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Parenting Mistakes: Offensive Things Damaging Your Relationship with Your Child

Parenting Mistakes: Offensive Things Damaging Your Relationship with Your Child

It all begins with respect

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Becoming a parent can be both rewarding and challenging. Watching your children reach important milestones like graduations and weddings and become adults can be fulfilling all on its own, but there are bound to be headaches along the way.  As a parent, you have your children’s best interests at heart, but you may be doing or saying things that are offensive or insensitive without even realizing it.

To best understand how you might be offending your child, we spoke with Dr. Casey Gamboni, a therapist and teaching and supervising faculty member at the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. We also consulted guides from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Education.

Not treating them like an adult

Not treating them like an adult

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Your life changes when you have children. Your world becomes less about you and more about the new human in your life. But in the blink of an eye, your kid goes from the small child who needed you to an adult finding their own way. According to Gamboni, not treating your child as the adult they’ve become could be one way you’re offending your child. “I think a very common narrative that I hear with clients is the emerging adult feeling like they’re not being heard or being treated like an adult,” she said. “For parents, it’s emotional and difficult because they’re playing less of an influence and raising their child less than they once did. And for the emerging adult ... they’re becoming a human that doesn’t involve the parent so strongly as they once did. That process can be very up and down emotionally for both the parent and the emerging adult.”

Expecting them to always do what you want

Expecting them to always do what you want

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Children learn plenty of life lessons from their parents, but expecting your child to always do what you think is best for them — especially throughout adulthood — could offend. “There’s definitely a transition period between raising children and raising adults that sometimes doesn’t get acknowledged,” Gamboni said. “I think parents can work off of an assumption that their child is going to do whatever they say even when they’re adults. I don’t think it’s a sign of disrespect to be doing differently than what your parents would do.”

Saying ‘because I said so’

Saying ‘because I said so’

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‘Because I said so’ might be one of the most popular proverbs in the parent handbook, but according to Gamboni, using the traditional line when speaking to your child can prevent them from “choosing a path of their own and developing a sense of confidence.” “I think something that parents could potentially say that could be rooted in offensiveness and ignorance is something like ‘because I said so’ or ‘do this,’” Gamboni said. “[These phrases] could potentially deplete a child of finding power within themselves and garnering a sense of agency. When you say ‘because I said so,’ [your child] is being led their entire lives.”

Not respecting their differing views

Not respecting their differing views

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You and your child might not agree when it comes to topics like politics and religion, but it’s important to respect their differing views. Forcing your viewpoint could be detrimental to your relationship, according to Gamboni. “It’s probably something due to the political climate that we’re in and the world that we’re living in right now, but children are scared to visit home knowing that their parents have particular views,” Gamboni said. “A common narrative with baby boomers is that they were told to never talk about sex, politics and religion. Millennials are essentially taught the opposite. ...That naturally becomes complex given the nature of the topics, let alone having differing views.”

Overreacting to their decisions and actions

Overreacting to their decisions and actions

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If your child disagrees with your opinions and makes decisions that don’t align with your beliefs, don’t overact. Yelling and minimizing others’ feelings are both common signs of toxic people. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when your child displays behavior that upsets you, it’s best to stay calm and refrain from judging. If your child feels judged, they are less likely to disclose information with you in the future.

Limiting their self-expression

Limiting their self-expression

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The older your child gets, the more you might find them changing their hair or revamping their wardrobe to reflect the new individual they’re becoming. According to Gamboni, it’s essential to refrain from limiting your child’s self-expression. “Having a child that wants to dye their hair pink or having a little boy who wants to put on a dress are some of the things that can be tied to the way [your child] wants to express themselves,” Gamboni said. “Not allowing your child to express themselves in a way that feels comfortable is an underlying difficulty that could be offensive.”

Disrespecting their boundaries

Disrespecting their boundaries

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Your child probably disclosed every secret and discussed every topic with you when they were young. But as they age, doors that were once open feel closed. Forcing your child to discuss uncomfortable topics or open up to you is a relationship boundary violation. According to Gamboni, it’s important to respect your child’s boundaries by giving them the time and space they need and asking what they’re comfortable with discussing. “[Respecting your child’s space] boils down to boundaries,” Gamboni said. “We can have diffused boundaries, rigid boundaries or secure boundaries. We create secure boundaries through communication that is on the same page and by understanding what is and isn’t a violation.”

Not asking consent before asking personal questions

Not asking consent before asking personal questions

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Once your child agrees to have a conversation about a topic you want to discuss, don’t bombard them with questions they might feel uncomfortable answering. An easy thing to do to be more polite and caring is to ask consent before unloading your list of questions. “Asking consent before asking questions allows [your child] to give consent and prepare for the topic that is about to be addressed,” Gamboni said. “I think you run into a boundary violation when you jump into a topic that crosses a line. Everyone has their own definition of what that line is, but you shouldn’t jump to a topic without asking for consent.”

Treating all your children the same

Treating all your children the same

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It’s no secret that siblings shape each other’s lives. But if you aspire to treat all of your children the same, you could be setting yourself up for failure, according to Gamboni. “I think it is a pipe dream when parents say, ‘Oh, I treat my children the same,’” he said. “You don’t, and if you set that up as your goal, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Your children have their own set of complexities, traumas and needs. If you lump them into the same category, you run the risk of boundary violations, triggering traumas and offensive language.”

Not respecting their role as parents

Not respecting their role as parents

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Having grandchildren can change your life for the better, but just as you’re adjusting to your new role as a grandparent, it’s important to respect your child’s new role as a parent. “Part of being a grandparent is seeing your child in a completely different way because their life has changed forever now,” Gamboni said. “You have to reestablish and re-get to know your child in a way that you haven’t before. [Your child] won’t be a completely different person after having a child of their own, but it’s worthy of reevaluating what your child needs are now that their lives have changed.”

