In every bookstore there are books about toxic parents and we all have to agree that we learned as we parented and most of our kids have some legitimate complaints. Usually we did the best we could do with what we had to work with. What we had to work with is often called “multi-generational family patterns of dysfunction”. Put simply, it means we learned how to parent from our parents who learned how to parent from their parents who learned how to parent from their parents who learned how to parent from their parents and so on, each generation handing down the same or mostly same parenting style until it gets to the helicopter parent of today who decided to do a 180 and parent exactly opposite the way he/she was parented and winds up creating toxic kid from hell.
Healing and understanding is possible, sometimes with the help of a therapist. Guilt doesn’t help anyone and guilt is the chief cause of toxic kids. Here are just a few examples of toxic kids:
- Your kid only gets off the couch to go to the refrigerator and bathroom. Your kid is thirty.
- Your kid brings his/her laundry to your house and expects you to do it and you do because, of course, you feel guilty. Your kid is thirty-one.
- Your kid hits you up for twenty bucks and says they’ll pay you back as they’re heading out the door. Your kid is twenty-nine.
- Your kid hits you up for twenty bucks because they can’t find a job and they tell you it’s your fault because you didn’t prepare them for the real world. Your kid is forty.
- Your kid lives at home and waits to be called to dinner. Your kid is thirty-five.
- Your kid lives at home, has no plans to move out, fixes a plate of dinner and heads back to his/her room to eat and play video games. Your kid is thirty-five.
- Your kid doesn’t come home for two days, and when he/she does, you tell them you were worried about them. They respond by telling you they’re grown up and don’t need to report to their mother every time they don’t come home. Your kid is thirty-eight and living at home.
- Your kid tells you they lost their job, which they’ve had for all of six months, and that they can’t pay the rent on their apartment this month. You struggle between wanting your kid to learn a lesson and not wanting your kid to move back home. Your kid thirty-six.
- You get a call from your kid at two am and they tell you they’re in jail for a DUI and need you to help them. You immediately get dressed and head for the jail, hoping you can find a bail bondsman open. Of course you do this because you feel guilty. Your kid is forty.
- You and your spouse argue constantly. The main thing you argue about is what one or the other did or didn’t do or say to or for the kid. The kid is twenty-five and not living at home. It’s likely your kid has done a fine job of playing you off against each other.
So what to do about a toxic kid? The first thing you need to recognize if you see yourself in any of these examples, or these examples remind you of some other toxic behavior, is that you are enabling your child. Enabling means you are making your child an emotional and functional cripple because you feel….you got it GUILTY. So knock it off and trust that your kid has the resources and ability to discover who they are and to learn to take care of themselves if you just get out of the way, set limits, time lines, make contracts about work to do around the house for the privilege of living temporarily at home while they are job seeking (the job seeking part would be part of the contract). Everything you do for your kid that your kid should be doing for him/herself is self-serving because you don’t want to feel guilty and you feel sorry for your kid. That, by the way, is the message you are giving your kid, no expectations because he/she is a loser.