never go away. Try easing them into activities that make them nervous. You don’t want to expect too much at once because it can take them a while to conquer a fear. For example, if your child has a difficult time playing with other children at school, set up a playdate at home so they can focus on feeling comfortable around one child before being surrounded by all of their peers on the playground. By slowly helping them adapt, you can ease their fear and prepare them to cope on their own when they’re older.
Do Talk It Out Having the opportunity to express what you’re feeling is important, especially for children. Give them some one-on-one time and listen without judging or discounting their anxiety. The best time to talk it out is when they are feeling calm because they are able to listen to you more easily.
Don’t Overly Reassure Telling your child that “everything will be okay,” might actually confirm to your child that there is something to fear. While it’s hard to resist the instinct to reassure your child that everything will be okay, it might be best in the long run.
Do Allow For Expression, Even If They Can’t Explain Their Worries If your child has trouble talking about why they are nervous, there are other ways to start the conversation. Ask them to draw a picture or act out what they are afraid of with a doll, puppet, or stuffed animal.
Don’t Get Impatient Not knowing how to help can be hard and frustrating for parents, but don’t let those emotions show. Your child can sense how you’re feeling. Revealing your emotions could make your child feel like they’ve upset you, increase their nervousness, and make communicating more difficult. Try to set an example of how to react calmly to help your child feel calmer, as well.
Do Empathize Even if what they are afraid of seems silly to you, it’s important to show your child that you understand. Although they may not truly have anything to be fearful of, the emotions they are feeling are very real.
Don’t Wait Until They Are 100% Anxiety Free to Reward Their Behavior Encourage and praise small accomplishments. Being brave while facing things they are afraid of or are feeling nervous about is something to celebrate!
In this breakthrough book, clinical psychologist Lindsay Gibson exposes the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. You will see how these parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood. By freeing yourself from your parents’ emotional immaturity, you can recover your true nature, control how you react to them, and avoid disappointment. Finally, you’ll learn how to create positive, new relationships so you can build a better life.
Many parents are being asked to do the impossible, says Lynn Smith – raising kids in a crisis while continuing to work. There is no end in sight and we are not okay, says Smith, who urges all parents and caregivers to children to give themselves grace .
The last time my father hit me was seven years ago. I was in my late twenties, living in Vancouver and visiting my family in Alberta. My dad was drinking a little bit, and my sister and I got into a pretty big fight about our extended family. I was upstairs and I could hear my dad telling my mom that he was annoyed with me. My sister ran out of the house after our fight—and then, I heard my dad coming upstairs so I hid in a closet. Eventually, he found me. When my dad was mad at me, he’d often tell me to go kill myself. That day, he told me that when I got back to Vancouver I should jump off a bridge because I’m someone who just causes problems. After repeating that for a good 15 minutes, he took a knife and put it in my hands.
That was it. I started screaming at the top of my lungs because I just couldn’t handle repeatedly being told to kill myself. When I start yelling, he hit me because he thought I was going to get him in trouble with his neighbours. After he punched me in the face three times, I stopped screaming. Then he sat next to me on the bed, petting my head. It was fucking uncomfortable. I wanted to get away from him but after he hit me, I wasn’t about to move. My mom was there too, sitting on the other side of me. She had tried to intervene, tried to pull him off of me when he was hitting me, but it didn’t make a difference.
Growing up, my dad was the person I was closest to in my family
After that episode, my dad didn’t talk to me for three months. I think it’s because he felt shame and guilt. I don’t think my dad’s a bad person. He just hasn’t been taught how to handle his anger.
My dad came from India to Canada when he was in his 20s, and then re-educated himself in computer science. Growing up, he was the person that I was closest to in my family. When I was a kid, he would drive me to school every day, listening to my opinions on what I was being taught or what was happening in the news. When I was older, I didn’t hide much from him. He’d be the one to pick me up at 1 a.m. from a party so I would have a safe ride home.
He didn’t abuse my mom or my younger sister physically (or emotionally, that I’m aware of). It was just me. My sister wasn’t any more obedient than me—she was just a better liar. She would tell my parents she was studying at school for hours instead of saying she was out with friends. She never understood why I told them the truth, especially since that’s what often landed me in trouble.
My parents were pretty liberal compared to my extended family and some of the larger Punjabi community in my hometown. But I still struggled to conform to their expectations of being Indian—being accomplished at school, things like that. And when I didn’t conform, it caused problems.
When I was in grade five, I showed up crying at school one day and said, “I got in trouble with my dad.” My teacher brought me to the school counselor and I really underplayed what had happened. I don’t even remember what the root of the conflict was on that particular day, it was just that the kinds of questions my teacher was asking me made it seem like my dad was bad. I didn’t think my dad was bad. In fact, I thought I was the bad one and blamed myself for the abuse.
I’m just not a good kid. I’m the one that challenged him. I knew that would make him mad. I would never think, He was wrong.
The abuse would happen when I questioned him, asking things like “Why can’t I take band?” or, “Why can’t I go hang out with my friends at the mall?” I was never a rebellious kid by Western standards—I didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. I just wasn’t willing to listen to someone telling me what to do. I wanted to know why I couldn’t do that thing, because if there was no reasonable explanation, well, then I was going to do what I wanted to do. But questions like these sent my dad into a rage—his violence was an immediate reaction to them.
I only started thinking he was the one who was wrong as a teenager, but I still didn’t seek help, until that very last time he beat me up. I’ve gone to counsellors over the years, but I felt like I was just being talked to as a diagnosis, not a person. Then I tried a life coach and her approach was very different. She helped me discover answers on my own and make me reflect on my life and circumstances in a way that felt transformative. I work with one now who specializes in childhood trauma.
I’ve always kept in touch with my dad no matter what
I’ve been living away from home for ten years, but I’ve always kept in touch with my dad no matter what was going on in our relationship. I could cut myself off from him, but that would also mean cutting myself off from the rest of my family, my mom and my sister, because they are all so close. My mother has never really acknowledged the abuse, other than advising me that I have just move on and let it go. She never let me process it. It’s impacted our relationship—there’s no depth to it. And I never even thought about talking to my sister about what was going on. She’s four and half years younger, and growing up she just seemed like a baby to me. But two years ago, when she was pregnant with her first child, she told me she talked to my dad about it. She told him that if he had ever done what he did to me, they wouldn’t have a relationship. I was shocked. That night, I cried in bed because it was the first time someone in my family had even acknowledged what I had been through.
Even though my parents have hurt me, I don’t feel like their intention is to hurt me. I have a deep respect for them regardless of the shit that I’ve been through. It’s my responsibility to work on my shit, not for me to change them. And while the physical abuse has stopped, the emotional abuse hasn’t.
But my perspective has shifted. My work with my life coach has helped me realize I was living for my dad’s approval all the time. Now, if I don’t get it, I realize it doesn’t mean anything about me. I do my best and if I don’t receive his approval or acceptance, I can’t do anything about that. This has helped set a boundary with my father for the first time in my life.
I finally realized, No, this isn’t okay anymore
A few months ago, my dad and I were talking on the phone, and he was demeaning me about where my life is at—that I wasn’t far enough professionally, that I’m well into my thirties and not married. My initial reaction to that was to apologize, to say, “Yes, you’re right.” When we talked later that week, he blew up again. He said the problem with me is that I’m not the type of person who lets things go. Something clicked in me that day. Something that was just like, No, this is not okay. So I got off the phone, and I didn’t call him back right away to smooth things over as I would usually do.
Exactly a month later, he called me. After we talked for a while, I asked, “Hey, Dad. Did you want to talk about why I haven’t talked to you in a month?” He apprehensively agreed. Then I said, “I appreciate your concern for me, but maybe you could consider a different approach.” He told me to shut up and that he’ll never be sorry for being a concerned parent, but that he is sorry I’m unsuccessful in life, and then he hung up on me.
