While the term ‘toxic’ is a bit overused in society today, it’s still highly ingrained into our language, and we often use it when we refer to mental, emotional, and behavioral issues that harm others. In this article, we’ll discuss the warning signs of toxicity in motherhood and what you can do to change such behaviors.
There are a variety of behavioral patterns in raising children that could be considered toxic to their mental and emotional development.
Knowing how to establish healthy boundaries can help prevent parents from being too overprotective and controlling, or too uninvolved and neglectful.
If there is abuse in the home, it is important to seek help immediately.
Adverse childhood experiences can have a detrimental impact on the life of your child, well into adulthood, and can even shorten their lifespan.
It’s important to speak with a trained professional if you believe you possess any of the following toxic traits to not only protect your child but live a happier, healthier life.
Physical touch and maternal warmth
It is a scientific fact that infants and toddlers need more than just food, shelter, clothing, and their diapers changed. They also need physical touch and warmth. In various studies, infants who were left in their cribs and received no affection in the form of touch, even though their other physical needs were met, died. It’s important to show warmth to your child in the form of hugs and other physical touches.
Children need to be hugged and told they are loved. When they do not have this, they can develop behavioral patterns that lead them to seek out unhealthy relationships and codependency with others as adults.
While physical touch is important, it is also important to ensure that it does not become harmful. Harmful physical touch includes physical and sexual abuse, as well as corporal punishment. These are just as damaging to children as a lack of touch and warmth.
Blame and shame vs. appropriate discipline
Mothers who rule their children with fear, blame, or shame could be considered as having toxic traits. This parenting style can create a variety of psychological issues that can impact a child’s development and can lead to anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders, among others.
It’s important to have healthy boundaries in place and establish a set of rules to keep your children safe, while respecting your guidelines, without guilting, blaming, or shaming them when they mess up. It is better to discipline them with a defined set of consequences that does not include corporal punishment, as research shows this leads to abusive or violent behaviors in children that extend into adulthood, as well as depression and other mental health disorders.
Manipulation, codependency, and enmeshed relationships
If you use threats, rather than offering your children choices or manipulating them into doing what you want them to do, this may be a sign of toxicity in parenting. It’s best to be factual, even-toned, and diplomatic when disciplining your children, setting boundaries, and upholding the rules of your household. Manipulating them or depending upon them for emotional support can lead to enmeshed relationships that can become forms of abuse. If you are making your child your confidant or therapist and speaking to them about your adult problems as if they were your adult friends, this can be toxic to their development.
Speaking about your children to others outside of the home
When speaking about your children to others, such as extended family, friends, teachers, and other members of the community, it’s important to do so with respect for your child and avoid talking negatively about them. This is a toxic trait that can have far-reaching negative impacts on your child’s social and emotional development and self-esteem.
Speaking negatively about them to their face is even more toxic and considered mental and emotional abuse. It’s important to be an advocate for your child, even if they are struggling, but without enabling them to get away with whatever they wish. Healthy boundaries can prevent you from overhyping your child, which can give them a false sense of self, or from tearing them down, which can give them a more negative view of themselves than is realistic.
Overprotective, overbearing, or smothering
As parents, it’s natural to want to protect your children from the dangers of the world, but in reality, that is impossible. You can instill in them the values you wish for them to retain while making them aware of the dangers that exist, but instilling fear in them about the world can backfire and cause them to develop symptoms of anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia.
Overindulging them, or smothering them, can also have a detrimental impact, as it can cause a child to develop a false sense of entitlement and unrealistic ideas about their abilities and sense of self.
Neglect or a lack of attention
Once your child develops beyond infancy and toddlerhood, it’s still important to show them that you care and to give them your attention. This also must be done with balance, as too little attention, or neglect is a form of abuse that can harm their development, while too much attention can feed into narcissistic tendencies. Be a form of support for your child, show them that you are interested in what is going on in their lives, but do not make them the center of your universe or act like they do not exist. These extremes are both very toxic to the development of your child.
Domestic violence in the home
When a child is exposed to physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse in the home that doesn’t directly involve them, this is also a form of abuse, as it is traumatizing to a child and can cause them to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a variety of other mental health concerns. If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is important to seek help immediately, not only to protect yourself but to protect your child and their wellbeing for years to come.
Authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting
The three primary parenting styles that have been identified by behavioral health professionals include authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Authoritarian styles involve extreme control and overbearing behavior towards children, while permissive parenting involves a lack of rules or boundaries.
Authoritative is the healthiest form of parenting, as it establishes a balanced approach with clear, healthy boundaries in place. The other two forms of parenting can cause psychological and developmental damage. Neglect, or uninvolved parenting, has also been recognized as a form of parenting in recent years, which is considered a form of abuse.
How to get help
If you believe that you may have some traits of being a toxic parent or mother, it is not too late to change. Identifying your behaviors is the first step. Oftentimes, when a parent struggles with mental health, a personality disorder, or a substance use disorder, it can feed into toxicity.
The best way to turn things around is by making an appointment to speak with a therapist both individually and as a family. You may also want to find a child therapist for your offspring if you are concerned that there is considerable damage to be healed.
The first seven years of a child’s life are their most formative years, and disruptions from the love and affection they receive during this time can cause attachment injuries which can lead to personality disorders, mental health disorders, and personal struggles with intimacy as adults. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a detrimental impact on a child into adulthood, up to the point of reducing their longevity and taking years off their life expectancy.
It isn’t easy admitting that you have some toxic parenting traits, and those with personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) may not ever be able to admit that they are doing anything wrong despite their toxic behaviors. As difficult as it may be to admit that you are a toxic mother, it’s vitally important for your child’s ability to thrive as an adult. The sooner you seek help for any toxic behavioral patterns, the better you and your child will be.
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- The Henry James Review. Toxic mothers, cultural criticism: “In the Cage and Elsewhere”.