The Dangers of Emotional Parenting

Caren was a rambunctious child. When she was young, her behaviors and defiant attitude were funny, adorable and endearing to her parents. When she got older, it wasn’t so funny or adorable or endearing anymore. It was downright problematic, frustrating and annoying. Why couldn’t Caren just do what she was told?

Caren didn’t do what she was told because she was doing what she had been taught. She had inadvertently been taught that she didn’t have to do what her parents told her, due to their lack of follow through when she was younger. She had been taught that their words didn’t mean anything due to lack of consistency. She had been taught that obedience was optional due to instructions turning into laughter and picture taking.

These things were seemingly insignificant at the time. However, what their inconsistencies had inadvertently created was low expectations in the relationship between parent and child. Those low expectations set the stage not just for the parents, but for Caren as well. Because she did not trust her parents, her expectations were also extremely low.

Because Caren had low expectations for her parents, these translated to others as well. She didn’t trust others, her relationships were a trail of wreckage, and her social abilities were non-existent. These problems contributed to her breathtaking immaturity.

Her parents’ inconsistency also created confusion for Caren while she was growing up. She didn’t understand, and therefore couldn’t predict, when she should obey and when she didn’t have to. Parenting seemed to be based on the emotional reactivity of the parents, not what was best for the child or right vs. wrong.

coyote rocket

Emotional Parenting

Parenting with your emotions in charge is like Wile E. Coyote strapping himself to a rocket to catch the Road Runner. It’s not going to end well. You get jerked around, feel out of control, and feel hopeless to fix the situation.

When a parent engages in emotional parenting, thinking goes out the window and reactions take over. That means the child is determining what happens next by their actions. If a parent does not approach parenting from an intellectual place, then the child is in charge and you have joined them in the sibling layer of the family hierarchy.

When parenting, don’t do these five things…

  1. Make emotional decisions instead of intellectual ones
  2. Discipline while emotional
  3. Allow your mood to dictate consequences
  4. Allow their emotions to dictate yours
  5. Parent out of guilt for past mistakes

Making decisions with emotions puts the parent in a position vulnerable to manipulation. Use boundaries to help keep yourself out of this position. Since our brains can’t do heightened emotions and rational thinking at the same time, take time to calm your emotions before making significant decisions. Just because your child jumps on an emotional roller coaster doesn’t mean you have to join them. And you are going to make mistakes. Don’t use parenting to make up for them. That’s what your relationship is for.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Don’t let your emotions rule the moment or decision making. Sure, you can, you just won’t like the long term results.

[header image credit: ryu069]


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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