We didn’t speak for nearly four months—the longest I’ve gone not talking to my father. I didn’t really have the desire to call him. Before this, I would have just picked up the phone. This was the first time I ever called him out on his behaviour, and I was willing and open to talk about it. But he wasn’t. There wasn’t much else for me to do. Something changed in me during that conversation. Finally setting a boundary with my dad meant not actually standing up to him as much as it was standing up for myself. The decision to do this was a culmination of everything else that was going on in my life—my work stress was reaching a breaking point and I took a sick leave shortly after, and I was also having trouble with some key friendships. It was me finally realizing, No, this isn’t okay anymore. A parent can be worried about you, but they don’t have the right to verbally abuse you.
When he finally called me months later, he apologized. He acknowledged his behaviour, but still hasn’t acknowledged the physical abuse. He said, “I’m getting older and what will I do if I don’t have a relationship with my family?” I responded that that can’t be the only reason we have a relationship. We had a good conversation, but this time away has helped me reset how I interact with him. I’m being more cautious now—I don’t think someone changes after one conversation. I talked to him significantly less that I used to. Before this fight, I would call him out of habit. Now, I call him once every two or three weeks.
Looking back, my relationship with my dad has always been about trying to prove to him that I was valuable, that the warmth I bring to the world is meaningful even if I’m not achieving all the milestones he wants for me. I’ve done a lot of work on myself to know my worth—and now I know it doesn’t come from his approval.
Call 911 if you’re in immediate danger from abuse. If you’re in a abusive relationship—or want to help a friend who is—call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 for support; crisis counselling is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For additional, cross-Canada resources, check out this directory from the Ending Violence Association of Canada.
Do you know an emotionally avoidant and detached parent/guardian? If so, what makes that person so emotionally unavailable? Is it a mental illness, personality disorder, or something else such as a job, career goal, or educational endeavor? Whatever it is, having an emotionally unavailable parent or guardian can lead to a lifelong journey of unstable or failed relationships, emotional neediness, empty voids, identity confusion, poor attachment to others, low self-esteem and self-efficacy (the feeling of mastery), etc. Research has identified the importance of all infants and developing children having an appropriate, warm, and loving attachment to a mother figure during the developmental years. Without an appropriate, warm, and loving parental figure, children are likely to develop multiple personality, emotional, and psychological difficulties. For many of my clients, the absence of a loving parental figure has resulted in an increase in psychiatric symptoms, school and academic difficulties, fear of abandonment, and many other challenges. This article will discuss the aftereffects or consequences of growing up without an emotionally available parent.
Parents who are emotionally unavailable are often immature and psychologically affected themselves. As difficult as it is to believe, emotionally unavailable parents have a host of their own problems that might go back as far as their own childhood. There is often a deficit in parents who are unable to meet the emotional and psychological needs of their child. In a sense, some emotionally void parents deserve sympathy as they are often emotionally burned adults who have no way of coping with their own emotional and psychological needs. As a result, these kind of parents become one of the following: rejecting, emotionally distant, immature, self-centered or narcissistic, or driven to succeed in life. These adults are not emotionally what their stated (or chronological) age says they are. They are pseudo-mature in many ways which often pushes the child to become adult-like and emotionally independent before their time. The parent maintains negative patterns of behavior due to lack of self-awareness, often affecting the child in more ways than one, while the child sinks further and further into despair. Sadly, these same kids develop into emotionally needy teens and adults who are longing for the love, security, and affection they never received.
Symptoms often representative of adults who are emotionally immature and detached include but are not limited to: rigidity (unwillingness to be flexible when needed), low stress tolerance (inability to tolerate stress in a mature manner), emotional instability with aggression (anger outbursts characterized by threats of physical aggression, suicidal gesture, cutting behaviors or other acts of self-harm), poor boundaries (desiring to be their child’s friend instead of a parent), unstable relationships (multiple partners or friends who create more trouble than peace), and attention-seeking (looking for accolades, recognition, or support at all costs) among many other characteristics. Tragically, the affected children often develop into teenagers and adults who also struggle with life.
Some of the consequences of growing up under immature and emotionally void parents include:
Affected adult relationships: Believe it or not, our childhood(s) affect our relationships and how we interact with others later in life. If we were loved and cared for appropriately, we will most likely exhibit those same traits as adults. If we were abused and neglected, we will most likely develop characteristics to protect ourselves as adults such as being defensive or overly protective. Some adults become angry or struggle with long-term relationships which leads to a series of short-term and unstable relationships. It is important for me to mention that not every child with an emotionally unavailable parent will develop into an adult with problems. Some adults develop into better people than their parent(s) could ever be. Every situation is different and the variables in the lives of children with emotionally unavailable parents are also different. However, for the most part, children with emotionally void parents often develop into teenagers and adults with problems themselves.
Fear of attachment and love: Children who have developed under an emotionally void parent will most likely develop into a teenager and adult who struggles to emotionally attach to others and receive/demonstrate love. While working within a nonprofit agency in which my clients tended to be abused (emotionally, physically, and sexually), I noticed a pattern in which many of these clients struggled not only to maintain appropriate peer and staff interactions, but also struggled to connect with me and other mental health professionals. Trust is a major component of positive emotional attachment. When you haven’t experienced the love, affection, and protection of a loving adult, you are more likely to develop defenses or protective mechanisms that keep you separated from other people in some way. Unfortunately, defense and protective mechanisms can prevent the individual from engaging appropriately in therapy or trusting that they can be happy and feel secure in their relationships.
Borderline and narcissistic personality traits: Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are two disorders that can negatively affect everyone in connection to the sufferer. The unstable, emotionally labile moods often characteristic of BPD can lead to frequent arguments, paranoia, blaming, and physical or verbal aggression. The self-centered, overly confident, and arrogant behaviors of NPD can make developing children feel estranged emotionally from that parent. Without proper treatment/therapy, these two disorders can destabilize the household and many relationships.
Selfishness: I’ve often regarded selfishness as a personality deficit as it is a characteristic that is not admirable. Not being able to share with others can lead to an inability to be emotionally detached and immature behavior. I previously had a 10 year old client who enjoyed playing games on his iPad after school. His mother, who has a childhood history of abuse, reported that she would not permit him to play on his iPad after school. Of course, many parents do not want their children to play games until homework or chores are completed. But to my surprise, this was not the reason for restricting access to his iPad. She eventually admitted that she did not like him touching her iPad because she had spent so much money on it and liked the fact that it still seemed brand new. She further reported that, as a child, she rarely had anything of her own and felt a need to “protect” her investment. This kind of selfishness resulted in many years of parent-child conflict. As her son grew older and began to question her behavior(s), he became even more resentful of her and eventually asked to live with his father. The relationship was destroyed.
Substance abuse/dependency: In order to cope with pain and sorrow, many people turn to substances that “takes them away” or “dulls the pain.” Sadly, recreational use or prescription use of drugs become a habit and the need for self-medication becomes an addiction. Once an addiction happens, the life of the user then becomes more complicated as relationships, employment, and other important areas of life no longer seem important to the substance abuser.
Lack of identity and direction: A former adolescent female client once asked me the following question almost every individual session we would have: “how do you know what kind of relationship you should have if all of the relationships in your life have been abusive or exploitative in some way?” I would always respond by highlighting the importance of having a strong foundation of morals and identity. Without understanding who you really are, you are more likely to follow the crowd and allow anyone with the slightest bit of interest of you into your life. When you know who you are, what you want, and what is best for you, you are likely to be more careful in choosing other individuals to be apart of your life. A lack of identity can lead to a series of unstable and shallow relationships that are short-lived.
