October 2, 2023
Now, a lot of parents will feel offended when I say “You are not always right about your kids, or that you don’t always know what is best for kids,” reason, there is a long-standing idea that parents know their children best. But, on the contrary, my experience as a counsellor working with teenage students for a period of 10 years has made me understand that there is a wide gap between parents and their children when it comes to understanding and expectations. The idea that we know what’s best for our children never gets updated according to what your children feel is best for them. This constant tug-of-war between the parents and the children about understanding each other has become a serious underlying cause of mental illness among teenagers. This usually happens because parents forget that their children are not living in a teen when the parents were teens. I always hear parents telling their kids,” When I was of your age, I was like this, I was like that, I was not like you, what’s the big deal? We were teenagers once, we didn’t behave like you, “and disregarding their kids' feelings and problems as something that is silly. Let’s get one thing straight, parents are not their children and children are not their parents. They both are different, independent entities. You may have created them, and they may have come from you, but they are not you, let's understand this. Do not compare your childhood with your kid’s childhood. Your time as a child was different than what your kid is going through. You must consider yourself fortunate that you didn’t have the amount of distraction and perform like the kids of today are having. It's totally two different timelines.
Don’t try to live your dream through your child
I hear a lot of parents tell me during group sessions,” My dream is to see my son become an engineer. I wish to see my daughter become a doctor.” Well, there is nothing wrong with having such a beautiful dream about your children, but is it also your child’s dream? Are you sure that this is what they want to be? I see often that the parents try to push their children into things that they want to do, not the child. I have seen parents pushing kids to dance classes, long hours of tuition, karate classes and many other such classes not because the kids asked for it, but because it’s the parents' dream to see their kids on stage. Is this dream wrong? it is not if the same dream is shared by both the parent and the child, but if that dream is imposed upon the child, then it is absolutely wrong. Let the child explore, let the child choose its own dreams. A lot of students who have come to me for counselling have expressed that they feel trapped and suffocated in college just because they are not living their dream but their parents. So, my question to all the parents is, do you wish to see a happy son/daughter or a frustrated person living in hell every day of his/her life? Your choice. Don’t try to make your child into something that you wanted to be as a child. Don’t make your child into a new version of your childhood's failed project. Let your child have their own dreams.
Don’t be Toxic
Dear parents, please note that your children are not your emotional punching bags. A lot of parents confuse overbearing as caring. I have students coming to me and expressing their fear and sadness about the way things are at home with their parents. A relationship becomes toxic when there is no open communication, lack of respect and disregard for feelings. You must understand that being a parent doesn’t make you a dictator. Just because you are a parent doesn’t mean that you get to dump your emotional baggage on your children. I have treated a lot of teenage students who suffer from anxiety and trauma because of their parent's behaviour towards them. Always shouting, always taunting, treating the kids like a burden or enemy, not allowing the kids to communicate their feelings openly at home, always criticizing and comparing, controlling every aspect of the child's life, never letting the child express feelings, taking out other people’s anger on the child (dumping emotions), dragging the child into family conflicts and dramas, blaming the child for no faults of its own. Don’t be an emotional loose cannon. The kids already have enough dramas to deal with in their own social lives, so they don’t need you to bleed on them from your unresolved emotional wounds. You need to learn to respect your kids' personal boundaries. Just because you gave birth to them does not make them your property. They need to have their own identity.
Don’t decide for them
“Keep quiet! I know what’s best for you.” A lot of parents disregard their children’s opinions and desires by claiming that they know best. The fact is that no matter how much you think you know your child it’s impossible to truly understand what the child needs. Most parents have a kind of know-it-all God complex that they feel that they are never wrong when it comes to children but believe me, you are wrong. Many parents decide about all the major aspects of the children with the assumption that they know their kids very well and sometimes don’t even ask the child's opinion in the child’s own matter. I have seen this in many cases when it comes to deciding about the education of children, the choice of course, college and even career. Just because you think something looks good for you does not necessarily mean that your child will also feel the same. You may share the DNA but you do not share the same desire with your child. So don’t decide for your child, just help them to make decisions. Don’t interfere in every aspect of their life. Help them also when they ask for it. Learn to know when to back off. Get out of their way.
Know the difference between sarcasm and criticism
Yes, constructive criticism is helpful for a child's growth, but the parent must know how to criticise and how much is too much. It is not what you say but how you say that matters. Most of the time parents use harsh, sarcastic tones will criticise the child. Remember, your words and the tone in which you say those words can have an everlasting effect on the child's psyche. Dear parents, believe me when I say that your words can either make or break your child permanently. You may have forgotten what you said in the heat of the moment but the child never forgets. It stays with them forever. Learn to give constructive criticism in the right tone. Have patience. Focus more on improving your child's behaviours rather than punishing it. Don’t try to prove to your child that you are the boss by being rude.
