Embittered versus Happy

The AllProDad website quotes author William Hendrickson’s 6 primary ways to embitter your child. Read this list and think about examples you’ve seen or experienced in other families:

  1. Over-protecting your kids
  2. Favoring one child over another
  3. Constantly discouraging your children
  4. Not letting your children be unique individuals
  5. Neglecting your kids
  6. Bitter words and physical cruelty

It’s funny how so many of these behaviors, except for #6, crop up out of good intentions. So I’m going to list each of these again and then chip in a few cents of my own.

  1. Over-protecting your kids: Most parents who are overprotective don’t mean to smother their kids, they simply mean to protect them from harm. But the truth is human beings learn best from a bit of pain. Of course we want to keep our children from real danger and things that can cause substancial physical hurt. But a little hurt can be very instructive, both physically and emotionally (more on the emotional part in a minute). As comedian Carlos Mencia points out, “Warn a kid a hundred times not to touch a hot stove and he wonders what hot is. Warn a kid once not to touch a hot stove but then let him touch it and he never takes your warning for granted again.” Emotional hurts go in the same category. We know our kids need to get out and meet other kids. Sometimes other kids won’t share with them or say mean things to them. But that’s all the more a lesson to teach them to share and for them not to say mean things, right?
  2. Favoring one child over another: I’m sure that most folks who do this, do so in complete ignorance – otherwise, it’s a form of emotional child abuse. But the truth is that as kids get older and develop their own personality, we enjoy some traits more than others. If you have one whiny child and one stoic child, it’s only natural to gravitate towards the one who’s not annoying. But in truth, the exhibition of these traits is your call to parental action. What that whiny child (or angy child or less pretty child or whatever) needs is more of you to help them control those negative traits and bring out the positive ones. This can backbite you a bit if they child you’re working with interpretes your behavior as favoritism in punishment. I guess you have to even tailor the punishment to fit the needs of the child so they don’t perceive a constant unfairness in discipline as well.
  3. Constantly discouraging your children: Parents don’t do this on purpose in a lot of cases. They simply don’t want to spend more time cleaning up the mess, or see them being embarrassed by their clumsiness, or simply deal with lil Jimmy on the diving board yelling “Look at me! Look at me!”. After all, we’ve been worrying about making the mortgage payment all week. But discouragement is one of those tiny and insidous agents in a kid’s life. One of the pioneering scientists of our age (who’s name escapes me at the moment) said “All childred are born scientists. We simply trample their spirit of experimentation.” I’m not sure how to control discouragement, except perhaps to find a way to channel their energies into something more acceptable for me. So rather than saying “No” to something they want to do, I’m trying to say “Yes, in this room…” or “Yes, outside…” or “Yes, paint in your mother’s clothes at her house…”
  4. Not letting your children be unique individuals: Now, I can’t say that I’ve really experienced me or their mom doing too much of this. We’ve always enjoyed the uniqueness of each of the kids. However, it is something families do, especially as the kids get older and begin to develop more independence. I think one thing that their mother and I have done to enrich their uniqueness is to allow them certain latitudes in decorating their own space. Some families don’t allow their kids to decorate their own rooms because it might be tacky or offend the parents’ sensibilities (Goth anyone?). It may not sound like much, but I think it makes a big difference in establishing your sense of self and how you are different from everybody else.
  5. Neglecting your kids: I think most mom’s and dad’s who do this, do so because they’re overwhelmed by life. A dad’s neglect is usually obvious. Why? Because he’s simply not there when he needs to be. I know that I’ve been the kind of dad (in the past, I might add) who focused on earning enough money for all of our family’s needs. The only problem is that our needs are infinite or nearly so. I’ve had to learn, at the end of the day, all I can do is simply all I can do. And it took me too many years to learn this, but I now know that all I can do is enough. Moms, in their own way, are subject to an even subtler form of neglect. You see, moms are often more used to giving of themselves than dads. They give their energy to keeping up with meals, with the chores, with everybody’s school schedule, with their own job, with the social activities of the family, with errands… and before you know it, there’s no energy left for her. She’s exhausted herself by giving too much. She’s too tired to play a game (or whatever) with her daughter or listen to music (or whatever) with her son and before long she’s pretty much sick-n-tired of the whole deal because she’s neglected herself. Yes, she’s neglecting the kids a bit. But she’s the one who is suffering the most. It’s so easy to do because it’s so well intentioned. But at the end of the day, she and her whole family by extention, would have been better served if she’d said “Do it y’own damn self!” once or twice a week.
  6. Bitter words and physical cruelty: I can say pretty safely that the Kline Kids haven’t had to deal with physical cruelty, at least in my home or the home of their mom. I grew up in a home where I saw physical cruelty occur and, though it wasn’t directed at me, you can bet that it had a huge impact on my psyche.

Well, I’ve blathered on for too long already. But I’m curious. What kind of things do you think should be on this list? Did you experience anything as a kid that made you bitter toward your folks? How was that rift healed?

Best regards,



  1. I know that due to some things in my past I tend to be an over-protective mom. We were just discussing this, sorta, in a support group I attend. We are looking at Eric Erickson’s stages of development. We started today on the stage of infancy which deals with trust issues and why or why not we as adults do or do not trust others. I have trust issues and grew up with a fairly unhealthy/unstable parent and I think that this causes me to sometimes overcompensate in my parenting style. I want to give my child what I feel I did not have and protect her from “the evils of the world”, even though I know I cannot do that. Life is going to happen to her, whether I like it or not. It breaks my heart when she is upset b/c another little girl is mean to her. And let me just tell you, girls, esp in elem. school, are MEAN to each other. Even the sweetest of kids. Ok, I digress. I think that many of us who had “difficult” experiences growing up (ie abuse, neglect, sexual trauma…either to us or we witnessed it) tend to grow up and be parents who do one of two things, typically. We either repeat history or we try to do all in our power to protect our children from our childhood. Lastly, and I appologize for going on so long, I think in some ways those of us who did not have a “perfect” childhood may have more to offer our children. I don’t know, just my opinion.


  2. Hey ML,

    No problem on the long reply. I enjoyed reading it.

    I’m in agreement with you there. I definitely agree that those with a more troubled childhood tend to have better parenting styles because they know firsthand both the good and the bad of the world.

    It’s also true that many parents from very dysfunctional families tend to repeat history or battle with all their might against allowing history to repeat.

    Thanks for your thoughts!


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