Loss of hope, faith, and joy: For many adults who were raised under an emotionally void parent there is a deep feeling of loss and grief. The “loss” of a parent who is still living and breathing can seem like the most tragic experience. To look a parent in the eyes or hear their voice and yet feel so far away, is tragic. The inability to connect to the very person who brought you into this world is tragic. It is like a tease. It is like a distant fantasy. Sadly, the adult child begins to feel a sense of grief and loss of hope, faith, and joy. Sometimes adult children internalize their emotions and begin to feel depressed, suicidal, or self-injurious. This is often when substance abuse begins.
It is truly sad that a child’s life can be affected by the emotional and psychological instability and unavailability of a parent. It’s as if this belief gives the unstable parent more power than they deserve. But decades of research confirm that children must have the experience, during early childhood development, of a warm caregiver/guardian in order to develop the appropriate skills (the ability to be emotionally available, connect with other individuals, understand the rules of social communication, etc.) needed for later in life.
Do you have questions regarding this? Have you experienced this? If so, feel free to post below as I always enjoy reading your questions and replies to each other.
It’s a word most of us have heard before, often when describing families that are extremely close and tightly wound. But what does it mean? Aren’t families supposed to be close? Aren’t we supposed to try to please our parents or siblings? Doesn’t being a part of a family mean making sacrifices sometimes?
Well, the answer is “yes” and “no” to all three questions. Yes, the hope is that our families are our primary social communities; little (or big) clusters of individuals who are related by birth or adoption, and who define themselves as members of that clan. Ideally, children are launched into their adult lives from these families, prepared to think for themselves and with a well developed efficacy and identity of their own.
When families are enmeshed, however, this doesn’t always happen. When children are raised to conform to their parents’ expectations of who they are, what they believe, and how they think and feel, that individuation so necessary to being truly independent doesn’t occur. Healthy families allow for differences in their members; adults and children alike.
Growing up is a process of exploration, and healthy families allow for a child to develop according to their own individual and unique characteristics. Children who love art are encouraged and supported in that interest, even if mom doesn’t value art herself. Children who love music or theatre are supported in those interests, whether dad had football and soccer in mind or not. Children are not told how they should feel or think, but are encouraged to make up their own minds and express what they are feeling without being judged.
As children grow older, enmeshed families can hit heavy walls of conflict when the natural healthy questioning of adolescents challenges parents with “too rigid” expectations for their children’s behavior. Teenagers are supposed to differ from their parents, and they often need a few years of wide variance from their parents before they settle into what feels right to them. That’s a healthy process.
Families that are enmeshed often have a set of spoken, or unspoken, rules that govern the member’s behaviors even into adulthood. Do these sound familiar to you?
Don’t talk to outsiders about what goes on in our family. That is our business and our business only.
What Mom and Dad say/believe/think/feel about you is what is right, never mind that you are 45 years old and have been on your own for 27 years.
It’s okay for you to be a little bit different from us in some ways, but there is a line that you can’t cross in this family and still be accepted (maybe you can’t be a Democrat, or a gay person, or marry outside of our race).
The cost of being different is to be cut off. We cannot accept differences that challenge our rigid sense of who this family is.
Even as adults, you will conform to the wishes of “the family” instead of make your own mind up about how, where, and with whom you wish to live your life.
If they do sound familiar, it is possible that your family is enmeshed on some level. If so, there is good news and bad news about that. Change is possible, but it isn’t easy. Enmeshed families are rigid systems that become locked-in over time, and these roles and patterns can be very hard to break out of. If a family as a whole understands that this enmeshment is unhealthy and wishes to change, family therapy can be helpful in establishing more permeable, flexible boundaries within family relationships.
This is an ideal scenario; however, most often what occurs is that one family member recognizes that they are unable to be who they are or live as they choose without offending the family, and that person very often needs to make a difficult choice. In healthy families, members are supported in making choices for their own well being, even if members don’t agree with those choices.
Individuals who decide to divorce can often be judged by other adult family members who think they “know what’s right” for that person and that marriage. Adults who wish to change religious or political status can feel they don’t have the right to do so because their families will disapprove. Adult children can make well-meaning but wrong judgments about how their parents should be spending their money and retirement years.
If you are dealing with trying to make healthy choices for your own life and experiencing the fall-out of being “different” in an enmeshed family, you have a couple of choices. You could confront your family in a loving but firm way, tell them what you see happening, and then tell them what you need in terms of moving forward. Invite them to accept your decisions for your life whether or not they are the decisions they would make for you. If they resist, offer to do family counseling with them in order to ensure you all navigate through these changes and maintain a healthy closeness.
If your family members refuse, the choice for you is to remain in conformity for the rest of your life, sacrificing what is best for you and suppressing your own identity for the family’s collective identity, or to risk their disapproval and make your own choices. You can choose to do what is best for you; that is within your control. What you can’t control is your family’s response, but you have to be willing to let them deal with their response; it’s their business, not yours.
Over time, many families will be able to adjust to the changes and accept you on some level: “Oh that’s Jimmy, he’s a little ‘different,’ but he’s okay.” Some may not, but this is where the sacrifice part comes in. If you are in an enmeshed family and you have a need or desire for your life that isn’t in compliance with the family “rules,” you are going to have to make a sacrifice one way or the other. Choose your own well being, or choose a life of denial of your own needs.
If you are in this situation and need help with these decisions, individual therapy might be helpful to you. Therapy can help you determine what you need and want, and help support you through making the changes you need to in order to get where you want to be. Therapy can also help support you in staying strong in your own sense of who you are, no matter what others believe.
Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC, is a therapist who specializes in individual, family, and couples and marriage counseling in Denver, CO. She provides services through Maria Droste Counseling Center.
The following are criteria for Aspergers that have been excerpted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV):
Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
Marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction
Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievements with other people, (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
lack of social or emotional reciprocity
Restricted repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities
The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
There is no clinically significant general delay in language
There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction) and curiosity about the environment inchildhood.
They are often physically awkward and socially tactless.
You’ve probably known quite a few. Maybe they are even in your family. There’s that brilliant professor you had in college who looked at his desk the entire time he was talking to you and whose office was so overflowing with stuff there was nowhere for a visitor to sit. How about your brother-in-law the mechanic, whose work is superb but who insists on describing in minute detail exactly what he did to fix your car — and doesn’t seem to notice all your hints that you’re trying to leave already! What about your uncle or cousin or the sister of your best friend who is so socially awkward that you squirm with discomfort whenever they show up at an event, wondering what they’ll do next to embarrass themselves?
They are often physically awkward and socially tactless. They seem to be perfectionists but often live in chaos. They know more about some obscure or highly technical subject than seems possible — and go on and on about it. They may seem to lack empathy, and are often accused of being stubborn, selfish, or even mean. They can also be extremely loyal, sometimes painfully honest, highly disciplined and productive in their chosen field, and expert at whatever they decide to be expert at. They are the Aspies, adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The number of adults with Aspergers is still difficult to determine. The syndrome wasn’t even officially acknowledged in the DSM until 1994, even though it was described by Hans Asperger in 1944. The result? Many older adults weren’t diagnosed — or helped — as children. Teachers found them exasperating because they were so disorganized and uneven in their academic performance despite often being clearly bright. Other kids considered them weird and either bullied them or ignored them. As adults, they are only now discovering that there is a reason they’ve had difficulties with relationships their entire lives.
For many, having a diagnosis is a relief.
“I never could figure out what other people want,” says Jerome, one of my Aspie clients. “People seem to have some kind of code for getting along that is a mystery to me.”
Jerome is a brilliant chemist. He has the respect of his colleagues but he knows that he’s not well-liked. The finely tuned intuition he uses to do research breaks down completely in relationships.
“I know I’m well-regarded in my work. As long as we’re talking about a research problem, everything is fine. But as soon as people start doing that small talk stuff, I’m lost. It’s good to have a name for it. At least I know there’s a reason.”
