Nobody’s perfect, and that goes for parents too. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. There’s something called a “good enough” parent though, which means that you are going to make mistakes raising your kids, no matter how much talent you have for the task or how well adjusted you are. Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and some of the mistakes you make might even be pretty bad ones. But overall, you’re “good enough” if your kids know you love them no matter what mistakes you made, and they turn out to be functioning, reasonably happy adults.
But for survivors of narcissistic abuse, things are a little more dire. Because many of us suffer from mental disorders caused by abuse–C-PTSD, BPD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental maladies–we probably entered parenthood with less of a sense of ourselves and our place in the world than the “normals” who had “good enough” parents. Our narcissistic parents were not “good enough” and we were emotionally handicapped because of that. Even if we aren’t narcissists ourselves, our children still suffered the fallout of our own abuse. This could have manifested in many ways:
— we may have “parentified” our children (looked up to them as parental figures and shared things with them that should not be shared with children)
— we may have neglected them more than we should have, or put our own needs first
— we may have been unfaithful to our spouses or had affairs
— we may have overindulged in alcohol or drugs to ease our pain
— we may have had health problems due to trauma that interfered with our ability to be there for our children
— we may even have assigned the “scapegoat” or “golden child” role to our kids, albeit with less intensity than narcissist parents would have
— we may have been hospitalized for mental illness, which took time away from us being able to be there for our kids
— we may have been emotionally unstable, clinically depressed, always angry or quick to lose patience
— we may have been too permissive with our kids, in a misguided attempt to make up for our own miserable childhood, if our parents were very strict and controlling.
— we may have slept our days away out of depression, ignoring the needs of our kids
— there may have been constant arguing and fighting in the home
— we may have stayed with an abuser, knowing the danger to the children
— we may have failed to protect our kids from an abusive spouse
I wasn’t guilty of everything on this list, but I was guilty of some of them. I have a lot of guilt and regret over that, of course. I beat myself up a lot over what I should have done differently. And of course, I should have, but I was also at the time in a highly codependent marriage to an emotionally abusive malignant narcissist who gaslighted me and projected every bad thing he could onto me every chance he got. He was slowly but effectively driving me insane, and he tried to turn our kids against me too (in the end, he did not succeed).
Somehow, my kids turned out alright. Sure, they have problems. But so does everyone. Neither has NPD that I can tell. I worry about them constantly though, frequently “seeing” pathology in them that in reality doesn’t exist. I think it’s my guilt over my less than ideal parenting that makes me do this. Because I was unintentionally under-protective of my kids when they were very young, sometimes I think I’m trying to “make up” for that now, when they are young adults and over-protectiveness is no longer appropriate or even healthy.
If you know you were a less than ideal parent due to our own trauma, ask yourself the following three questions:
- Do you have a good relationship with your children today?
- Are they functioning adequately in the world for their age group and mental ability?
- Do they have the capacity for empathy, friendship and love?
If the answers to these questions is “Yes,” then in spite of how bad a parent you think you were, you were “good enough” under the circumstances of simply not having the emotional tools that would have made your job as a parent easier.
If you know your parenting left a lot to be desired, encourage your adult child to talk to you honestly about what it felt like to be raised by you. Listen to what they tell you, without interrupting, judging, or criticizing, even if what they tell you isn’t what you want to hear. Chances are, even if your relationship with them has been damaged, allowing them to open up to you this way without fear of judgment is a step toward healing your relationship and building a healthier, more loving one.