What About Toxic Parents?

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Michelle Hill’s blog Notes From A Homeschooler. It was originally published on April 10, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

From my research and own personal experience with homeschoolers, I’ve come to realize that there’s a link between homeschooling and toxic, or over-controlling, parents. This control is all too apparent in the homeschool community, especially in conservative Christians and conservative Christian textbooks. With conservative Christians, all too often we hear about how children need to be obedient at all times to their parents. This is good for children learning how to stay safe, such as a parent telling a child not to touch a hot stove or to not cross a busy street (Galli, 2013). However, when the control starts to be too much that is when it is most harmful.

There are many negative impacts of having overly controlling parents in your life. Even throughout adulthood there still may be negative effects. Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. lists:

“Ten Signs Early Unhealthy Control May Still Affect You:

• Feel perfectionistic, driven, or rarely satisfied
• Feel intimidated or easily angered around controlling people
• Lose yourself in relationships by automatically putting others’ needs first
• Find it hard to relax, laugh, or be spontaneous
• Feel as if you are under scrutiny even when no one else is around
• Have an eating disorder or addictive behaviors
• Have trouble finding a spiritual belief that feels right
• Expect others to hurt, judge, or take advantage of you
• Have harsh “inner critics”
• Have trouble asserting yourself or feeling proud of your accomplishments” (Neuharth, 1999)

…just to name a few. A couple of other signs that you may have controlling parents or toxic parents is if you suffer from depression, anxiety, and self-harm yourself. So what if you meet many of these signs? More lists!

“Ten Signs You May Have Had Controlling Parents, when growing up, your parent:

• Over scrutinized your eating, appearance, hobbies, or social life
• Pressured you with perfectionistic expectations or unattainable standards
• Forbade you from questing or disagreeing with them
• Discouraged you from expressing anger, fear, or sadness around them
• Violated your privacy
• Intimidated, manipulated, or overpowered you
• Discouraged your efforts to experiment and think for yourself
• Gave you no say in household rules and responsibilities
• Seemed unaware of the pain they caused you or others
• Seemed unwilling to admit they were wrong” (Neuharth, 1999)

The last list that I identify most with as a child who grew up with controlling parents is Neuharth’s list:

“Ten Signs Your Parents May Still Control You: Even today as an adult, you:

• Feel disloyal when acting or feeling differently than your parents
• Feel easily annoyed or impatient with your parents without knowing why
• Feel confused by parental mixed messages
• Are afraid to express your true feeling around your parents
• Feel intimidated or belittled by your parents
• Worry more about pleasing your parents than being yourself
• Find it hard to emotionally separate from your parents
• Talk to your parents more out of obligation than choice
• Get tense when you think about being around your parents
• Want to temporarily reduce or sever contact with a parent” (Neuharth, 1999)

So maybe you identify with all of these signs and lists or just enough that you now may be thinking, “what if my parents have been controlling me all this time?” Great! Realizing that all this pain you may have might just not be your fault. No one should have to live with a toxic parent, and the best thing you can do for yourself if get some help.

I’m currently going through a journey of realizing that my mother may have been and still is today an over-controlling parent. I’ve talked with my loved ones, friends, my group therapy, and my therapist about my controlling mother and have come to realize that all these negative effects I have had may have stemmed from having such a controlling mother. But what do you do after you know that you have a controlling parent? Being emotionally enmeshed with your parent makes it hard to break free even though you know that’s what you want to do. I know that when I tell my mother I don’t want to come home for whatever reason it’s going to be met with her pushing overwhelming guilt on me and her saying how I must not love them. These are actually some of the ways a controlling parent may keep control over you, not by physical means but by emotionally pulling at your strings to get you to do what they want you to.

I don’t have the answer to everything. I certainly am no expert at homeschool families and parents. However, I do know that if you feel threatened by your parents, that it’s time to get help. Besides having a good support group of friends and a therapist, you can also research controlling and toxic parents. A book I’ve found helpful in this process is: Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr. Susan Forward. Some other resources can come from books and online articles.

Sources:

Galli, M. “Christian Families Should Focus on Grace, Not Control”. The New York Times. Jan. 14, 2013. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/01/08/with-children-when-does-religion-go-too-far/christian-families-should-focus-on-grace-not-control

Neuharth, D. 1999. If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. Harper Perennial. New York, NY.

For More Information:

Website of If You Had Controlling Parents with more resources and links:

http://www.controllingparents.com/Signs.htm

A short article to get you started:

http://savannahnow.com/accent/2013-02-01/family-relationships-find-ways-cope-controlling-parents

5 comments

  • Eleanor Skelton

    This is a really great summary + list of resources. *bookmarks*

  • This was a great article. I’d like to point out that a conservative church can do exactly the same things to children and teens with the same results, even if the parents are not toxic and controlling. I definitely recognized the “Ten Signs Early Unhealthy Control May Still Affect You” but I would attribute it more to the church where I grew up than my parents.

  • This is me, and I wasn’t even homeschooled!

  • I’ll be the very first to admit homeschooling attracts cultish, controlling and/or helicopter parents. Luckily, not all families who homeschool are like this (and homeschooling doesn’t turn families into this either). It depends on the parents and *why* they are homeschooling their kids.

    We ended up reconsidering our daughter’s education when her preschool teacher (justifiably) warned us our child could have a difficult time in public school, because our child is about 2-3 years ahead educationally compared to other children her age. She was not even two she’d love to say the alphabet, count to 100, and she recognized short sight words like “cat” and “stop.”

    When she was 4, we tried to discuss this with the public school she’d have been placed in and they were very unresponsive. I had seen other kids like our daughter struggle in those situations. Our closest private schools were over 1/2 hour away and I would have had to return to work full time driving over an hour in the opposite direction from those schools. Having had to commute 1-3 hours a day before becoming a mother, I didn’t want to do that again. Having had a laid back group of friends who already homeschooled helped a lot. Some of them are Christian, but most of them use secular curricula and the kids are not at all sheltered. In fact, my daughter’s best friends go to a public school.

    We take it year to year. The smartest homeschoolers do. Homeschooling should only happen if he works well for the whole family—including the parents. We take a child-led approach to educating our daughter. She certainly isn’t “obedient” (that is totally *not* how we want her to think as an adult), but she seems to make friends quickly and the teachers she’s had out of our house seem to like her.

    But one of the most frustrating issues I’ve encountered as a parent has been running into so many parents who are control-freaks—not just religiously—but some homeschoolers get really crazy about things like their children being exposed to the media and different types of foods or even playing with toys that 99% of other children play with. Some parents I meet refuse to let their kids have any commercial toys. I’ve been from a family like that. It sucks!

    I absolutely do not believe in raising a child in a bubble—nor do I think it is healthy or a parent or child to be enmeshed in one another’s lives. While homeschooling can be a wonderful education choice, it can attract people who make unhealthy choices such as that.

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