Jerome is now starting to put the same intelligence he uses in his lab to learning better social skills. For him, it’s an academic problem to solve. Like many other Aspies, he wants to get along and have friends. He’s highly motivated to learn the “rules” most people take for granted. He just never understood what those rules were. Having the diagnosis has given him new energy for the project.
The press coverage of the syndrome of the last several years has been very helpful as well.
“I was working on a highly technical engineering project with a new guy last week. In the middle the morning, he put down his pencil, looked at me and said, “You have Aspergers, don’t you.”
Ted was explaining a recent encounter to me. “I got real nervous, thinking he was going to leave.”
“What did you say?” I asked.
“Well. I know now that’s my problem so I just said he was right. And you know what he said? He said, ‘I thought so’ and told me I could relax because he works with another guy who has the same thing. We had a great morning solving the problem. That wouldn’t have happened even a few years ago. I would have upset him somehow without understanding why. He would have gone back to his company thinking I was some kind of jerk. Things are just better now that there’s some understanding out there.”
Having the diagnosis has also saved more than a few marriages. Now that the kids are grown, Judy was ready to separate from her husband of 27 years when she first came to therapy.
“If Al and Tipper Gore could do it after 40 years of marriage, I figured I could manage it too. I don’t know what their problems were but I was just exhausted. I felt like I’d been single-parentingour two kids forever. Actually, I felt like I had three kids. Most of my friends couldn’t figure out what I saw in a guy who could only talk about one thing and who would rudely disappear in the middle of a social evening. He never seemed to be able to understand any of our feelings. Our finances were always a mess because he would lose track of bills. Yes, he was really sweet to me in our private life and he’s always been great about doing things like building the kids a tree house — that was really, really cool. But it became harder and harder to see that as a fair exchange for all the times I had to smooth things over because of something he did or didn’t do that bothered someone.
Then my daughter emailed me an article about Aspergers. It changed everything. I realized he wasn’t deliberately making life so hard. He couldn’t help it. As soon as he took an Aspie quiz online, he saw it was true. He does love us. He didn’t want the family to fall apart. He went right out and found a therapist who works with adults with Aspergers. He’s far from perfect but he’s honestly trying. He’s even apologized to the kids for not being more involved while they were growing up. I can’t ask for more than that.”
A diagnosis is primarily used to drive treatment decisions and to make it easier for clinical people to communicate with each other. But in cases like these, it can also be an enormous comfort to the individual and their families. As long as someone with Aspergers feels like they are being blamed or criticized for something they don’t even understand, they can only be defensive or bewildered. When the people around them feel offended or disrespected, they can only get exasperated, argue, or write them off. But when the thing that makes a relationship difficult is named and understood, it becomes a problem that can be worked on together. That shift can change everything.
For children with special needs, making friends can be a big challenge. Three Moms share their stories and offer advice in this discussion: Marcy White, Mary-Lou VanBerkel and Louise Kinross of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
All the employees of school districts on a witch hunt to expel and otherwise permanently punish young boys for shooting toy guns or forming their fists into the shape of a gun need to read Back to Normal.
The purpose of psychologist Enrico Gnaulati’s 2013 book is to argue how ordinary childhood behavior is often misdiagnosed as ADD, ADHD, depression and autism — frequently with life-long, disturbing consequences. But along the way he raises the taboo question of whether we “label boys as mentally unstable, behaviorally unmanageable, academically underachieving, in need of special-education services, or displaying behavior warranting school suspension just because their behavior deviates noticeably from that of the average girl?”
He adds, “In a sense, girl behavior has become the standard by which we judge all kids.”
He cites numerous studies showing that typical boy behavior – wrestling, rough games of tag, good guy/bad guy imaginative play that involves “shooting” — are condemned by preschool and elementary school teachers, the vast majority of whom are women, without the behavior being redirected appropriately to release boys’ “natural aggression.” Boys who play in the way noted above are not on a path to mass murder, contrary to what zero tolerance school policies suggest. For the vast majority of them, they are simply on the path to manhood. I wonder how many of us who recognize that truth still stifle our boys’ rough play or cowboy shoot outs out of fear of the new rules – reinforcing the capriciousness of regulations in young minds who will one day asked to make them.
Without changes to rigid policies and attitudes about what constitutes good behavior, we will be on a path as a society to generating mass confusion and depression in boys whose natural tendencies are being relabeled as criminal traits or medical problems that need to be treated.
This is not just an existential threat. As unorthodox feminist Camille Paglia said recently in remarks at American University:
Extravaganzas of gender experimentation sometimes precede cultural collapse, as they certainly did in Weimar Germany. Like late Rome, America too is an empire distracted by games and leisure pursuits. Now as then, there are forces aligning outside the borders, scattered fanatical hordes where the cult of heroic masculinity still has tremendous force. I close with this question: is a nation whose elite education is increasingly predicated on the neutralization of gender prepared to defend itself against that growing challenge?
If that sounds crazy, is it wrong to worry how the massive increase in the number of children taking anti-depressants and other drugs as a result of skyrocketing diagnoses of ADHD, bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder will impact their lives?
Many drugs used to treat the above disorders cause serious problems, including mood swings, sleeplessness, weight gain, weight loss and slower growth. And then there is the long-term impact of a mental health diagnosis, which can create a sense that the child is not in control of his actions because it is purely a chemical imbalance in the brain.
As Gnaulati writes, however, in many cases it’s “causes — plural, not singular — that explain why a child behaves the way he or she does.”
“On any number of occasions in my practice over the years,” he writes, “I have seen how a mildly depressed or ADHD-like kid can be transformed by a change of teacher, a change of school, signing up for a sport, a reduced homework load, a summer abroad, a front-of-the-class seating arrangement, a month living away from home with an even-tempered aunt, or any of a host of other everyday steps.”
Many forces conspire to push a mental health diagnosis, from rules on health insurance to schools achieving certain goals under federal No Child Left Behind law. Gnaulati’s book should give parents struggling with a difficult child hope that their child may not be permanently mentally ill, but going through a difficult stage that can be treated without medication. And it should give school administrators perspective on how best to handle unruly boys and channel their energy without condemning their nature. At the very least, we don’t need any more boys suspended for chewing a Pop-Tart into a gun.
Do you have a child between the ages of 17 and 23 living with you? If you’re in constant conflict with an older child over everything from curfews (should they have one or shouldn’t they?) to getting a job to alcohol use, James Lehman offers advice on how to set reasonable limits, and how to coach your child to responsibility and independence.(Part 1 of a 3 part series.)
“I want you to think of your adult children as guests. Not as children. How would you let a guest act? When would you draw the line with a guest?”
Parents feel they have to take care of their kids, whether they are 9 or 19 years old. But as kids get older, they engage in more risky behavior, and “taking care of them” becomes more challenging. When they’re five, they’re climbing the monkey bars and you’re worried they’re going to break their arm. At eleven they’re starting to play football or baseball and you’re afraid they might get hurt with a piece of equipment. At 16, they’re starting to drive, they’re often getting money on their own, and they’re around people with drugs. On the surface, they may seem much more independent, but actually they are simply much more able to put their parents off and hide what’s really going on with them.
Kids between the ages of 17 and 23 have a lot of thinking errors. Just like you can have a spelling error, and misspell a word, you can have a thinking error in which you misread life’s problems and come out with the wrong solutions. When kids start hitting their late teens, you’ll hear them saying things that indicate they see themselves as victims. “It’s not my fault.” “I couldn’t help it.” “I only stayed out an hour late and you want to punish me?” They become much more adept at manipulating their parents by blaming them for being too rigid and strict. You’ll hear kids say, “I’m getting older now. You should trust me more.” But the fact is, they’re not getting that much older. Teenage mentality lasts from early adolescence until 22 or 23 years of age. Most of the research shows kids are still using the same parts of their brain at 22 that they were using at 15. Their brain is still developing in their early 20’s. So they are not that much more prepared for adult situations. But parents can get sucked into the thinking error that “You owe me. You owe me a place to live. You shouldn’t be too rigid.” When parents hear this enough, they start to feel guilty for the rules by which they have chosen to live. They begin to think they’re too strict just for trying to implement the rules they’ve always had since their kids were young.
