Recently, I wrote a post about parents who justify their bad parenting style by claiming they are better than their own parents. Parenting like this creates a cycle: bad parenting, leads to difficult children, who become bad parents, who raise difficult children, etc. Over the last 28 years, I have dedicated my work to breaking this cycle. To helping kids through helping their parents.
Last week, this topic came up again when I met a 16-year-old girl who came for teen coaching. I sat in front of her for almost 2 hours and was shocked at how mature and aware she was. She was sitting in the same balcony in which I have seen many grownups who did not understand half of the things she did. Last year, I started writing a fictional story about a girl with parent problems and anorexia. In front of me was this most beautiful, good looking girl with a similar story. It amazed me to discover that the story is so much worse when you see it in real life.
She was a 16 year old, living with abusive parents, who believed they were better than their own parents, because unlike them, they did not use physical violence. It surprised me that they sent her for life coaching though. It seemed very contradictory to what a controlling and abusive parenting style would include. Nevertheless, I asked about her grandparents to get a better picture. Things became crystal clear: they had been abusive parents, who raised abusive kids, who become abusive parents. This abusive parenting cycle would go on and on, unless this troubled 16-year-old teen could stop it with her awareness.
She shared some expressions with me that her parents used in their efforts to control the family. Since kids do not have the same perspective as grownups, I asked more questions to make sure she understood her parents correctly. The more I asked, the more I realized she was scared, because she could not protect her youngest sister from this abusive parenting.
I wrote down all the things her dad said to her. I was trying to put together the puzzle pieces of her life so I could learn what to do to help her. Her dad said to the kids that they were just “expenses”, that his wife and kids lived under “his roof” (his wife worked full time, by the way) and are “his food”, that he “owned them” and that they had “no rights”, because they were “nothing”.
How on earth can a parent think this is a good parenting style?
He tells her where she can go to school, what subjects she has to pick, what friends she can have, what university is going to go to and what she will study when she gets there, and she should be very happy and grateful that he doesn’t beat her like his dad beat him.
I once wrote a series of 34 post on bullying. One of the topics I covered there was parent bullying. I have a sneaking suspicion that the parents who bully do not read such articles, because they think they are better than their own parents.
When I asked the girl about her mom, she said her mom could not speak up. She told me, “She is an expense as well and she is convinced that she is nothing too. Whenever we complain to her, she repeats his words and tells us we should be grateful he is better than his own dad”.
I have said this before and I feel I should say it again. You should not justify your bad parenting style to your own kids. I guess her dad didn’t read any blogs about good parenting.
The cycle of abusive parenting
I tried to ask her what she thought and felt about her dad being better than his own dad. I tried to stay neutral and not influence her with my own thoughts and feelings. She looked at me and said, “If you slaughter a cow for meat, are you a better murderer if you do it quickly to ease its suffering?”
I have heard that before. She was just 16 years old and was already understanding more than her parents.
As a life coach, positivity is a key aspect of my work. But thinking positively was not the right attitude in this situation. This girl was experiencing abuse. Since it was emotional, there were no scars and bleeding to see but it was just as bad. How do we stop this cycle of abused kids, who become abused parents, who abuse their own kids? As each becomes a parent, they have the best justification of their good intentions and how much better they are than their parents, which only keeps the cycle alive and bleeding.
As a parent, just because you can justify what you did with good intentions does not mean what you did was right or “good”. I have a huge list of such “good parenting” phrases and their justifications. I even heard some of them from my own parents:
- I punish you for your own good!
- You are not allowed to do it for your own sake!
- I insult you because I love you!
- I say you are not good enough to motivate you!
- I will love you only if…!
- I will respect you only if you follow my orders!
- Do as I say or you will get in trouble!
- I will tell you what to think/do/be/have/believe or…
- You should be grateful I am not worse because I can be worse.
- I hurt you because of your behavior!
I have to say I felt very helpless. My heart ached for this girl. I wanted badly to tell her it would be over soon but I couldn’t even offer her that comfort because she still had one more year of high school before could even think about leaving home, and her younger sister was only 12 years old and she wanted desperately to protect her.
Taking a new tack, I swapped the session to focusing on what she could do to feel better and stronger. Helping her feel that she is a lot more than an “expense” and “nothing”, without saying anything bad about her parents. We used some NLP techniques and she felt much better afterwards. She sat up straighter and we even laughed a couple of times.
Before she left, I gave her just a bit of power. I told her to go home and make the decision about whether she wanted to come see me again or not. She smiled and said, “I want to come”. She gave me one more chance.
After she left, I sat on the sofa in my balcony for a while. I felt sad and helpless. I kept thinking how unfair it is that we can’t chose our parents and that they couldn’t chose their own parents. I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl’s metaphor of the cow. It was dead, no matter how you slaughtered it.
As parents, if things are not going well with our children, the best way to break the cycle is to get help for ourselves.
All the best in your parenting,
This post is part of the series From the Life Coaching Deck:
- Choosing the Right Career Path for Your Kids
- If-then Parenting Style
- How to Help Your Kid Drive
- The Meaning of Life
- Hyperactive Kids
- Secret Demons
- Making Money Addiction
- Art Fights Depression
- Trust Your Healing Powers
- The Want Muscle
- Abusive Parenting Cycle
- Learning to Want
- Don’t Put Labels on Kids
- Stop Making More Money
- There Are No Hopeless Teens
- How to Have a Good Day Everyday
- No More Disappointment: The Biggest Loser Leads the Dance