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When parents become toxic to their children

By Sandra Wekesa
Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 00:00 | 4 mins read
When parents become toxic to their children.

Sandra Wekesa @wekesa_sandra

Lucille Chelimo understands too well the phrase ‘some of the most toxic people in your life come disguised as your family’. 

“My father prefers to act as though we have the best relationship. Often, he would tell his friends how I am the greatest daughter a parent could have.

He will always pretend and cover his lies with more lies until it becomes a build up of lies,” she explains.

She recalls how her resentment towards her father started while she was just nine years old.

At this tender age, she would often witness her father beat up her mother every day.

As if this wasn’t enough, he would always blame her mother for small mistakes such as failing to call to let him know that she would be coming home late, or being late in cooking food.

“He was so mean to her. There were ways he could address the issue without being violent, but I don’t think he felt the same,” she says.

With time, he started expressing the same energy towards her,  something she never saw coming.

She remembers how at one point he slapped her hard over a boy texting her. 

“I was just a teenager. I thought this is something he would have dealt with by just talking to me about it.

I just wanted him to love me for who I am and not to spend most time trying to correct me, and comparing me with other girls around the neighbourhood,” she recalls.

Through all this she tried building up a relationship with him,  but her efforts were futile. 

As a result, she resorted to completely avoiding her father by all means. 

“I am 19 years old now, I know I can’t move out of the house right now, but I have ways of avoiding him.

I will either be locked up in my bedroom most of the time or lie about staying in school to study. This has been the best way to overcome his toxicity,” she says.

Manipulative tactics 

David Ngeiywa, a teacher, says one of the toxic traits he has witnessed is how manipulative his mother is when she wants favours from him.

Although he doesn’t mind sparing a few coins to take care of her, it is always difficult to deal with her endless responsibilities aside from his own.

On days he tries to explain how he has to pay school fees for his children, or pay rent and even feed his family, she will always play the victim and say  how she needs his money to survive.  

“She would often tell me she has raised me single-handedly and deserves more attention than I gave her.

Every time I sent her money it was never enough. Instead, she demanded more, claiming how she struggled as a single mother,” he says. 

To David, it felt as if his mother was insinuating that he owed her for raising him. It felt as if this was debt he had to pay her mother for bringing him up.

“It’s not like I didn’t want to sort out her bills and take care of her, I always did. We had an arrangement that every month I would be sending her money for shopping, but hers was getting out of hand.

She would demand money out of the blues, in the middle of the month, when I have other responsibilities to take care of,” he recalls.

Dr Jane Wangaruro, a sociologist and lecturer at Kenyatta University describes toxic parents as those who consistently behave in ways that cause guilt, fear, or obligation on their children.

“Parents are human beings and they make mistakes, too many of them. They tend to do things to their children unintentionally, but at the end of the day, they just want to make things better and be a good parent,” she explains.

However, she says, a toxic parent doesn’t have this intention. They tend to be concerned about their needs; they don’t want to care whether what they have done is harmful or damaging.

Sometimes they are not apologetic or remorseful and this abuse is usually progressive or ongoing.

She attributes anger and feeling of rejection in some children upbringing to the fact that they were often around toxic parents who always had self-centered behaviour, physical and verbal abuse, controlling behaviours, manipulative behaviours and lack of boundaries. 

“When children grow up with dysfunctional parents, they tend to not recognise it as much.

To them, this might feel it is a normal environment to grow up in. They will be in denial that they have gone through emotional abuse, especially if their needs haven’t been met.

This then carries on in their growth and this builds up to emotional trauma,” she says.

Out of control

She adds that one way to move away from this toxicity is through learning to parent yourself.

“I know as a child it might be hard to admit you are going through that and you might feel so shameful about what you are going through,” she says, adding that words of affirmation, and empowerment help in this.

On her part, Esther Mbau a psychologist says children can always learn to detach themselves to what they view as toxic parenting. 

“Detaching is an emotional concept and has nothing to do with proximity. Children who often find themselves around toxic parents can always decided to live their life without reacting to anything or being responsible of their parent’s feelings, and needs,” she explains.

She adds that although it could be difficult to be affirmative, especially around your parent, setting boundaries is important and could protect you from the toxic energy you are getting from your parent.

“For parents, they need to be real when it comes to their children, because a child being abused by her parents doesn’t stop loving their parent, but instead stops loving themselves,” she adds.

Emotional need

James Mburu, a psychologist says, toxic parents are emotionally out of control.

Sometimes they tend to dramatise even small issues and see any possible slight issue as a way for them to become hostile, angry, verbally abusive and destructive.

He says, they not only behave as controlling people but also lack empathy and remorse even when they are the ones on the wrong.

Sometimes they tend to be highly critical and fail to see their children’s achievements, regardless of how accomplished their child is or becomes as an adult.

“One way to handle toxic parents is to accept and recognise they are toxic and are not willing to change.

This way you will be able to adjust your emotional needs and expectations to avoid subjecting yourself to toxicity projected by them,” he explains.

As a children of a toxic parent, you need to be careful enough to not subject yourself to torture or dishonor your parents.

Sandra Wekesa

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