How to Enforce the Rules of the House with Older Kids
I think parents should have two levels of rules with their older children who are still living at home. The first are the rules of your household that reflect your values, structure and moral authority. For example: People don’t abuse people around here. That doesn’t change at 18 or 19. That rule never changes. No drugs and alcohol, especially if you’re under age. That doesn’t change at 18 or 19. That’s the rule. No stealing. No lying. I would keep those rules very clear, because you don’t want to start having double standards with older kids, especially if you have other younger kids in the home.
The second level of rules is the one that enables parents to live with young adults. Certainly, young adults should get more responsibility and independence, but they have to earn it. If you’ve got a job, you get more independence. Should kids be able to stay out all night because they’re over 18? Absolutely not. If they’re living in your house, they have to let you know that they’re okay. That may mean calling in if they decide to sleep over at someone’s house. You have a right as a parent to expect this.
The most important part of having rules with older children is the discussion that establishes those rules. When a child is about to turn 18, parents need to have a serious discussion about what the rules are going to be in order for everyone to live together. It should be a sit down, and you should write everything down that you agree to so that everything is clear. What can you do? What can’t you do? How will we support you in what you can do? What’s going to happen if you do what you’re not supposed to do? What is forbidden? These things should be clearly spelled out.
There’s a thin line between carrying your kids and being supportive of them. I think when someone is 18, if they finish high school, they should be supporting themselves financially. There should be no job too menial that they can’t take it until they find something better. Many kids don’t give a darn in high school, aren’t ready for a better job, and they resent the fact that they have to work at McDonald’s, 7-11 or some other starting out position. So they avoid doing it and think they’re better than that. This is a thinking error—a complete cognitive distortion that you shouldn’t accept as a parent. Parents need to say to older kids, “You made your choices in high school, and now if you want to better yourself, you’re going to have to go to school at night. If you want to better yourself, you’re going to have to start out in a junior college. If we can’t pay for college full time, you’re going to have to work and go to school part time.”
Everyone in the home should know what the rules are, and it’s important to lay it all out before the child turns 18. For example, the rule on drinking: “If you come home drunk, you will not be allowed to live in our house.” It can be you’re out of the house for a few days, a few weeks or forever. Just establish the rule, write it down and explain to the child that he is over 18, and this is how we have to live with this issue. If kids get belligerent and violent after 18 (or at any time, in my opinion) the police should be called.
Think of Your Adult Children as a Guests—Not as Children
If you feel compromised and taken advantage of by an older child, you need to realize this: the child is an adult now. He may not act it, but he is an adult. He’s living under your roof. He has to follow your laws. I want you to think of your adult children as guests. Not as children. That’s the most important thing to do. They’re done with high school; they are now guests in your home. How would you let a guest act? When would you draw the line with a guest? When would you feel you have to call the police with a guest?
When my son went to college, one of the biggest shocks he had was when we started to refer to his room as the guest room. I remember him saying, “But that’s my room.” We said, “No, that’s the guest room. You can stay there anytime you want, for as long as you want, as long as you live our way.” We said it with love and kindness, but we wanted him to see his role in a different way—as an adult.
For parents who are very anxious and have a lot of fears about their kids, this sounds like a difficult thing to say. I know that. But it’s really the best thing to say because you need to let these kids know that they have to start to make it on your own. In effect, you are saying, “You’ve had 18 years to learn how to make it on your own. Now’s the time to put it into practice. Whatever you’ve chosen not to learn or chosen not to do over those 18 years, you’re going to have to pay a price for that now.”
The bottom line is, sometimes kids have to start out small. There’s no shame in that, and you have to make that very clear. Even if it doesn’t match up with what you had hoped for your child. Many young adult children often have a false sense of entitlement. I met many kids in my practice who refused to go to school, and could only read and write at a seventh or eighth grade level at best. They told me they were going to be video game programmers, basketball players or rap singers. That’s how they were putting off their anxiety. If you’re talking to a kid who says, “I’m not making it in school, but I’m gonna be a rap singer. I wrote a few songs tonight,” that’s the way that that kid is postponing his anxiety. What he’s really saying is, “I’m so scared about the future, I have to make up this fantasy, and then I’m gonna cling to it.” Then, if you challenge that fantasy and say, “Wait a minute. There’s 20 million kids out there. What makes you think you can do it?” the kid says, “You don’t believe in me. You don’t have any faith in me.” He turns it right around on you until you’re the problem. His not studying is not the problem. You’re not believing in his fantasy becomes the problem.
When you have these different currents coming together in a home where parents are living with an older child, it can get very uncomfortable for everyone, if not hostile. The way to keep that hostility at bay is to have clarity beforehand. Get the expectations and the consequences down on paper–literally. Write them down and expect the child to live by them.
I have known many parents who couldn’t get their adult children out of bed. They think that they’re helping their adult children by giving them a roof over their head and not making them be responsible because they’re afraid for their kids. But what they’re afraid of can only be cured by that kid getting out of bed and doing something for himself. The parent is afraid the child is not going to amount to anything, that he’s not going to find a good job, that he’s not going to make it in school, that he’s going to get into trouble socially. But the thing that addresses those fears is to get him up at eight o’clock in the morning and get him out there looking for a job. Tell him to leave with his lunch, a cell phone and the internet want ads and don’t come back.
This may sound harsh. You’re pushing someone out into a world that they have to deal with. But you’re not pushing them out of a plane without a parachute. You’re pushing them out into the street without any money. The solution to that problem is getting a job. Many times parents use their own fears, anxieties and sense of guilt and remorse to justify not doing what they would do to a guest. Out of fear, they choose not to expect out of their child what they expect out of themselves and each other every day. (Part 1 of a 3 part series. Please also see “In Response to Parents of Older Children” and “Rules, Boundaries and Older Children: Is it Ever too Late to set up a Living Agreement?”.
There has been overwhelming response and interest in last month’s article on adult children. It was viewed over 10,000 times, was our second most emailed article ever, and has received the most reader comments of any article we’ve ever published. I must say I’m not surprised about this, since in my private practice I dealt with many parents who had terrible problems with children who were over 18 and still living at home. I believe this phenomenon has become a national problem. As the cost of living goes up, adult children who are not really prepared for the workforce have to make some sacrifices. Unfortunately today, kids don’t like making sacrifices and parents don’t want to enforce sacrifices.
“Be specific. ‘I want you to put in three applications a day. I want you making three follow up phone calls a day. And if you verbally abuse me, you’re out of the house for 24 hours.’ Remember: Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
A few notes before we begin. In this forum, I will not address individual cases or parents. The reason is that this forum is not counseling or therapy and should never be misconstrued as such. Rather, this is a place where I can offer you my personal opinion from 30 years of professional experience. What I will do here (and what I believe will be helpful for the most readers) is respond to the important themes that recurred within many of your responses. This will be a long article, because I see so many issues that call for discussion. If you posted a question after Part One of “Rules, Boundaries and Older Children” last month, or if you are struggling with an adult child, I hope you’ll take the time to read my response to readers here, and that it will help you and your family.
