THE PANDEMIC OF TOXIC PARENTING
By Kemi Williams
Parenting has been a consistent hot topic in many social media spaces, and among those being vocal are Africans, who are also adding their experiences to the conversation.
From the stories shared, the conversation centers on African parents projecting their beliefs, culture and upbringing learnt either from their own parents or from their environment on their children, some of which can be defined as toxic. What we have learned from these transparent conversations, is the magnitude of emotional damage and trauma this can cause, and has caused for many children and families.
For me, one of the strongest reactions I have to listening to these conversations, is rejoicing in my decision to be child free. Despite facing insurmountable pressure to procreate, I am so glad that I stood firm in my choice because it is the absolute right one for me. I cannot possibly imagine subconsciously projecting some of the things I’ve been through onto an unassuming individual, who didn’t even ask to come into this world.
We’ve heard and read about many instances of physical and verbal abuse masqueraded as “tough love” or as parents “knowing best”. We have seen many instances where parents tout culture and knowledge in the bid to control, to manipulate and to gently coerce (sometimes forcefully), to ensure their children do what they want.
There are endless adages or proverbs heralding parents as “gods” on earth, as the ones who know it all, as the ones who have your best interests at heart and the most laughable of all, as the ones who have unconditional love for you.
While there are many great parents who embody love; who guide, support, respect, love and protect their children as best as they can. I have one of them and know a few of them.
There are also parents who abuse.
We’ve heard of parents who physically abuse to the point of extreme injury or even maiming their children.
There are children that are permanently psychologically damaged due to the trauma inflicted on them by their parents.
There are parents who deliberately withhold love to get what they want, who emotionally manipulate their children to toe a particular line for their own interests.
There are parents who completely abandon and disown their children because they disagree with the choices they’ve made, or their religious, sexual or physical orientation.
I’ve had first-hand experience in the demonstration of how toxic a parent can be. I’ve learnt that because someone birthed you and you call her mom doesn’t mean she won’t be selfish and put her interests and needs before yours. I’ve learnt that a toxic parent can do the most to manipulate you to do exactly what they want you to do. This includes messing with your emotional psyche so badly, you start to become depressed.
I struggled terribly and still do with how my mom was so hung up on how my divorce made her look that she wasn’t even able to be there for me, rather, tried desperately and valiantly to get me to go back to an unhappy marriage.
She still tries, a year after my divorce has been final.
Things became so unbearable that I had to cut her off for an extended period. I had to prioritise my peace and mental health over biological ties and it taught me a valuable lesson.
It is critical to understand that parents are just human beings, just like anyone else, they do not know it all and do not have any special powers.
They make mistakes just like anyone else and some are better at it than others. A parent is only as good as the empathy, kindness and good nature that is inbuilt in them as individuals. The title “parent” or “mom” “dad” doesn’t bestow any additional or particular traits on a person, it just means you’ve birthed someone and any one can be a parent. But the traits and character that make good parents already come within us and if you don’t have it, and have no intention of doing the work necessary to be what your children need, and not what you believe they should, you can’t be a good parent.
It is imperative that we do away with the idea that our parents “know best” or “know it all” and should not be challenged or questioned.
A parent’s job is to create the right framework, an enabling and loving environment for a child to grow to be his or her own person and develop their own sensibilities. By all means, guide and give advice where necessary but by no means does your role as a parent, welcome you to control your child and inflict emotional, physical or psychological damage.