Toxic Parents - Part 2 - The Myth of The Perfect Parent
Updated: Feb 7
This article presents the biggest taboo we've discovered from our 18 years of pioneering research at Lighthouse International Group, now known as Lighthouse Global, and why it's so crucial that we challenge it in our lives.
What has been the most taboo issue we’ve ever faced in trying to mentor, coach and counsel people for 18 years?
The myth of the perfect parent, or the perfect family.
Specifically what I mean is, it is almost impossible to criticise, or even ask a parent, where their faults as a parent are. You’d have more chance surviving running off the edge of the Grand Canyon, than walking away from that conversation with a parent alive!
In fact, our biggest, most aggressive and hostile criticism for our work over the years has come from parents of children we work with; grown-up children in their 20s, 30s, 40s, even their 50s!
Why such hostility?
Well, to a child, the parent is godlike. They wield all the power. The child is dependent, almost completely, on the parents for food, shelter and safety. Whatever beliefs, doctrines and opinions the parents have, form a psychological constitution within a child. Even if they grow up and leave home, they still have that constitution working in them.
As Dr Susan Forward writes in her book, Toxic Parents,
“When we’re very young, our godlike parents are everything to us. Without them, we would be unloved, unprotected, unhoused, and unfed, living in a constant state of terror, knowing we were unable to survive alone. They are our all-powerful providers.”
As psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote, one of the greatest risks in life is the risk of independence. In other words, finding your voice, living your life in a way that will enable you to grow, to thrive, to fulfil your potential.
Doing so, however, would mean de-throning the ‘god’ in your life - your parents. This is why it’s such a risk. Because if you remove the default god, what are you left with?
The Danger of Turning Your Parents Into Gods
Again, as Dr Forward writes,
“We develop a need to maintain this image of perfection as a defence against the great unknowns we increasingly encounter. As long as we believe our parents are perfect, we feel protected.”
The danger of this, is that we are relying on a child’s idea of a god to protect us in a world wrought with danger, risk and uncertainty that our parents, simply, in most cases, cannot equip us for. They are only human, and they themselves had imperfect parents too!
How do You Know if You Worship Your Parents as Gods?
Susan Forward describes two ‘doctrines of faith’ of godlike parents:
I am bad and my parents are good.
I am weak and my parents are strong.
If you feel this way, it’s actually far more normal than you think… so many people subconsciously live in quiet desperation. Grown men run corporates or are desperate to succeed in their careers in the deep-seated hope of pleasing mum or dad.
Dr Forward goes on to say that,
“Your first step toward controlling your life is to face the truth for yourself. It would take courage, but if you’re reading this… you’ve already made a commitment to change. That took courage, too”.
The first step towards becoming a healthy growing adult, is to choose to become one. To choose to no longer live under the shadow of your parents, or hold onto the skirt/trouser leg of mum/dad.
This doesn’t mean rebelling against your parents, but it does mean being willing to see them through realistic lenses. They’re not perfect. To hold them up as gods (or even as devils) is unfair. It’s cruel because you put a weight of expectation on them that they can never match up to.
What’s more, by worshipping/hating your parents perpetually, you render yourself a victim.
Do you want to be an adult?
Then you need to ask yourself what values, virtues, principles and laws you want to live by?
The ones handed down to you?
The ones you stumbled upon in rebellion against your family?
Or the ones that are objective, real, and based on absolute truth, wisdom and love?
Are you willing to question the beliefs about yourself and about life that you hold? The positive beliefs, as well as the negative ones?
That is never easy. It’s a painful, unnerving process to see ourselves and our parents for who we and they really are. That’s why counselling, mentorship and coaching are so important. It’s why having someone guide you through the journey is so important.
Questions to Reflect on:
What credit can you give your parents for things they helped you with?
What about your parents wasn't as healthy as it could have been growing up?
What have been the results of these in your life?
If you would value speaking with me or with any of the Lighthouse Global team like Olivia Humphries, Kris Deichler or Jai Singh, about the process of growing up into adulthood, we are all here to help. I would also strongly recommend reading ‘Toxic Parents’ by Susan Forward as a starting point.