The Ways Parents Ruin their Children

Trying to apply an inexact science.

There comes a point when blaming our parents for the type of adult that we’ve become just doesn’t fly. Whatever has been endured and the negative impact that it has had on our lives may not be our fault, but finding a way to fix it and to heal is wholly our responsibility. Yet, depending on the severity of the hurt and trauma that may have been suffered as kids, figuring out how to rebuild ourselves can be an overwhelmingly challenging process.

It’s like Frederick Douglass said,

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

My now teenage niece has had an incredibly unstable childhood with both her parents suffering from substance abuse and an all-around inability to properly care for her throughout most of her young life. She is the strongest kid I know. Somehow, despite it all she’s kind, thoughtful and full of love. Her resilience amazes me. And naturally, she is my hero.

However, I’ve witnessed this instability manifest itself in other areas. She’s bounced between parents, grandparents and stepparents. But her father has been much better in recent years and able to spend more time with his daughter — Which is a great thing. Now, every time he gets a new girlfriend (or wife), my niece is all in on her and the domestic structure that a maternal presence may bring. She’ll even post pictures on social media with captions such as, “new family.” The constant jumping from one household to the next doesn’t seem to faze her more than the joy and her willingness to embrace whatever current familial environment is available.

It breaks my heart because I know that it means having a mother, and a family is something for which she longs. And though she may be an overall happy child, I know that as an adult this will leave her with some major baggage to try and unpack. I wonder how it will affect her relationships, and if she will struggle with abandonment and attachment issues. I worry that she will go in search of love and acceptance — latching on to anyone willing to show her some attention.

To say that parenting is difficult would be a gross understatement. There is no instruction manual, and even if there were it wouldn’t matter much because every child is different. Circumstances are not always ideal and parents are human beings often just trying to do the best that they can with what they have. There is no such thing as a perfect anything. No perfect spouses, no perfect friends, nor mothers or fathers. But inevitable fallacy is not the same as willful disregard.

I highly doubt that any parent sets out to fail. No one says, “I want to be the worst parent possible to this child.” But decisions say it. Priorities say it, whether intentional or not. Sometimes parents just don’t know how to adequately perform in the role. Maybe they had poor examples, or none at all. Regardless, the job is far too important to simply concede defeat.

My mother had me when she was 18. That in and of itself presented challenges in our relationship. She was just learning to raise herself. What could she know about rearing a child? I know all about feeling as though you have been ruined, working to identify and undo what has been done in order to become a mentally and emotionally healthy adult.

We all may have our nuisances and obstacles to overcome that originated during childhood. I’ve seen men subconsciously searching for mother figures instead of mates — needing someone to finish raising them, and crippled to the point where they can’t do much of anything for themselves. I’ve seen women struggle to trust or feel comfortable with men because their father was absent or otherwise set a piss poor standard for how they deserved to be loved.

I’ve witnessed adults who are morally and emotionally bankrupt due to things they witnessed as children, wounds that haven’t healed, and the inability to pour into anyone else because their internal cups were never filled.

Parents can literally make or break their children, who eventually become adults.

In the exploration of essential elements for the development a child, a few things ring paramount for me.

Love them.

Tell your children you love them. Show them. Don’t just assume they know. Think about those children who grow up to do awful things. They usually have something in common, an expression of feeling as though their parents didn’t love them.

Our first intimate relationships are with our parents. For better or worse, this is where we learn how to love. Pour into children emotionally. Spend quality time with them. Because an area that is not being watered cannot possibly grow.

Protect Them.

A parent can’t be everywhere at all times. Controlling what can be controlled and putting children in the safest environments possible is vital. There are plenty of opportunities for bad things to happen. Don’t create more. This means not leaving kids with drunk uncles, strange men (or women), or unattended for extended periods of time and having to fend for themselves. I know that a lack of resources may sometimes lead to less than ideal situations. But understand that if something traumatizing happens to a child and their parent played a role in placing or keeping them in harm’s way, neither may ever recover.

Support Them.

We all want someone to believe in and be proud of us. No one needs such reassurance more than an impressionable boy or girl learning where they fit in the world. Even when it’s hard, you don’t agree or their desires seem impractical, offer support. Help them be comfortable with who they are instead of trying to mold them into the person you’d like them to be.

Empower Them.

Instill confidence and self-esteem within children. They need to know that they matter. Anyone that feels as though they don’t will care about little, including themselves. They can become timid and unsure, question their worth and allow poor treatment from others. Give children a voice and teach them that it deserves to be heard. Tell them they’re important, and smart. Let them know that you see them, not just as a kid, but as a person.

These are just a few major areas from which a variety of different issues may stem.

Nonetheless, you can try to do everything right and somehow have it all still go wrong, because a parent only has so much influence over who their child grows to become. This is why it’s so important to wield whatever limited power for positive influence that exists. Not a single area where there is opportunity for impact can be taken for granted. Because you never know which area of lack may fester into a substantial void.

Even those of us who are not parents were once children. We know how it feels and the damage that is done when one of the aforementioned aspects has not been properly nurtured.

Parental responsibility extends far beyond basic needs for survival.

The point of this is not to make any parent feel guilty, but to implore accountability. Be a better you, for them. Admit mistakes. Tell kids that you’re sorry, even if they’re not kids anymore. It matters. Sometimes, an acknowledgement and apology go a long way toward healing.

Let’s build strong children so that possibly there will be one less broken adult desperately struggling to pick up the pieces and repair themselves.

Author of the critically acclaimed book on women and relationship status, “Single That.”

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