WHY ARE MY PARENTS SO TOXIC AND STRICT? This Simple Quiz Might Help You Find Out!

For you to engage with this post, you have most probably received some harsh punishments, most probably for behaviour that you feel didn’t warrant it. Appreciating different parenting styles might help you clarify whether your parents are too strict, or not.

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Pexels.com

This quiz was compiled by Sharon Eshmade, a counsellor, parenting coach, author, teacher, and mum-of-a-teen with behaviour and learning difficulties, to help you understand and confidently navigate your relationship with your parents.

To best illustrate how these different parenting styles play out practically, I will use two difficult situations I have struggled to manage as a parent, limiting screen time and poor behaviour in public, to clarify how different parents use control and warmth to cope with their children’s more challenging behaviour.

A traditional authoritarian parenting style

When it comes to screen time, authoritarian parents will have a limited time expectation on their children using technology, based on what they think is appropriate. These parents have expectations that their children will instantly comply with their expectations and do exactly what they are told to do.

When their children do not listen and promptly put a device away, these parents will reactively shout, snatch, or confiscate the device and refuse or reduce screen time in the future to teach their children to appreciate, listen and follow their parents’ authority. These parents have a traditional approach and will expect their children to do as they are told rather than follow their example.

In public, authoritarian parents will have extremely high expectations that all children should behave as if they are smaller versions of adults. When their children act out or become overly excitable, these parents will reactively shout, shame, threaten, remove a privilege, or smack their child in response, often with no warning.

These children are expected to always speak respectfully, always be in control and always blindly follow the authority of their parents. These parents often lament about the children of the future generation and how they are going to be the undoing of civilised society.

A passive-indulgent parenting style

When it comes to screen time, indulgent parents have no time limit expectations on their children’s use of technology. Permissive parents believe that natural consequences alone will teach their children to make smarter choices in the future. If their children stay up all night, then they will be tired and learn from their experience the next time.

In public, indulgent parents will have no expectations of their children’s behaviour. When their children act out or become overly excitable, these parents will accept the behaviour, as they feel extremely uncomfortable in confrontational situations. They may be more inclined to rely on others to parent their children, such as limiting technology or consequences for poor behaviour choices, with little interest to get involved themselves.

An authoritative parenting style

When it comes to screen time, authoritative parents will have a flexible but limited time expectation on their children using technology, most likely based on recommendations by authorities on the subject or from discussing their thoughts with trusted friends. These parents will proactively have made an agreement with their children about their expectations and will have explained the rationale for the limits they set.

These parents expect their children to comply with their expectations and will hold their children accountable for their behaviour. When their children do not listen and put a device away, they will encourage their children to do so. If their children do not listen, then they will have a discussion to reiterate why they have limits in place, which are based on what is healthy for their children and may discuss consequences for not complying in the future.

In public, authoritative parents will have expectations of their children’s behaviour. They expect children to be respectful, kind and caring towards others, which proactively they discuss and agree with their children before going out. When their children act out or become overly excitable, they may take their children aside and talk them through the situation, encouraging them to make smarter choices or ask them to sit with them for a while to cool off or calm down.

Their children may not listen and behave poorly, and these parents understand that this is part of being a child and learning through their experiences. After an outing, these parents will talk to their children about what went well and what didn’t go well and why. They will explain their feelings and possible consequences in the future.

An uninvolved parenting style

To illustrate this specific parenting style, I will describe a family I once worked with and how they interacted with their two children. The older son was a difficult character and both parents were uninvolved in his upbringing. He was highly anxious and became a school refuser. The younger son was an easy character, and the parents were both more indulgent in their responsiveness towards him.

Understandably, the older child was highly resentful of his younger sibling and was increasingly demanding, struggled with significant mental health challenges, and went so far as to make significant attempts on his life landing him in hospital, to gain the same level of responsiveness from his parents.

Unfortunately, his uninvolved parents viewed his behaviour as an attempt to psychologically coerce them and at one point his mother even told me to ignore him, as he was only attempting to take his life to get attention.