Refusing to accept your wrongs

Refusing to accept your wrongs

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Everyone is human, but refusing to accept your wrongs and apologize is toxic behavior that can harm your relationship with your child. “The goal isn’t to avoid offending someone, the goal is to —  if you do offend someone — own it, apologize and repair the tear,” Gamboni said. “I always tell clients the goal is to not to avoid particular feelings, the goal is to mend the relationship and take ownership.”

Assuming your child’s needs

Assuming your child’s needs

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As a parent, you might pride yourself on having a sixth sense that tells you what your child needs from you. As they become adults, however, it might be offensive to assume you know everything your child needs from you as a parent. “We don’t want to assume needs and we don’t want to assume that all of our children are going to act and respond in the same way because they will not,” Gamboni said. “Everyone has vastly different needs and truly getting to know someone such as your child is by asking them and having those conversations.”

Assuming your child’s love language

Assuming your child’s love language

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There are plenty of psychological facts you might not know about love, including your child’s love language. According to Gamboni, love languages tell what people need to feel loved by others. As your child enters adulthood, don’t assume the way they need to be loved by you aligns with your love language. “If you are a words person who needs to hear words from others to feel loved, that does not mean that people around you need to feel loved the same way.”  Gamboni said. “Your needs do not transition to their needs.”

Forcing them to disclose their dreams and passions

Forcing them to disclose their dreams and passions

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Hearing that your child is venturing into new career endeavors or picking up a fun, new hobby is exciting, but forcing your child to share their dreams and passions with you before they’re comfortable can be more offensive than supportive. “There’s a difference between encouragement and beratement,” Gamboni said.

Not accepting their sexuality or identity

Not accepting their sexuality or identity

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Your child should feel comfortable being who they truly are without fear of repercussions or negative feedback. Not accepting your child’s sexuality or identity will ruin the relationship. Instead, work to find ways to support them. “We are assumed straight until told otherwise,” Gamboni said. “The average individual comes out as gay, lesbian or bisexual at 19, which is kind of going against the familial norm of heterosexuality. With this population, what can be misinterpreted as feedback is either unacceptance or lack of knowledge and ignorance on where the child is at.”

Forcing them to do activities they’re not comfortable with

Forcing them to do activities they’re not comfortable with

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Finding activities that interest both you and your child — like cooking or gardening — is a great way to form a tighter bond with your child. But don’t apply pressure to participate in activities if your child doesn’t want to and don’t sign them up for that cool, online class without asking their permission. “If the child wants [the parent] to show interest in what they are in, then that’s feedback for the parent to do their homework,” Gamboni said. “But assumptions can lead to offensiveness. You can’t go wrong asking for the child’s needs.”

Controlling instead of guiding

Controlling instead of guiding

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According to the U.S. Department of Education, effective parenting means striking a good balance between laying down the law and allowing freedom. It’s important to guide your child to make good decisions and not control every aspect of their life. Accept that they have to make their own choices and mistakes, but provide guidance to help them avoid making too many poor choices.

Not actively listening

Not actively listening

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You’re talking to your child, but are you listening? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), active listening — like making eye contact and giving your full attention — can improve your communication with your child and prove to your child that you are interested in what they’re saying. “If your child is bringing up a topic that you are very unfamiliar with, a way to show your interest is just by asking questions in a polite, non-defensive manner,” Gamboni said. “I think people like to play an expert role to an extent, and one thing that could increase the child’s confidence is by having the parent create a welcoming, safe space for them to educate. The parent could do that by actively listening, asking questions and paraphrasing and reflecting back what they’re hearing.”

Not being available

Not being available

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Life is full of priorities that will try to compete with spending time with your children. Busy workdays, staying connected with friends and constant phone calls and text messages can take up most of your day. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, distracted parenting can make a child feel ignored, hurt, distressed and rejected. If your child feels like they’re constantly competing for your attention, they might feel alone, have more emotional outbursts and start to lose emotional connection to their parents. Talk with your child to assess their feelings and work together to find a solution.

Intruding on doctor appointments

Intruding on doctor appointments

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You might have once held your child’s hand when they visited the doctor’s office, but the older they get, the more time and space you should give them with their physician.  According to the CDC, as adolescents develop and take greater responsibility for their lives, it makes sense for them to be more engaged in their own health care. Providers should begin having “time alone” with their patients as early as age 11. When children spend more time alone with their physician, they can ask important health questions they might be afraid to ask in front of you and reveal health truths that might have otherwise been kept secret.

Limiting independence

Limiting independence

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When your child was young, you were most likely involved in every part of their life. As they age, however,  gradually allowing more independence will help them mature into responsible adults. Holding onto the reins too tightly could tell your child you don’t trust them to be responsible decision-makers.

Not respecting their partners

Not respecting their partners

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After your child enters the world of dating and marriage, they’ll most likely begin bringing around their partners for you to meet. Disrespecting your child’s partner is a quick way to offend your child and someone they love. “I always encourage getting to know your child’s partner through your child’s partner,” Gamboni said. “I think a lot of the time, parents get to know their child’s partner through their child and, as significant as that is, you should formulate your own opinion based on what you think about the partner. Instead of getting to know the partner through your child, get to know how your child is now that they’re in the relationship.”

Not having patience

Not having patience

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More than anything, it’s important to be patient with your child. Your child will explore strengths and weaknesses, and experience highs and lows, but as their parent, it’s important to be patient with them as they navigate these lessons. Not allowing your child to make mistakes, or having an outburst when they do, will do more harm than good. Whether they’re 5, 15 or 25, be patient as they learn the rules of life. You were once there too, and learning patience is one of the many things every parent should do in their lifetime.

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