The Grief of Bad Parenting

I have many clients who come to therapy with stories of not-so-great parenting. Sometimes they have come to the conclusion that their parent(s) did the best that they could with what they had, other times, they are still wrestling with eternal hope and wishing for some change – or at the very least, validation.

With bad parenting, there is grief. A sense of loss is inherent in the process of gaining the realization that what your parent could have provided to you, didn’t. Sometimes therapy will help a client to understand the circumstances surrounding their parents, or how their own way of being parented might have created some learned behaviours and toxic patterns. Being able to accept that perhaps one will never hear their parent admit their mistakes is a sure sign that one is on the path to healing.

With acceptance, however, there is a sense of loss. And we tend to like action to affirm the process of acceptance. At this point, I use the saying “When you can’t go up, go down.” Essentially, we can’t change the past and we can’t change what our parent refuses to acknowledge. But we can choose the way we parent. 

“I will not resort to yelling at my kids every time they frustrate me.’

“My children will never feel the way I did as a child – alone, and unloved.”

“I am going to learn how to say sorry to my kids when I make a mistake.”

“I love you” and affection will be front and center in our home.’

“We are going to love our kids for who they are.”

“My children will be children. They won’t be made to feel responsible for me.”

We can live for a long time in the “I wish it was different with Mom/Dad.” The ‘what am I doing wrongs’ can easily lead us to constantly strive for their approval or love. Or we can decide that the cycle is ours no longer, and what we can’t change one way, we do have the opportunity to change in another. When we can’t go up, go down. 

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


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