These parents used examples of their son’s behaviour to demonstrate how challenging he was, how difficult he made their lives and how unrelentingly manipulative and demanding he was being. It was heartbreakingly difficult for me to work with such uninvolved parents and such a rejected child so desperate to attach to his parents.

Why are my parents so controlling?

If you are asking this question, I am going to assume that your parents have an authoritarian parenting style. If so, your parents were most probably raised by authoritarian parents so believe that it is the best, and only way, to raise their children well. They do love you, but their focus on controlling you is misdirected.

They are terrified of being permissive or soft because, they rightly fear, that it will lead you to take no responsibility in your life and be an ungrateful, disrespectful, unsuccessful, unhappy adult. One research paper concluded that parents with an indulgent parenting style nearly tripled the risk of their teens participating in heavy drinking.

The fear of, and ensuring that they aren’t, being indulgent is often the motivation behind their harsh punishments. They love and care about you so much that they believe that what they are doing will ensure that you develop into good, successful, law-abiding adults.

Traditional parents often instinctively and unconsciously parent from their fears. For example, if you don’t return home by your curfew then you are having underage sex, being raped, or taking drugs. However, what they don’t realise is that the same research paper also concluded that parents with an authoritarian parenting style more than doubled their teen’s risk of heavy drinking.

What they are also unaware of, which is not their fault, is that the teens least prone to heavy drinking had parents with an authoritative style of parenting.

Why are my parents reluctant to change?

Often the actions of an authoritative parent may look on the surface much like those of an indulgent parent, but the devil is in the details. When things go wrong, which they will do, I allow my children to make mistakes. They learn best by their missteps in life. This choice can be perceived as if I am indulging them and allowing them to ‘walk all over me’, especially if I choose to give them space when they are disrespectful and openly rude.

Later, when we are all calm, I kindly hold my kids accountable with a firm and assertive conversation. I might say, “I feel disrespected when you tell me to shut up. In future, can you ask me politely to be quiet? I am not a mind-reader, so you need to explain what is happening and then we can work together better. I do not accept being spoken to rudely and disrespectfully. Thank you.”

From working with clients as a parenting coach and making the transition from an authoritarian to an authoritative parent myself, being a parent that balances their control and warmth takes a lot of conscious hard work. However, in the long run, communicating assertively (where our needs are met while being kind to others) becomes easier.

Punishments do work quickly and require far less input from stressed and busy parents. Comforting upset children, being empathic, and discussing our feelings, thoughts and behaviour is time-consuming. Most parents were not brought up with insightfulness and do not believe that kindness has any place in parenting. They must be ‘strong’ role models, and never be perceived to make a mistake or be ‘weak’ or vulnerable.

Ask for help

I have found that the best way to communicate with overly strict and punitive parents is to write them an email so that you can explain your viewpoint clearly. By demonstrating that you understand their perspective, and how you have taken, or do take, mature accountability for your actions, you will reassure them as the authority in your life.

A few paragraphs in your email may read as follows:

Yesterday, I was trying to help you switch off the windscreen wipers because I could see you were angry, and I thought it might be helpful. I do respect you as the authority as the driver, I was just trying to help make the situation a bit easier for you.

I have learned that my actions made the situation worse. In future, I will not touch the controls on the car’s dashboard. I need you to be aware that I feel diminished and unloved when you punish me for making unintentional mistakes, especially when I am trying to be helpful. In future, please can we talk about what I am doing wrong so that I don’t make the same mistake again and upset you.

Visit me on social media or my website at http://www.crashtestmummy.net or email me at sharoneshmade@yahoo.co.uk. It may be useful to read my blog on “How to cope with passive-aggressive people (PAP)” to support you too. Being kindly assertive takes awareness, acceptance, letting go, self-love, and practice.

For all references to specific points of view and research, please visit my website, download my book, and refer to the Appendix section.

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