For Readers Whose Adult Children are Verbally Abusing them and Destroying Property
The theme that stood out most is the tremendous amount of verbal abuse that adult children are laying on their parents. Along with verbal abuse and cursing, I saw many of you writing about destruction of property and your adult child’s refusal to communicate and respond. This may sound harsh, but I think it’s amazing how people will make excuses for that type of behavior. It’s understandable that parents make excuses for younger kids who are abusive, hoping they’ll grow out of it. But I think once these kids are adolescents and adults, their behavior patterns are very set, and you need to know that adult children won’t take the time and trouble to learn new behavior patterns unless they’re forced to.
Adult children who use verbal abuse, aggression and destruction of property to deal with their parents are still using intimidation and force to solve complex problems. When you’re 18, 19, or 20 and all the things your parents told you are coming true—that you’re not prepared for the work force, that you should have studied harder, that you need to push yourself—it is easy to get resentful and blame and intimidate your parents. Because that’s easier than getting a job and working your way up. That’s easier than learning how to live with a roommate because you can’t afford your own apartment and a car at the same time. One thing we know about human beings is that they will, by their nature, take the easy way out. In this case, the easy way out is being oppressive to your parents so that you don’t feel any stress.
I think that parents also have to take some of the responsibility for this behavior. In the last twenty years, so many parents did everything they could to ensure that their kids didn’t feel discomfort because letting your kids feel discomfort was considered a bad thing. I know because I’ve dealt with so many of these parents. They fought with the schools. They protected their kids from consequences. In many cases they let things slide that they knew were wrong. They made excuses for the kids. And what they ended up with is a kid who is not prepared to deal with the injustice, stress and discomfort of life. Making a transition from adolescence to adulthood is very stressful, uncomfortable and difficult. It involves solving some very complex problems about how you’re going to live, where you’re going to live, who you’re going to live with, and what you’re going to do with your life. Although many kids solve those problems in a non-destructive way, there is a sub-group of kids who still make it their parent’s problem and society’s problem and everybody else’s problem. If you’re dealing with one of these adult children, it will take all the strength and commitment you can muster to force this child to become independent.
I noticed in one of the responses that the parents thought I was telling them to throw their kids out. I am not saying that at all. But I am saying that your kids won’t change until you do something drastic. Making them leave the home is one of those things that may have to be done.
As a parent, I understand the difficulty, fear and anxiety of sending your child out into the world. But also as a parent, I know that the best personality characteristic that you can give a child is independence. The best knowledge you can give them is how to solve life’s problems. If they’re still at home cursing at you, abusing you, not getting a job, sleeping until noon and playing video games all day, they are not independent and they are not solving life’s problems. There’s no gray area there. Parents have to be very strong in demanding that their kids start to face their situation in life before it gets worse.
Let’s be clear: from an adult child’s point of view, this is a great life. Somebody’s paying the rent, there’s food in the refrigerator, they get to party with their friends, they don’t have to be anywhere at any time. They get to avoid all stress, and if their parents give them a hard time, they bully them. Nice life. If parents are willing to live that way, you don’t have to read any more of my articles. You’ve found the solution that works for you. But if you’re determined not to live that way, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have a lot of choices. You need to make a drastic change.
Here is my recommendation on what that drastic change looks like. Number one, you set some simple structure and some rules for your child. Rules like: You need to get up at a certain time. You need to go out and look for jobs. You can’t sit around and play video games all day. Be specific. “I want you to put in three applications a day. I want you making three follow-up phone calls a day. And if you verbally abuse me, you’re out of the house for 24 hours.” You don’t care where they go. Let them go to their aunt’s house or their friend’s house. Let them figure out where they’ll stay. They’re out of the house for 24 hours.
I want to make a distinction here. What I just suggested is a consequence. It’s not preparation for life. If they’re verbally abusive a second time or destroy property, they’re out of the house for three days or a week. You don’t care where they go. They’ll tell you they’re partying at their friend’s house. Let them party. All you know is that they can’t stay in your house. This is a consequence for disrespecting your home and your values. This is not a preparation for independence. (See the discussion below and in part two of my article on “Rules, Boundaries and Older Children”, which will be featured in Empowering Parents in a few weeks, for suggestions on how to prepare kids for independence.) This is used strictly to get some control in your house. If you have adult children who are verbally abusing you and breaking things, your house is out of control. I don’t know how you can live there.
Use the police. Put his bags out on the sidewalk, call the cops and say, “He doesn’t live here anymore.” Don’t play games or you’re not going to own your own home.
I’ve worked with plenty of parents who had to do this. They were all afraid to do it. I understood that. They got into their situation because they were mortally afraid their kid would face discomfort. But when all other efforts failed, they had to call the cops to get the kid to change.
Let me be straight with you and offer you some empowerment. You’ve raised this kid. You’ve invested everything in him and now you have to tiptoe around the house? That is unacceptable. To the parents who are willing to live this way, I tip my hat to you. But I personally could not live with that, and I’m not willing to.
Kids learn best when parents use parenting roles such as teaching, problem-solving, limit setting. On the other hand, parents who are martyrs and excuse-makers wind up with children who won’t and don’t know how to respond to the demands of young adult life. And nothing changes if nothing changes. For your sake and the sake of your child, demand change now.
For Readers who are Struggling with Getting their Adult Child to be Independent and Move Out
Once you’ve established that they can’t abuse and intimidate you and train you to give into them, then you have to help them prepare themselves for adulthood, even though they’re young adults. First, you have to force them to find work, no matter how menial they think that work is. The way that you force them to do that is you establish a time when they get up in the morning. Then they read the want ads, they go out, they put in job applications. On weeknights, they can’t stay out past a certain time. They have to live as if they have a job. If they’re not willing to do that, you fall back on the consequence structure that I outlined for you earlier. Number two, once they get that job, they have to pay room and board—not to add to the money of the household, but so you can put it away and have enough money for them to talk about moving out. They have to sit down once they have a job and work with you on doing a budget. The kid should have so much money for recreation, so much money for room and board, so much money for his savings, even if it’s only ten dollars a week. If he can’t open up a savings account yet, he gives the money to the parents to hold. He doesn’t put it in his drawer. And he has to live on that budget. You should not rescue him. You’re already providing a safe place to live. These mundane, basic skills make the difference between the kids who learn how to survive out there and the kids who can’t seem to make it.
Again, if this seems harsh to you, think about it this way. If this kid gets a job and spends all his money and can live at home, why would he ever move out? If you have a job at $12 an hour and you’re living at home for free, that’s like having a job for $25 an hour. Kids are going to want to live that way if you don’t make them uncomfortable. If you don’t demand change.
I want parents to think of the future. Not what are you doing for your child today. But what are you doing for your child tomorrow? If you’re supporting him today and making excuses for him today and buying his excuses, what you’re doing to your child of tomorrow is continuing his crippled attitude toward life. I can’t do it because…then fill in the blank. Because they don’t pay enough. Because they don’t like me. Because I don’t like doing that kind of work. Because I won’t work in fast food. Just fill in the blank. By not demanding change, what you’re doing to your child of tomorrow is not forcing him to prepare to learn how to live independently. He has to solve the problem of learning how to support himself. Make no mistake about it: If you tell a kid he has to work and he doesn’t, and you tolerate that and just continue to fight about it, you’re saying to him, in a non- verbal way, that he’s a cripple and you know it. You’re saying to him he’s not as good as the other kids, and you know it. You’re saying you’re willing to put up with this because you know that there’s something wrong with him. That’s the message he’s getting. So, he thinks there’s something wrong with him because he doesn’t know how to deal with discomfort and stress.
So, to push him, make demands of him, hold him accountable and give him consequences, are all really ways of saying, “You can do it and I expect you to. In fact, I demand you to.” It’s never too late to deal with children in a teaching, limit-setting and coaching way. If you don’t know how to do that specifically, we offer a program that can help you here on the Empowering Parents web site. Parents can start anytime, as long as they’re willing to deal with the discomfort of demanding that their kids change and holding them responsible. It may feel like the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But it could save your kid’s life.
