How your home training has affected your mental health

art by Ken Wilson-Max

Not everyone should be a parent.

It is a skill that should be left to the better emotionally adjusted, mentally stable, self loving and financially secure adults. Simply nursing the idea of having a tiny version of you and romanticizing it with promises to do better than your parents did when they raised you is not enough to make you a good parent or show you how to be a good parent. It is not an instinctive act that you will figure out when you have children. We are not automatically equipped with the know-how of parenting when children are born to us. It is a herculean task for which one must be adequately prepared.

To be a parent means to be committed to promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of a human being(s) from infancy to adulthood and is not exclusive to biological relationships. Parenting behavior, how parents and guardians act towards their children has a significant effect on their mental well-being and contributes to the development of emotional or behavioral problems in childhood all the way to adulthood.

Why? The family is the first social environment that we encounter from infancy. The lessons that we learn from living within the environment we were raised in creates a template which we will use to relate with ourself and other people.

Researcher and Developmental psychologist, Diana Baumrind identified three different types of parenting styles: Authoritative, Authoritarian, and Permissive parenting styles. A few years later, researchers Maccoby and Martin added the Neglectful parenting style.

The parenting style or as we call it in Nigeria “home training” adopted by a parent can be defined as the strategies employed to either promote or stagnate the development of the child. It is a representation of how your parents responded to your emotional and developmental needs and what level of control they exercised in your life. It is influenced by a number of factors: the stage of development that you were in (infancy, teenage years), your parent’s cultural beliefs, societal beliefs, your temperament, economic factors, environment, religious beliefs and your parent’s temperament.

They explained that the way you were raised by your parents or guardians has a significant effect on you on your journey through out life. It affects the way you process emotions, your ability to form long lasting relationships, your relationship with yourself, your financial habits, your philosophy on life, your ability to make and keep friends, your sexual being, your spiritual being, your relationship with them and your concept of family.

AUTHORITATIVE

Parents who practice this style of parenting encourage independence in their children but enforce limitations on their actions. They are warm, nurturing, and responsive to their children’s emotional needs. They are conscious of their children’s feelings and teach them how to regulate it. They set clear rules and boundaries and expect mature, independent and age-appropriate behaviors. Punishment for misbehavior is measured and consistent and the parent explains the motive of their punishment.

Children raised in an authoritative environment grow up to become generous, happy, content and responsible adults. They have better mental health, high self-esteem, good social skills and are capable of self-determination when they set upon tasks.

AUTHORITARIAN

Authoritarian parents demand mature, responsible behaviors from their children but are not attuned to their emotional needs. They are not warm, nurturing, understanding and are usually unkind. It is a restrictive style and children raised in this environment are expected to follow instructions with little to no explanations or feedback.

“Because I said so”

It is a punishment-heavy style of parenting where flogging, shouting, hitting, and insults are forms of discipline frequently utilized to control and alter the behavior of the child. The goal of this style of parenting is to teach the child how to survive in a tough, harsh and unforgiving world by preparing the child for negative responses they are likely to encounter if their behaviors are unacceptable — shame, anger, aggression, pain, guilt.

As the child grows up and the opportunities for direct parental control declines, the limitations of this style of parenting begins to show in their inability to make decisions or exercise autonomy because the parents usually tell the child what to do. The child tends to be a conformist, obedient, quiet and unhappy. They are likely to suffer from depression and self-blame, are insecure, have low self-esteem, poor social skills, are fearful or shy, and think of obedience as love. They find social situations difficult to navigate, have behavioral problems and are prone to mental illnesses.

For some children raised in an authoritarian environment, these behaviors continue to adulthood. Those that are resentful about the environment they were raised in and manage to develop a high self-confidence rebel in adolescence or young adulthood. Some others who are resentful but suffer from weak belief in their own abilities and high self-blame — that is thinking that it is your fault everything is bad, end up engaging escapist behaviors such as substance abuse and are at a high risk of committing suicide.

PERMISSIVE

Permissive parents have little expectations of their children. They are warm, nurturing, loving and responsive to their children’s needs and do not like to say no or disappoint their children. They are lenient with their disciplinary measures, lay down few rules to manage the behavior of their children but these rules are inconsistent. They allow their children make their own decisions and tend to give them what they want with the hope that they will be appreciated for their accommodating style.

In some cases, children of permissive parents tend to be more impulsive and insecure from lack of set boundaries. They have poor social skills such as sharing, poor academic success from lack of inner motivation, are egocentric and immature. However, in some better cases, they are secure emotionally, independent, willing to learn and mature.

NEGLECTFUL

Parents that are neglectful do not form or have high standards for their children. They are indifferent to their needs and uninvolved in their lives. They are cold and unresponsive to their children’s emotional needs. These parents themselves tend to have mental health issues or have suffered abuse and neglect as children.

Their children are therefore more impulsive in their behaviors, cannot self-regulate their emotions, are at a higher risk of having mental illness and tend to move towards delinquent behaviors or have addiction problems. The children have no trust foundation which we learn from forming a bond with our parents and from which we explore the world. As a result, they have a hard time forming relationships with other people.

NARCISSISTIC

While narcissistic parenting is not a style of parenting, it involves parental behaviors exhibited by parents who are narcissist or suffer from narcissistic personality disorder.

A narcissist has an exaggerated feeling of self importance, lacks empathy and has a strong need for admiration. They suffer from a low self-esteem and feel the need to control how people around them regard them. They put on a mask of an over-inflated sense of self-importance employing intimidation and manipulation to get their way with people because they fear rejection, shame or blame for their inadequacies. These qualities make them ill-equipped for nurturing a child.

“Worship me!”

A narcissistic parent is possessive of their children and forms an unhealthy attachment where the child is considered to exist solely to fulfill the parent’s desires and wishes. They disregard the personal boundaries of their children with the aim of molding and manipulating them to their idea of perfection. They treat their children like puppets telling them what to do, where to go, who to be with or what to wear with emotional abuse exercised as a form of punishment to control them. Their input must be considered before any major decisions are made in the child’s life and the final decision usually rests on what situation is beneficial to them.

Children are constantly focused on their parents and will mirror them. Therefore, what they experience in the home will be crucial for their empathy development.
Parents have a big responsibility because they are the primary example of empathy and must practice being empathetic themselves.”
Iben Dissing Sandahl, The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids

Children of narcissistic parents learn from their parents how to use manipulation and guilt to get what they want. They learn to pretend to be someone else for acceptance and love, and use intimidation and aggression to control how people treat them. As a result of the lack of adequate love and nurturing, children of narcissists experience deep feelings of emptiness, imaginary fears, insecurity in loving relationships, identity conflict and struggle with independence. Some others who are more sensitive tend to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. Their desire for the attention and affection of their parent causes them to give in to their complaints and requests.

It goes without saying that the authoritative style of home training is the best way to raise a child but it asks of you. It asks that you as a parent interested in the activity of creating and nurturing human beings do the very necessary work of growing up. To understand what a healthy balance between emotional responsiveness and behavioral control for your child might look like, you must be able to recognize it in your own life as an adult.

As children, parents to be and parents, we must often times sit back to reflect on our own childhoods with honesty, openness and a forgiving heart. We must garner up the strength to work through and heal some of the scars that our home training might have left on us.

musings of a 29 year old woman living and working in Lagos, Nigeria.