Learn to accept that your child will not be just a child forever
I have noticed that many parents have a hard time accepting that their teenage son or daughter is no longer a child but an adult. Parents get stuck in a kind of time-space where they can’t seem to accept the child has grown to be a person of his / her own. You can’t accept your 16-year-old son/ daughter to behave like a 5-year-old and obey your words. They grow, and they start having their own views and priorities. It is surprising to see that parents complain when the son /daughter in his/ her teen starts behaving like a grown-up. How fair is it that you as a parent expect your son/ daughter to be the same from their birth till date? You are practically making your child go against nature's course of change. You must learn to accept that your son or daughter has grown and will not be the same as he/ she was 10 years ago. So rather than getting hurt because of your child's behaviour, you must learn to accept the fact they are not kids anymore and stop yourself from unnecessarily being involved in every aspect of their life. As soon as you accept that son/ daughter is no longer a child the sooner you will be able to accept their behaviour.
Advice, don’t attack
Some students have told me that whenever their parents say something to them, it feels like an attack. Yes, I know that you are concerned about your child, but don’t let that fear turn into your frustration and then to anger which in turn makes you appear intimidating. Because the more intimidating you are for your children, the more withdrawn your child will be from you. They will never feel comfortable approaching you. Whenever you feel that your child is going through so bad phase, advise gently, and don’t let worry and frustration caused by your child’s mistake make you aggressive and say something that later you will regret, because, by the time you try to make things right, the damage will already be done.
Are you a toxic parent? Let’s check!
When I was browsing the internet, I came across an interesting article published on a website called scarymommy.com which mentions 16 characteristics of highly toxic parents. This article was originally published on May 16, 2021. Just go through the list and see if you are one of them and let’s be honest.
1. They expect their kids to agree with them about (practically) everything.
2. They don’t see their children as autonomous individuals.
3. They don’t believe in a child’s privacy.
4. They discipline out of anger or fear.
5. They’re often more judgmental of their own kids than anyone else’s.
6. They want their children to follow in their footsteps or live out their unfulfilled dreams.
7. They’re uncomfortable when their kid is happy.
8. Everything is about them and their feelings
9. They keep score- Some parents remember every little “wrong” thing their child does. If their kid gets into any sort of trouble, their parent will never let them live it down.
10. Their kids aren’t allowed to ask questions or express their honest feelings.
11. They use guilt to get their way.
12. They withhold love and affection as a form of punishment.
13. They make mountains out of molehills- Some toxic parents cannot discern a big problem from a small one. In their eyes, every little act of disobedience, every poor grade, and every dirty sock on the floor is the end of the world.
14. They expect the worst of their own kids. They curse their own children
15. 15. They expect their children to “perform.” Keeping unrealistic expectations
16. They take no blame and make zero apologies.
So, where do you stand? do you feel that you have these traits? I know it is hard to accept that you may be doing these, but there may be chances that you are doing these unknowingly too. So, it’s always good to introspect about yourself as a parent and see whether there is room for improvement. Being a good parent is all about patience and understanding. Parenting is a great responsibility. It is one of the most divine aspects too. Children find safety and comfort from all the bad things of the world in the laps of their parents and if we as parents fail to provide that safety and comfort, just imagine how our children will suffer All we need to do is try a little to change our approach from time to time. Be willing to learn from our kids too. It is really astonishing to know the things we as parents can learn from our kids. We just need to be more open to suggestions, that’s all. We, as parents, must accept the fact that we are not always right and that sometimes even our kids can teach us the lessons of life. It was the great Prahlada who challenged his father Hiranyakashipu's ego and gave him salvation. It was Arjuna’s own son Babruvahana who broke his father’s pride. When the time comes to step down from your kid's lives, it’s best to do so with dignity rather than be pushed out by your own kids. It will be heartbreaking. Because, when the time comes, your kids have to live without you. You can't be with them forever. Remember, expectations hurt. Children are not your retirement plan. So, let's keep our God complex aside and try learning from our children too.
Now, I may sound a bit harsh here, but the truth is that you are not doing a favour for your kids by taking care of them. It was your decision to have children. It was you who wanted to bring them to life. They didn’t ask for any of this. So please don’t use your sacrifices as a weapon to emotionally blackmail your children feel guilty and obey you. You took the responsibility of raising a child on your own. The child has nothing to do with how your life was before and please, please don’t damage your kids emotionally just because you could not get your way. Don’t scar them for life with your words just because your ego was hurt. Remember, tomorrow it will be you who will be crying if your child doesn’t make it in this world. Don’t be just a parent, be a partner for your child. Parenting in the coming days is going to be very challenging so you need to be ready for everything. Try learning about them every day, because honestly, you really don’t know your child so well.