As a parent, I’ve had my ups and downs with my son. He’s self-supporting now, but that situation has been on and off for many years. He’s 31 years old, and he’s a real nice guy. I love him. But if he lost his job and he moved back home, he’d have to pay rent, come up with a budget and get a job. And I’d help him in any way I could. But if he verbally abused me or his mother, he’d have to go. It’s just that simple. I’ve worked all my life. I’m not going to take abuse now. So when I urge you to push your kid, understand that it’s exactly the way I pushed mine. If you don’t want to do it, that’s your choice. But, once I offer you a solution, if you come back and say you can’t do it, I don’t have another solution. Forget all the razzle-dazzle and the hype talk of the 80’s and 90’s. If you don’t work hard, you fall behind. If you don’t learn how to solve problems, you get stuck. If you don’t know how to deal with discomfort and stress, you’re going to have a hard time making it until you learn how to deal with these things. That’s the reality for adult children.
What to Do If Your Adult Child Is Stealing from You
Many parents wrote in and told of their struggles with an adult child who steals from them, be it credit card theft, stealing money from the house or forging checks. Stealing is absolutely intolerable. Whether it’s stealing from parents or siblings, it’s a crime. Know this: the laws don’t change inside the walls of your house. If I steal $20 from you on the street, that’s stealing. And if somebody steals $20 from you in your home, that’s stealing. And if it’s an adult, it’s a crime. It’s called larceny.
If your adult child steals from you, first of all, you should tell him, “Go upstairs, pack a bag and come back downstairs in five minutes.” When he comes back downstairs with a bag, say, “Here are your choices. You’re out of here for a week, and if you don’t stop stealing, you’re not coming back.” And I would call the police. I would pack a bag, put it on the curb, call the police and say, “He doesn’t live here anymore. He stole from us.” I’ve worked with many parents whose kids broke back into the house and they pressed charges for burglary. You have to be really clear with the police and tell them that he doesn’t live there anymore and you have to put his stuff out on the sidewalk. It’s going to cause a scene. You’re going to be embarrassed. But you can live in a little prison where you’re being abused and where there’s a predator stealing from you, or you can break out of that prison. It will take some noise, but you can break out of that and not be a victim.
Parents need support and help, and I understand what they’re going through because I came from this kind of family and I’ve worked with these families for three decades. But you also need to understand, you didn’t work like a dog all your life just to be in prison now. Ask yourself: is this what we worked for all our lives? We dealt with discomfort. We dealt with stress. We dealt with unhappiness. We had to come up with humility. Is this what we worked for now? That our adult son is going to live with us, steal from us, abuse us and make our lives miserable? If the answer is yes, I say go to it. I’m not here to contradict that. But if your answer is no, then you need to make some changes, and you need to make them now. It begins with getting him out of bed tomorrow morning and calling in the authorities if he gets abusive.
Parents are supposed to have a certain amount of power in our society just by virtue of being a parent. Sadly, in many cases, that is not the story. If you’re living with an abusive adult child who is committing crimes against you and your home, he obviously does not respect your power as a parent. So, you need civil power. You need the civil authorities. Don’t hesitate to use them. Everybody else is going to use them. Why shouldn’t you? Let me tell you one more thing that’s going to sound cold. If your kid does ten days in jail, good. Because he’s not going to curse at people and intimidate them in there. If success is having a job and being productive, then failure is sitting in a county jail. Ten days in jail can teach your child that it’s time for him to reach for something in between.
Let him share some of your pain and discomfort and see how he likes it. Because this is important: if you’re willing to do something about it, he will become willing to do something about it. He will not become willing to do something about it as long as you remain unwilling.
Fear of Responsibility: Adult Children Who Hide out Playing Video Games and Sleeping
In adolescence, kids want to be independent and free. They can’t wait to get out of their parent’s house and tell them what a pain in the neck they are. But the fact is that many kids, before they graduate from high school, do some acting out and show some anxiety or depression because they’re terrified of what’s on the other side of that. They’ve been safe in grade school, middle school, high school and in their families all their lives. Many kids are able to deal with these problems and they prepare to grow into the next stage of life. But there are those kids who, for whatever reason, are not prepared to grow into the next stage, and it shows in their behavior. The kids who are not prepared to take responsibility in their lives become angry, resentful and do irresponsible things. They’re terrified of change, and they’ll do anything to avoid it, including partying all night, sleeping until 2 pm and doing nothing but playing video games when they are awake. But these are the kids who have to be pushed the most.
I’ve dealt with many adult children in my office who had this fear, and I empathize with them. I do tell them that it’s a part of the process and that they have to face it. How do you face a fear of making it in the adult world? You get a job. And you do that job. You take a job for three months and you say, “I won’t quit. I’ll deal with all the craziness and I won’t quit. And at the end of three months, I’ll have some experience and then I’ll decide what I want to do next. And what I want to do next may be stay at McDonald’s or go someplace else. I won’t leave my job until I have a new one.” Eight months out of high school that kid is going to have some skills, experience and independence. He’s at work dealing with adult stress and mommy’s not holding his hand. That will prepare him for the next stage of growth. Maybe a more responsible job or going back to school. A lot of the work that I did in my office was coaching and teaching these kids on what they had to do. I literally had kids fill out three job applications a day then call me in my office to say that they had done it. And they would, because I gave them the clear message that accountability matters. While I empathized with them, I didn’t accept their excuses as to “why” they were stuck in life. Because “why” didn’t matter. Everyone has to be independent, no matter how afraid they are and what challenges they have in their lives.
I worked with mildly mentally retarded adults in my practice who lived in group homes with staff. They had to learn how to have a job if they wanted money because the state paid for their group home but did not give them any spending money. They had to learn how to have a supervised job if they wanted money. They had to learn how to talk nicely to people if they wanted to go out and do things and have privileges. They had to clean their rooms and make their beds every single day. They took turns cooking at night with staff support. They did these things because they had to acquire independence. So don’t tell me kids can’t do it. Not only can a kid do it, he has to do it.
Yes, these kids are afraid. They have a false sense of entitlement that they should have all of life’s niceties without having to work for them. They don’t know how to be independent. They haven’t learned how to solve social problems. But if they don’t start learning to solve them today, it’s not going to happen. So parents have to draw the line because the adult child will not draw the line. They’re having too much fun and they’re too afraid. If the parents can’t draw the line and the kid pushes it, then the police have to draw the line. It’s that simple.
Adult Children with Children: When You Have to Parent Both
I’ve worked with quite a few families who were living with 17, 18, 19 and 20 year olds who had their own children. The adult child can’t make it or the marriage falls apart and they move back in with their parents. This is a really tough situation, and I don’t want to minimize the emotional pressure everyone is under. These are innocent grandchildren. The role of parents and grandparents is very different. A parent sets limits, goals, and gets the kid to meet objectives and be productive. A grandparent is benign and indulging. They also set limits, but not in a full-time, around-the-clock manner. It’s a very difficult situation and I just want to make some observations that may be helpful.
Grandparents should do what they can to help out with child care. But only with the goal that the adult child pays room and board and that the money is put away until the adult child can move out. The adult child has to have a job and needs to look into daycare or public daycare. Parents everywhere go back to work when their kids are six months old. So you have to demand that your adult child do something to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in, and not just jump into the hole with them. Too many grandparents jump into the hole that their adult child has dug and stay there. And that doesn’t make any sense. You have to help or get out of the hole. The first way to get out of the hole is to stop digging.
So, your adult daughter who has a toddler can’t run around all night. She has to live a work schedule. If she wants to go out at night, she has to get her own babysitter. Grandparents should not be babysitters for adult children living in their home. Let them pay for that. Have them live on a budget and let them pay for that. The adult child is not going to like that, but that’s where you draw the line. We’re not here to parent. We’ll help out while you work if we can. But you’re going to have to pay for that. If the adult child becomes explosive, call the police.
