I had joined a Facebook group that I will not name that originally recruited some of us parents from another Facebook group I was in for adult children of narcissists. I’ve shared in previous blog posts about my severed relationship with my dad, and as I was healing myself, some of these groups were really helpful to me as I learned how to set boundaries.
The parenting group was sort of a spin off to help parents who were raised by a narcissistic parent raise their own children in a healthy way.
One of the things that can happen when you’re raised by a narcissist, is that you can become a narcissist yourself, or, at the very least, have some narcissistic traits that are hard to overcome. Sometimes it’s because when people are triggered (and honestly who triggers you more than your own kids) they default to the behaviors that were done to them and the cycle of dysfunction continues.
As I look back into my early 20’s I can definitely see where I had some narcissistic traits. However, a different manifestation of being raised by narcissists is that you become a people pleaser. You learn to suppress your own feelings, wants and needs to keep the people around you happy. This was more of what I struggled with as I was coming to terms with the fact that I could no longer allow my dad to be a part of my life.
One of the things I realized I was doing, was feeling personally responsible for my kids and my husband’s feelings. If they had feelings that were negative, I felt like I had failed somehow and found myself caught in this cycle of trying to keep everyone in the family happy, all the time.
Some of the things that were extremely helpful to me in my breakthrough were reading the book Boundaries, and also Boundaries in parenting, and also my reading and understanding of Scripture in guiding me how to be a better wife and parent. I learned it’s not my job to make/keep my loved ones happy and comfortable at all times. In fact, I was really doing them all a disservice. It’s completely normal to experience the wide range of human emotions and I was effectively telling my kids it’s not ok to be sad, angry, frustrated, etc and that I couldn’t handle it when they were.
Well the Facebook parenting group that I left today was geared more towards the first type of parents, those who became narcissistic themselves. That’s all fine and good to help those people, but often these “licensed therapists” would just post out of context memes that sent confusing messages to parents and can’t be applied in all situations.
The example of the one that did it for me was that back talk by children is just their way of expressing their feelings and that we should never shame or discourage their sharing their thoughts and feelings with us. Lots of parents were commenting that it was a bit misleading and I agree and also voiced my own opinions about it.
First, there’s the definition of what back talk is and isn’t. I definitely wouldn’t define back talk as a child just expressing their feelings. Tone, and timing play a huge part in the behavior. To me, back talk is like this:
Child: Can you take me to the mall? I really want to go buy this thing.
Parent: Not today. I’ve got to get xx done and start dinner.
Child: (as soon as they hear the ‘no’ interrupts) FINE! You NEVER do anything I want!
It’s them expressing themselves, sure. And I agree that they should be allowed to express themselves and be heard, but the rude way they interrupt and start ripping into you is disrespectful. And it would be disrespectful if I did it to them. It would be disrespectful if I did it to my husband.
So I used an example that I made up, much like this one, where I said that I the parent would say, “Ok, but why the anger? That doesn’t feel good.”
So this therapist told me that by me saying “that doesn’t feel good” I’m making my child responsible for my feelings. I disagreed and she pointed me to a rule in the group that said you can’t argue with admins. Lol.
This is where I think they take it waaay too far. And why a lot of people don’t like “gentle parenting”.
For one thing, I didn’t say in the example, “you made me feel bad.” I specifically kept it more on the action. “The anger in your tone didn’t feel good.” It’s the truth. And if my husband had snapped at me in a similar way, I would be encouraged to tell him my feelings. It didn’t feel good when you yelled at me.” So why can’t we also express our own feelings to our kids? And further, why are therapists encouraging parents to be emotionally abused by their own children? Especially many parents who grew up the way I did, being a people pleaser who have a hard time setting and holding onto boundaries. We’re just supposed to let our children yell at us any time they don’t get their way because they have a right to express themselves?
It’s right to point out to our kids when they are rude. They are entitled to their feelings of frustration when being told no, and they certainly have a right to express their feelings to me when they don’t like a decision I’ve made. But it’s not ok to interrupt or yell at me that I never do anything they want. I’m the one that is supposed to teach them this. It is perfectly fine for me to point out that their response to me was inappropriate. And also to let them know that it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end.
This therapist was completely nit picking my response and this is what some of these parents have been conditioned to do. If you spend any time in any mom groups online you’ll see moms, emotionally worn out because their kids are out of control and they feel guilty about not responding to everything in the perfect way.
Are all my interactions with my kid’s perfect? No way, not even close! I’m sure if a therapist followed me around for 24 hours they could probably find a million things I could have done better. But there are also a whole lot of worse ways that parents can respond. A parent that is regulated and calm and asks their child, “why the anger. That didn’t feel good” is preferable to a parent who screams back at their child, “Don’t you dare back talk to me you ungrateful brat!” It’s important to remember that parents are imperfect people who also get tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, etc.
On a good day, I stay completely calm, don’t let my kids emotions or outbursts get to me and am able to respond in a way that strengthens our relationships while also teaching my kids what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Other days, I’m distracted by maybe some stressful news I’ve heard or I’m overwhelmed or overstimulated because my kids have all been cooped up together and have been arguing and screaming for the last couple hours and I’m simply out of patience and I snap at them. This is ok too because I still can strengthen the relationship by apologizing to them for the things I did wrong and being honest about my own shortcomings.
“You asked me a question and I heard the other two kids fighting and I was short with you. I’m sorry. That couldn’t have felt good. I want you to know that I love you and my short response was not because of you but because I was overwhelmed. Could we try that conversation again?”
Your child sees you as not perfect, and able to apologize and that you care enough about them to make it right. And you’re setting an example for how to apologize and take responsibility.
I’m not perfect and I’m never going to be, but most of the time, I think I’m getting things more right than wrong. I pray over my parenting and I’m always trying to learn more and do better, but I’m not going to feel bad about letting my kids know that something they did or said didn’t feel good. And I’m not going to stay in these toxic groups where disagreements with “the experts” is not allowed while they are allowed to pick apart everything that you say. Not helpful.