Toxic Parenting

The following contains excerpts leading to and from an article identified at the website of the canadiancrc.com:

The sins of the mothers

The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Australia, Adele Horin, September 12, 2008

Unfortunately the article shown there does not identify a link to the original article, but it shows enough (perhaps all) of the text of the article to make me wonder.

When Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears ran amok, the public blamed their mothers. Their fathers – Lohan’s had served time in jail and had addiction problems – escaped rebuke entirely.

Now an Australian study provides some evidence that bad mothering has a worse effect on children than bad fathering….

It shows that mothers who exhibit “toxic” behaviours – from being cold and indifferent to being abusive, manipulative or over-controlling – are far more likely to warp their children’s outlook on life than fathers with similar behaviour.

Wayne Warburton, a research fellow at Macquarie University’s Children and Families Research Centre, said: “Mothers have a really powerful effect on the way their kids view the world and themselves, probably because kids spend more time with their mothers, especially in the crucial early years.”

Dr Warburton asked 441 university students to fill out detailed questionnaires on the parenting styles of their mothers and fathers, and on their own patterns of thinking.

He asked them to recall 72 parenting behaviours, including “making a child feel ashamed”, being unloving or rejecting, and frequently telling the child they were stupid or would fail. He also asked questions designed to uncover destructive thinking patterns in the students, such as being “clingy” out of a fear of being abandoned.

He found young adults were two-thirds as likely to develop unhelpful patterns of thinking if the toxic parenting they had experienced came from their father rather than their mother. [my emphasis –WHS]

If a range of poor parenting behaviours existed, they tended to be found in the same parent, the study found.

Just over 22 per cent of the mothers and 14 per cent of the fathers were classified as toxic.

Dr Warburton said he was surprised that toxic mothers outnumbered toxic fathers. “When I first saw the figure I thought many of the people came from single-parent families but that wasn’t true. I’m at a loss to explain it.”

He said while mothers had more influence on their children, it was surprising that fathers had two-thirds the effect of mothers, given their lower levels of contact. “Fathers still have a significant effect on the development of their kids’ patterns of thinking.”

Of course, newspaper articles often do not accurately reflect the details, research procedures and findings of such studies, but I wonder why Dr. Warburton was surprised by his findings.  I suspect that he does not have children of his own, or that, if he does, he did not spend much time thinking about what sort of messages his children got from either parent about the other respective parent.

In other words, did his questionnaire include anything that addressed to what extent the students he surveyed had become alienated against one or the other parent?  If it did, he could not possibly be as surprised by the results of his survey as he had become.

Parental alienation is as likely to occur in intact families as in divorced families.  Perhaps it is even somewhat of a toss-up whether toxic varieties of parental alienation are more likely to be found in divorced or in intact families.

Let’s hope that Dr. Warburton’s puzzlement about the origins and causes of toxic parenting will eventually lead him to explore the issues of parental alienation, the increasing disfranchisement of paternal influence and the escalating power of maternal influence and control over children.

Perhaps the solution to his puzzlement will then become apparent, namely that the puzzle of toxic mothering cannot be solved through expunging fathers from the lives of their children but must involve policies that will return us to having a much-increased, strengthened, even controlling, presence of fathers.

Nevertheless, Dr. Warburton’s study has left its mark on Australia’s psycho-therapists.  Consider this commentary and advice:

Ask the Therapist

Since I was a teenager, my mother and I have not gotten along. She often makes me feel bad about myself by saying mean and hurtful things. I never feel my best around her. I have tried over and over to make her happy, but nothing works. I am 35 now and she is in her late sixties.

This year, my older sister and brother are planning a Mother’s Day dinner for her at my sister’s home. They asked me to participate in the planning and attend. If I go, I know that I will have a terrible time. On the other hand, they told me that she is not feeling well and may not be with us many more years. If I don’t go to the dinner, I will feel guilty. I am anxious just thinking about this decision. What should I do?

— Alicia in Oak Park

In that article, Susan A. Horen offers, amongst other things, this:

Dr. Wayne Warburton, a researcher at Macquarie University’s Children and Families Research Centre in Australia, confirmed this fact about toxic parenting in a recent study. As much as we hear about fathers who don’t do a good job of parenting, Warburton found that young adults are 50 percent more likely to develop unhelpful patterns of thinking if the toxic parenting they had experienced came from their mother rather than their father.

Toxic parenting can occur when people who have significant personality disorders become parents. The most common disorders are narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic and borderline. All of these disorders have core elements of selfishness, insensitivity to others, narcissism, a refusal to accept personal responsibility for their behavior and a sense of entitlement that allows them to abuse others when their selfish demands are not immediately met.

Damage from toxic mothers often continues into adulthood.

Toxic parenting is never a good thing.  In extreme cases is can lead to serious social dysfunctions in the affected children, such as in the case of a young woman raised from birth by her father.  The woman took a firearm to work and threatened to shoot her boss, after which she was remanded for observation to the psychiatric ward of the hospital where she has been residing for the past few months.

She is now permitted to spend weekends at home with the father whom she supports and who had fashioned her into the twisted individual she has become.  That is quite likely to counteract whatever positive outcomes are to be hoped for from the course of medicating and counseling she is receiving.

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