I must have heard thousands of childhood stories in the years that I’ve worked as a physician and a psychiatrist. As unique as every single story has been, I have come to the conclusion that some aspects of child-rearing are the same across the majority of people. One of these aspects, in my opinion, is that most of us were raised by well-meaning parents. Yes, every once in a while I hear a blood-chilling story of absolutely evil parents, but those are the exception, not the norm. Setting those few horrible, no-good, awful parents aside, the rest of us were raised by parents or caregivers who mainly had good intentions, or at least did not have too many bad intentions. Having said that, the majority of our parents, good intentions and all, managed to royally screw us up one way or another with the stupid things they said or did.
Over the years I have heard countless stories of mistakes parents make, leaving lasting negative impressions on their children. So many stories in fact, that I have decided to make a list of all the things we do on a daily basis that can screw up our kids forever! I am going to share this list with you over the next few months. I will tell you one behavior at a time, give you compelling reasons why the behavior leaves an invisible scar, and hopefully persuade you to try to eliminate that behavior from your parenting approach.
My posts are going to be focusing mainly on common behaviors, not abusive ones. There are plenty of books and other literature written on the subject of abusive parenting, and I am not trying to add to that body of work. My intent is to talk about some things we all have done, including myself as a parent of two children, that we should learn to do differently in the future. If I touch on behaviors that I think are bordering on abuse or are overtly abusive, I will definitely point those out to you.
So try not to get defensive when you see yourself in some of these behaviors. I am not accusing you of being a bad parent. I am just suggesting you consider doing things a bit differently in the future. On the other hand, don’t feel stupid or guilty for having done some of these things either. Self-deprecation does not change your past, and will not help you grow in the future. It also is not something you should model to your children, so stop putting yourself down. Learn from your mistakes, and move forward.
Although I am mostly staying away from discussing abusive parenting, some of the subjects I talk about may trigger painful memories for you. It may bother you that I am talking lightly about a topic that you find unpleasant. Please know that I am not trying to dismiss your pain or make light of difficulties you have had to endure. I am intentionally keeping my writing light-hearted in hopes that parents can read it without becoming defensive or angry and leaving without learning anything.
With some of my examples, you may become defensive on behalf of your parents. I see this time and time again in therapy; when a patient tries their darndest to paint a picture of their childhood that portrays their parents as absolute saints. They are often terrified of saying something that would cause me to think of their parents as “bad.” Or, they are hesitant to “blame” their parents for things that go wrong in their lives. I always remind them that I am a doctor, not a judge. It is not my job to judge their parents as either “good” or “bad.” I am only trying to understand why my patients feel and do things in their own unique way, and a lot of that goes back to how they were raised by their parents.
Warning upon warning
A common argument I hear from people when I describe a bad behavior goes something in the lines of “well, my parents did that and I turned out OK!” My response to that is always the same: “But are you OK?” and “How much more OK do you think you could have been had your parents not engaged in that behavior?” Remember, just because you’re OK, it doesn’t mean that everything your parents ever did was good. It just means they were good enough parents to not damage you. We can all be better parents, no matter how awesome we already are. But if you really feel that you’ve got this parenting thing down to a science, then you’re good to go. Why are you still reading my article?
Last warning (I promise)
I am adamantly against any form of corporal punishment, and it comes through in most of what I say and write. I will write a whole article on the reasons why I am so against it, but I just thought I’d warn you ahead of time.
When I was in medical school, I was telling one of my classmates how much I hated corporal punishment. She argued with me by telling the story of how when she was little, she went to stick her hand in the fireplace that had a nice fire going in it, and her grandmother smacked her hand really hard. She told me how startled she had felt and how much her feelings were hurt, “but I never stuck my hand in a fire again.”
“So what you’re telling me is that every single person in the world who wasn’t smacked by someone for trying to put their hand in the fire is walking around with two charred hands, right?”
I just wish I had thought of that retort when she told me the story, instead of this morning when I was thinking of writing this article. At the time of the interaction, I was so stunned by her argument that I just stared at her like a deer in headlights. I still see her on social media, posting pictures of her beautiful children, and I keep wondering if she’s smacking her children around in an attempt to stay true to her beloved grandmother. I hope not.
Please don’t keep repeating your parents’ bad behaviors. No matter how many times you repeat them, you won’t be able to make them right.
Thanks for coming on this journey of becoming better parents with me. In my next article, I will talk about one of my personal favorite ways to screw up your children. It’s called “I’m disappointed in you!”