Cigarette butts and ashes symbolize toxic family traits.

Disrupt the Cycle of Toxic Family Traits

We are all able to easily recall things our parents did that made us angry. We can hear echoes of our parents’ voices in the words we say to our own children.

And we naturally fear that we are going to make some of the same mistakes they did.

Every parent wonders, on some level, how they can be a better parent than their own parents.

But how?


Gain perspective 

Sigmund Freud suggested that children become unconsciously attracted to our opposite-sex parent, and thus become rivals of a sort to our same-sex parent when we are young. Thus we have an early tendency to prefer one parent’s “style” of parenting over the others.

Modern psychologists, with their access to a larger set of data and experiences, questioned and largely debunked Freud’s theories of parenting.

However, it is true that we tend to favor one style over another, and it often is tied to how we felt about our parents.


Ultimately, a parenting decision is good if it reinforces your family values, and it is bad if it undermines one or more of those values. – Sakina Issa


You may have sworn in your childhood that you would never handle things the way one or both of your parents did. Of course they made decisions that angered you or frustrated you. That is part of parenting.

But with time comes distance and perspective. You are now able to tell if your parent was trying their best to treat you fairly, or being manipulative. You can now tell if your parents saw you as a burden or if they in fact worked to guide you as best they could, or perhaps both. 

Nothing from your past obligates you to parent the way that they did.

 But you don’t have to parent the opposite of the way they did either.


Cigarette butts and ashes symbolize toxic family traits.
You don’t have to live with your toxic family traits. Photo by Sera Cocora from Pexels

Reference your values

But an unpopular parenting decision is not necessarily a BAD parenting decision. And how we feel about something is not the final determinant in whether a decision was good or bad.

Only with time and intentional though can we gain the perspective to see if a decision was good or bad.

Ultimately, a parenting decision is good if it reinforces your family values, and it is bad if it undermines one or more of those values. [xxx link family values]

And a decision by itself is not good or bad. For instance, going to get ice cream is not a good decision or a bad one. (I know what you are saying here. Hey!! Ice cream is always good!! But stick with me.) 

If you set a goal for your child to get a trip to get ice cream if they achieved certain goals, like doing their chores without being reminded, or raising their grades, ice cream is good.

However, if you take them to get ice cream because they cried after you asked them to clean their room, and now you are trying to make them feel better, ice cream is bad.

That is, having a structure in place to reward positive behavior and hard work is good because it reinforces your values. Using food as a mood booster is a temporary solution that undermines healthy mental and physical habits, and your values (hopefully) aren’t to be unhealthy.


Build on strengths from your experience

Were your parents too hard on you because they valued hard work?

Well, take what’s good. Hard work is valuable. So how can you reinforce this positive value without duplicating whatever made you feel like they were being too hard on you? Can you change the messaging? Change the consequences for falling short? 

Was one of your parents absent, which allowed you to gain a sense of independence? 

Again, a sense of independence is important to a developing child. But the sense of absence and longing that comes from physical or emotional is indisputably hard for a child to endure. So be intentional about giving your child a chance to develop independence. Set clear boundaries. Provide feedback. Be present, but encourage their independence.

Your experiences and your feelings about them are important guides for parenting your child. 

Through thoughtful investigation, you can choose how to keep what was good from your experience, and eliminate what was damaging.

Contact Sakina Issa today

Struggling with toxic family traits that you don’t want to pass on? Looking for an outlet for the stress of parenting? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.

Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.

Want to learn more about parenting or managing tricky sibling relations? Maybe you are working out a new set of goals for yourself?

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