5 Major Ways Being Raised By A Difficult Parent Impacts Your Parenting

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mom helping son with homework

People who were raised by difficult parents (e.g., those with narcissistic or borderline traits, those who abused substances, or those who acted very angry and rigidly due to anxiety) often have the best of intentions in terms of raising their children differently.

Unfortunately, being raised by a very difficult parent can make it very challenging for you to weather the ups and downs of parenting your own children.

RELATED: 10 Things Every Child Needs To Hear From Their Parents To Live A Great Life

Here are 5 major ways that being raised by a difficult parent can affect your parenting:

1. Flexibility is difficult for you

Whether we are talking about a change in schedule, your children’s unpredictable behavior, switching from the "parent" role to the "partner" role on date nights, or dealing with a child’s seeming change of personality from one developmental stage to another, it can be very hard for you to deal with change.

There are multiple reasons for this.

One is that changes were never associated with positive things in your childhood. When a parent’s mood shifted, it probably meant that the whole day would turn from okay to terrible.

Secondly, you put so much stock into making everything perfect for your family that when you think you are failing at this, you become extremely upset.

Third, you don’t trust that things will ever return to good/normal, because in your house growing up, one bad thing often led to a cascade of bad things, from which it was impossible to recover.

2. You have no idea what effective discipline entails

Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families faced excessively harsh discipline if they misbehaved, or overwhelming guilt trips. In some cases, the kids had to act like adults far before they were ready to do so because their parents were so childlike and irresponsible.

This means that there was no firm, fair rules and discipline in your home growing up, which leaves you at a loss for what to do when your own kids act out in developmentally appropriate ways.

You probably read a lot of parenting books, but nothing feels "natural" to you in terms of discipline, since you never saw it at home (or what you saw was dysfunctional), so your attempts to start new discipline initiatives often founder after the first day or two.

RELATED: 5 Sad, Underlying Beliefs You May Have If You Were Raised By A Toxic Parent

3. You feel extremely upset at the prospect of your kids growing older

Yes, there are memes and quotes aplenty on social media about how sad it is for your kids to get older, and to not have a little baby or toddler anymore.

But this sadness is far more intense for those of us raised in dysfunctional families because we’re always second-guessing our parenting and whether we really provided our kids with "enough" love and care at each stage, particularly in the absence of having good parenting role models.

Further, people raised by difficult parents often want their children’s childhoods to be "pure" and "innocent," and protected from the dangers and heartaches of growing older.

When children naturally mature into new stages of development, instead of looking forward to seeing what’s on the horizon, many parents raised in dysfunctional families feel fear and anxiety about what their children could be exposed to.

Remember, if your childhood was filled with anxiety, sadness, and disappointment, it is very hard to see the world as a place filled with fun and opportunity rather than a place filled with danger and risk.

4. You may have no safety net, so you feel trapped and anxious

It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to know that, if you really needed them, your own parents (your kids’ grandparents) would be there to support you, emotionally and physically.

For those of us who are not in this situation, every time a child gets sick or you yourself feel exhausted or depleted, the only one to turn to is your partner (if you have one). This can also stress your relationship.

Paid help is great, but it is emotionally nothing like being able to rely on a parent to come over and help you out with the kids, or even to talk to you on the phone about whatever is on your mind.

In the absence of this emotional/physical safety net, many people feel lonely, resentful, and, again, overly reliant on their partner to meet all of their needs in a way that can be unhealthy.

RELATED: Why We All Revert Back To Our Teenage Selves When We Visit Our Parents — No Matter How Old We Are

5. You have a difficult relationship with one or more of your children

This is the most heartbreaking outcome since adults who have difficult relationships with their parents are often staunchly committed to the idea that this will never happen to them with their own kids.

However, it is easy to see that if the relationship you had with a parent was difficult, conflictual, or tense, then this is the template you have for parent-child relationships in general, as much as you want something else for you and your child.

If you think deeply about it, the child who often triggers you the most is the one who reminds you of the parent that you have a conflict with.

This child often provokes you to act in ways that you told yourself you would never act like — ways that remind you of your own parent. The shame that ensues from this leaves you depressed and angry at yourself and your child.

If these points resonate with you, it can be extraordinarily useful to begin therapy, focusing on the ways that your own childhood experience is impacting your parenting.

This will likely telescope out into a larger discussion and exploration of other ways that your upbringing affects your life, self-conception, relationships, and so forth.

There is also a lot of reading you can do, both looking directly at how childhood affects parenting (read Parenting From The Inside Out, for example), and understanding how your upbringing affected your behavior and traits (read Running on Empty, Children of the Self Absorbed.)

Anyone can work on the aftereffects of a difficult upbringing and become a better and more fulfilled person.

As I tell my clients, the worst-case scenario is that therapy would have no effect on your parenting at all (although this is almost impossible if you wholly commit to it), but one day, you would be able to tell your kids that you loved them so much that you tried anything and everything to be better for them, which is something I am sure you wish that your difficult parent would have done for you.

RELATED: The Final Straw That Forced Me To Stop Talking To My Toxic Parents

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Dr. Psych Mom. Reprinted with permission from the author.