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LIKE it or not, parents are their children’s greatest influence. Some are regarded as thus having provided unconditional love, respect and care. But there are also others who have failed in their children’s eyes, having unknowingly sowed the seeds of hatred, fear and abuse.

Not all parents are perfect because we all make mistakes. However, if the mistakes are repeated in a certain pattern, especially with elements of emotional and physical abuse, it’s something else. Experts call those parents who carry a promise of love and care, while at the same time mistreating their children, as toxic parents. In her book, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, author Susan Forward offers a glimpse of what toxic parents are.

While toxic parents often say they love their children and do mean it, their behaviour says otherwise. Examples of toxic parenting behaviours can include that which commands the children to respect their parents no matter what and stipulating that there are only two ways to do things — my way and the wrong way. Another is that children should be seen but not heard and it’s wrong for children to be mad at their parents.

Children of toxic parents often feel trapped and have a constant fear of making mistakes. Scolding, punishment and judgement are among the things they can expect to receive. For toxic parents, an emotional attack is synonymous with love and attention.

Toxicity is often associated with power and position. It’s especially true when one takes power and position to the extreme. With power, comes responsibility. At the same time, it’s easy to be blinded by it.

I know of a father who seems to have fallen into this trap. When I spoke to his family, everybody complained about how strict and harsh he was. Although he meant well, his absolute use of his power caused tension in the family.

His children confided that they don’t feel inspired at all. Instead, they’re always afraid of his direct, harsh comments which in turn end up killing their ambitions. They’re afraid to make any mistake in case the father uses it against them in the future.


As for the rest of us, let’s check our style now. Do your spouse and children fear or respect you? Will they rejoice or mourn your absence? Do they feel inspired or threatened every time you deal with them? Be honest because only you know the answer. Congratulations if you’ve always been a respected parent.

It’s never too late to change our style to be less toxic. We need to change from being fearful to being respectful. Impose less and inspire more. Reduce instructions and increase empowerment. Be more like a lawyer who defends (our kids) rather than a judge who dishes out unfair punishments.

A long time ago, there was a very cruel king, feared by his people. The king had a lovely dog named Jack. One fateful morning Jack died. The entire city came to Jack’s burial ceremony. The king was so happy to see that the people “loved” him so much. Years later, the king died but no one came for his funeral. Let’s be like Jack. Family is forever, and we want them to still miss us long after we’re gone.

Zaid Mohamad coaches and trains parents to experience happier homes and more productive workplaces. Reach him at [email protected].

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