7 Toxic Parenting Traits You May Have Without Knowing It

Each time one of my children learned to drive, I had to spend a certain number of hours in the passenger seat as they practiced their skills behind the wheel.

No matter how well they navigated, I would slam my foot on an invisible brake pedal every time we approached a stop sign. Hard.

Nobody said parenting—or learning to drive—was easy.

We enter parenthood with the best of intentions, and sometimes we make mistakes. I point out the stop sign and my kid points out the size ten hole I’m putting in the floor of the car. It’s easy and even fun to identify someone else’s “obvious” problems. The problem lies in identifying our own.

Truity’s Toxic Person Test is a quick quiz that ushers you toward the strongest personality tendencies you carry. If you begin with a strong toxic trait and carry it into parenting, it can become a habit that, over twenty years, becomes a defining characteristic. It’s what your children and their peers will remember you by. And you may never realize there was a problem.

Your children may even carry the toxic behavior forward into the next generation.

If you think your kids are driving you crazy, stop first to consider your parenting techniques. If you discover you have a toxic parenting trait, you’ve got the power to make a U-turn.

#1 Stay in your lane

This toxic trait includes the “know-it-all” parent. This parent insists the child agree with his or her opinions, even if cleverly disguised as facts. The danger lies in feeding that feeling of intellectual superiority, with an expectation that we must all agree before we can be one big, happy family. Certainly, you will know more than your toddler. But you will be shocked how much your high school senior knows.

A litmus test is when your child questions your religion or politics. If you can’t tolerate the question or avoid hours-long explanations that must end with his or her agreement, there’s something toxic in the room. You might routinely call your child stubborn, rebellious, stupid, or worse. You might be harsher and more critical with your child than anyone else’s. A good lecture is your punishment of choice. You are the driver who won’t hesitate to use the horn and tell off the person driving slowly in the fast lane as you zip by.

#2 Road raging

This toxic trait involves the “drama diva” parent. This parent is a loose cannon when it comes to processing emotion. The danger lies in the thought that parenting is all about them… and it’s hard! They take everything that their child does personally and demand excessive admiration, commiseration, or validation anywhere they can get it. There’s no empathy left for others, let alone the child.

This parent will focus on what’s going wrong and they find it. The Terrible Twos are just as terrible as advertised. Teens are supposed to be awful, so they are! They don’t differentiate between the child and the behavior and without an emotional filter in place, will label their child as difficult. Or worse. When the day comes (as it does for every parent) the child declares they no longer like them, this parent will pull over for a good cry. And likely call his or her mother.

#3 Take the wheel

This toxic trait belongs to the parenting “compensating Karens”. This parent considers their child an extension of themself and lives vicariously through him or her. The child owes the parent whatever is demanded, be it high grades or popularity or impressive career choices, and if the child falls short, the parent becomes aggressive. Once the child achieves, the parent takes the credit.

High-maintenance Karen demands the children have holidays at her house, takes front row seats at recitals, and routinely asks when to expect grandchildren. They decide who their children will have as friends. They choose which college they’ll attend. You might think this parent ends up doing everything for the child, but they’re having too much fun as the backseat driver. 

#4 Bumper cars

The next toxic trait goes to the “lazy lounger” parent. This parent’s style involves the extensive use of bumpers as opposed to engines. There are no boundaries, no lanes, and precious few rules. In the name of hands-free navigation, this parent ends up with a child who must parent them. The danger lies in a parent wanting to be their child’s friend and exposing a child to personal, age-inappropriate adult issues and emotions.

This is not an indulgent parent. They won’t take the time or energy to answer hard questions, show up for the performance, tackle the big science fair assignment, or drive carpool. Someone else can do it. The child has no privacy, and asking for it incurs deep suspicion in the parent. For this parent, growing up is a threat and independence must be discouraged. Yet the child is robbed of a childhood.

#5 Guilt tripping

This toxic trait involves parents who are master manipulators. What do you want from your child? What have you done to get it? Having a child creates the opportunity for games and personal challenges for this parent, although they are hard pressed to recognize it as toxic. It might be as subtle as scaring your child with no presents if they don’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve or as blatant as withholding love and affection until you get what you want.

Simple test for this toxic trait: How did you approach potty training?

If you always have a hidden agenda, the child stops asking for help, directions or support because there is always a price to pay for it. This parent never lets a kid live down a mistake. They will keep score and say things like, “After all I’ve done for you!” Using guilt, shame, misinformation, misdirection, scare tactics, cold shoulders and passive-aggressive behavior, this parent can fill their home with toxic stress.

#6 Mountains and molehills

This toxic trait involves the parents who continually claim, “It’s all downhill from here”. This parent picks on every little negative nit and never celebrates their child’s successes. Everything is a problem and, large or small, treated with equal pessimism. This parent is unhappy with a colicky infant, a rebellious toddler, a bratty adolescent. This isn’t depression we’re talking about, but a deliberate campaign born from the parent’s view of their child as a burden.

Whether the parent is jealous, resentful, or uncomfortable with their role, they must drag their child down verbally with comparisons (they always come up short) or chip at their self-worth with criticisms (something the parent does equally with themselves). Because they are never proud of their child, the child grows up trying unsuccessfully to make the parent happy or becomes the person the parent was expecting. After all, if you are always in trouble either way, you may as well get a few speeding tickets.

#7 The my way highway

This toxic trait refers to the parents who have their child on remote control. There is only one way to go, do, or think, and woe to the child who thinks otherwise. This parent will not explain the way know-it-all parents will, nor will they play games to get what they want. Controlling, rigid and right, this parent demands obedience. Since they see their child as an extension of themselves, any deviation reflects on and embarrasses the parent.

This is parenting from fear, and discipline comes from a place of anger and reaction rather than thoughtful response. The child may be ridiculed, teased, spanked, or deemed overly sensitive. There are no conversations around why the child misbehaved, simply the demand to obey. As a result, the child does not understand that failure can lead to growth. You will never catch this parent apologizing. This parent has no idea why the child won’t talk to them.

Parenting can be full of speed bumps and round-abouts. Toxic traits involve putting your own needs ahead of your child’s or blaming your child for things that are under your own control. If you find yourself driving on the wrong side of the road, don’t be afraid to pull over and get directions for a smoother ride going forward.

Safe travels!

Jolie Tunnell
Jolie Tunnell is an author, freelance writer and blogger with a background in administration and education. Raising a Variety Pack of kids with her husband, she serves up hard-won wisdom with humor, compassion and insight. Jolie is an ISTJ and lives in San Diego, California where she writes historical mysteries. Visit her at jolietunnell.com