And there’s one more very hard thing that grandparents have to do. If the adult child is not taking responsibility for their own child and putting that child at risk, you have to call the state. Call the Department of Children and Family Services or whatever it’s called in your state. If the state comes in and does an investigation and finds the mother is not fit, they’ll first turn to the grandparents to see if they’ll take custody, or a family member. They will offer the mother supportive training and help. They don’t remove kids that easily. They don’t want your adult child’s child. Grandparents are terrified that the state will take their grandchildren. They don’t want your grandchild unless the mother’s strung out on drugs or committing crimes. They want the child with the mother. Because that’s where the child should be by nature and that’s the least expensive way to deal with the situation. The state does not want to take on the cost of raising your child’s child. Don’t fear that.
I’ve worked in states where state agencies have taken kids and they’ve needed to take those kids because they were in danger. But as soon as they take the child, they come up with a plan on how the parent can get the child back, whether it’s substance abuse treatment, career counseling or parent training. Just as you need to turn to a greater authority if your adult child is abusing you, you need to turn to a greater authority if your adult child is not caring for his or her own child. Understand this: you’re doing it for the welfare of your grandchild.
You may read my suggestions here and call it “tough love.” But that’s not what this is. There’s nothing tough about love. This is responsible love. It’s saying to your adult child, “I love you, and I’m going to be responsible. You can love me, but you have to be responsible.” Responsible love means demanding that your adult child learn how to solve his problems. Responsible love means demanding change. Now.
This is the third and final installment in a three part series of articles by James Lehman, MSW.
For those parents who haven’t set up a structured agreement when their child turns 18, it’s never too late to set one up. Even if your child is 23, living under your roof and staying out until the wee hours, it’s never too late to sit down with that kid and say, “We’re going to have to have a talk about our rules here and what parts fit you and what parts don’t fit you.” If a kid is 23 years old and he’s not working, he can’t be up until two o’clock in the morning with friends in the house, keeping other people awake. You may feel obligated to provide that child with a roof over his head. But you have the right to let him know that “This is not your home for that anymore. We’re going to bed, we’re tired, we worked all day. If you’re going to live here, you have to live within our rules.” If he tries to put you down for it, you need to put your foot down. If that means taking the car keys, then that’s what it means.
“Young adult children who don’t feel competent will resist taking responsibility for anything, and they’ll keep doing it as long as you let them.”
When parents lay out these rules with kids after the age of 18, they should expect the kid to be resentful, resistant and to blame them. The older child will try to make them feel like the parents are jerks because he still has a lot of thinking errors, is hiding from responsibility and postponing the anxiety of accepting it. Parents should simply disregard the child’s thinking errors, and not give in and tell the child that everything is okay.
Likewise, parents shouldn’t get into making a lot of excuses for themselves. They should say, “This is our expectation. We’re sorry we didn’t do it before now, but we’re here today and this is what we’re going to have to do. And we can’t go any further until this agreement gets made.” The expectations should include what time the kid gets up in the morning if he’s not working. Older kids who are avoiding responsibility will stay up all night and sleep until noon. When you ask them why they sleep until noon, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not working.” As the parent, you have to make it clear: “That’s why you’re not working. Because you sleep until noon. Get up at seven o’clock like everybody else and find a job.” It’s never too late to be this direct with your child.
Remember: do not take the kid’s accusations and blaming as fact. Expect to hear plenty of accusations and excuses. You’re going to be compared to his friend’s parents. You’re going to be told you’re hateful and uncaring. But don’t forget, this kid is fighting taking responsibility, and he will fight it fiercely. Young adult children who don’t feel competent will resist taking responsibility for anything, and they’ll keep doing it as long as you let them. Parents should be prepared to deal with this, not through yelling and screaming. Not through making excuses for themselves. Just by calmly saying, “This is the time we’re meeting. We need to talk.” If you have to, take the kid’s car keys until he is ready to talk.
The agreement you develop with the child should allow for adult privileges. Specifically, if the kid is working and being responsible, then your agreement with him should be very flexible. On his day off, he can sleep all day for all you care. But he can’t stay out all night without calling you because you’re going to worry, and it’s his responsibility to let you know he’s safe. If he doesn’t want to do that, then he should move into a more independent living situation. You don’t get complete freedom and the support of living at home at the same time.
How to Handle Rent, Household Chores and Rules about Alcohol
Paying rent is a very good habit for an older child to get into. I think there are two ways to look at the issue of when and if your child should pay rent in order to continue living at home. If the family needs the money and the kid is working, he needs to contribute. It’s just that simple.
If you don’t need the money, charge him room-and-board anyway, and then put the money aside and save it up until you’ve saved enough for a security deposit on an apartment and the first month’s rent. Then when he’s ready to move out, you’ve already got his money. Hold onto that money. That way, he pays for himself, and he gets into the habit of paying rent and being responsible while money is being accumulated, so that both he and the family are prepared for his next step.
When you come up with the agreement on living arrangements, I think it has to be really clear that the child is here to contribute, not just take. So, parents need to be clear about specific chores the older child will be responsible for. Parents can offer their ideas, and the young adult child can come up with his own ideas. Maybe he offers to take the younger kids to school in the morning, and you ask him to be responsible for bringing in wood and taking out the trash and recyclables each week. Write it down and be clear about consequences if he doesn’t follow through, because everyone who lives in the house has to help out.
The understanding should be very clear about alcohol and drugs, and it’s simple because the law makes it simple. In most states, it’s illegal to drink under the age of 21. You don’t have to say, “I know it’s illegal, but…” and wink your eye. The best thing that you can do for your young adult child is follow the letter of the law and say “No drinking under 21. If we catch you drinking and driving, we’re taking the car keys. If you fight us, we’re calling the cops.” He’s going to say you’re rigid and unreasonable. But it’s better that your kid lose his license for 90 days than die or kill somebody else.
When Is It Time to Ask Your Child to Leave Home?
The decision on when to ask an older child to leave the home has more to do with a family’s morals and values. First of all, if he violates a cardinal rule, he should leave. If he’s insulting you, abusive with a family member or breaking things, he should leave. He should go stay with a friend. The kids who are going to be most likely to be asked to leave are the kids who are going to tell you they have nowhere to go. Because the abusive behavior won’t be an unexpected anomaly in their life. It’s not like their whole life is great, but they hit their brother. The abusive older child will most likely show a pattern of this behavior and demonstrate a host of thinking errors. So when you ask him to leave, he won’t know where he can go, because he is unable to solve that problem.
Secondly, if things are going well with the living arrangement, the child should be told to think about leaving once he has the means. Once the first and last month’s rent and a deposit are set aside and he has a car and he’s driving, he should be told to start looking for a place with a roommate. I’ve worked with many college graduates at agencies who were not able to own a car or have their own apartment at the same time. They had to make a choice because they didn’t make that much money. They had to accept either having their own car and living with a roommate and learning how to live with other people, or not having a car and living close to their job and just having their own apartment. But they can’t have it both ways, and parents should not take responsibility for that.
Independence is a decision you can make as a family. If a young adult child is doing well, living at home and meeting the family’s expectations, then there’s no problem. But someday he will want to be independent. The way you get there is to sit down and have the child set some goals. Where do you plan to live? When do you plan to move out? How much does the child need to pay for rent or room and board while living at home? Measure progress toward the goal by the objectives. If the child has a goal to move out and he’s not meeting any of the objectives, it’s a joke.The greatest gift you can give your child is knowing how to be independent and take responsibility. If a child fears independence and responsibility, you can solve that problem by having a written agreement that shows the child how to live by your rules, and have ongoing discussions about the goal of independence and how to meet it.