BPD BEHAVIORS: Problematic parentingThis workshop will focus on the kinds of behaviors in which BPD parents engage, especially the kinds of subtle behaviors that aren't overtly neglectful or abusive towards the children. Please understand that very often the BPD parent isn't intentionally hurting the child... but he/she often sees the children as either extensions of her/himself or as a reflection of him/herself as a human being.
Many people will pass through FTF, particularly men, and describe their BPD wives or girlfriends as "good mothers" because they are very involved with their kids and they are not neglectful or abusive. Often they are describing over-involved or controlling moms vs. truly good moms. So be aware that an overly involved mother might not be as "good" for the kids as you might think.
I wrote this a few years ago, and it gets resurrected every so often. I don't talk about why (in terms of the etiology of BPD/NPD) that a BPD/NPD parent might engage in these damaging behaviors, but just look out for them and be prepared to counter some of the damage. There are forms of damaging parenting, and people who share children with a disordered spouse need to be aware of these other forms of difficult or problematic parenting, and how their children might be affected. Though I talk about "moms", please be aware that BPD/NPD dads do many of these same things:
1. Overcontrolling/enmeshing behavior.
The children are not afforded the basic decision-making abilities of other children at the same age. Or: The children aren't allowed the basic freedoms (to get dirty, get wet, to play without a parent hovering, to make mistakes) of their peers. The mother may not allow the children to go anywhere without her (to an activity or on a play date, for instance---instead of dropping the kids off, she will hang around all the time.. even when not appropriate.). Or: She may not allow the children to have any friends of whom she doesn't approve even though nothing has happened.
The parent may dissect and criticize the children's friends, activities, parents of the kid's friends, teachers, coaches, etc. She may complain constantly about these people and/or pit one teacher/coach against another. The parent may complain about these people in front of the kids, so the kid winds up disrespecting his teachers, coaches, principals, friend's parents, etc. These parents are often the ones who are constantly on the phone with the school, the coach, the doctor, whomever.
Very often these moms either want to or actually do homeschool their kids, even though there are reasonable educational options in the community. (I don't mean to imply that all homeschooling parents are disordered, but, based on my experience with the homeschooling community, many are.)
The children may become extensions of the mother... She doesn't see them as independent beings with their own wants, needs, and desires. Often these mothers have serious problems or become more abusive when the kids move towards independence as adolescents or want to move away at college-age or as young adults. Sometimes these moms break off contact with the kid (either temporarily or permanently) if the kid no longer dances to their fiddle.
As the kids move into the teen years, the BPD/NPD parent may invade the kids privacy with unjustified snooping, by reading journals, emails, etc. The BPD/NPD parent becomes more controlling and critical and may make unfounded accusations.2. Pushing behavior.
These kinds of parents are often very "pushy" and they may live their lives through the kids. One of our posters wrote the following, which is a classic description of this type of parent:
"My wife is a very attentive, if demanding mom that can drive the kids nuts.
She very much wanted the kids to be better than her, and has been a really good advocate for them."
Unfortunately, many dads think the mom is a "good advocate" for the kid if she is this kind of mom. You may wish to look at this behavior in a different light.
Pushy parents often push their kids to early accomplishments: The kid has a golf club in his hand at age 3, is on stage at age 4, playing chess with adults at age 3, on and on. Stage-door parents, parents who push the kids into sports may be examples of these kinds of parents. Most of these parents will tell you that the kid really wants to play chess, play tennis, be on stage, be in the pre-Olympics, but many kids will want to do these things because they know that is what Mom or Dad expect. For every kid who does succeed to the lofty heights as an entertainer or sportsman, there are thousands who fall by the wayside and are damaged by the experience. Many young athletes and performers flame out, as is so often documented in the entertainment pages.
Pushing the kid intellectually can also come under this heading. Many pushy parents, for instance, want their kids to know the alphabet or to read at very early ages, and they brag about this to family and friends. But bright kids will catch up and pass up those who are pushed and taught to know the alphabet at age 2 or to read at age 3. As a former teacher, I saw many kids who had been pushed into early reading who lost steam at age 8 or 9, and were passed by in grades, in literacy, in desire to read, by others who learned to read a bit later. Sometimes kids just naturally "teach" themselves to read, but that is not the same thing. There is no reason for a mother to be sitting with her 1 or 2 year old with flash cards teaching him/her letters. Such a parent is doing this so that she/he can brag about the kid; he/she is not doing this for the child's benefit.
I'm not saying that all pushy parents are BPD or otherwise personality disordered, but my sense is that many of them are. 3. Unrealistic expectations/Criticism.
A corollary to number 2: The child may be expected to be "perfect" in school, sports, or other activities, and the parent gets angry or cold if the kid doesn't meet those expectations. The parent may insist that the child be unrealistically neat and clean or "perfectly" dressed in kiddie designer clothes, even though the child needs to play and get dirty.
The BPD/NPD parent may rage or otherwise overreact to normal kid behavior, such as a child not unloading the dishwasher. Children may be woken in the middle of the night to finish some household task. The child may be subjected to a barrage of criticism or innuendo if he/she doesn't perform as expected.
Also, the parent may complain about the other parent or accuse him/her of being neglectful if the other parent is a bit more relaxed about the child's performance or appearance. 4. The pedestal.
The kid can do no wrong. The children (or one of the children) is allowed to run wild and/or the mom makes him(usually a boy) think that he is better, smarter, more mature than anyone else, including adults and often including the other parent. This behavior results in the Little Prince or Little Princess syndrome in which the child really believes he/she is special. These kids often have a hard time fitting in socially with their peers as they have been convinced since early childhood that the regular "rules" of being a kid don't apply to them... and that they are somehow entitled. They are often seen by the BPD parent and by themselves as equal or better than adults.
They often also look down upon the other parent, as they have taken on the BPD parent's view of the other parent as a doofus, lazy, not very bright, worthless, etc. Unless there is a moderating force, these kids are little narcissists in the making.
As I inferred above, one of the children might be the "good" child on the pedestal, and the other may be the "bad" child. Very damaging for both kids. 5. Emotional incest:
The mother treats the children like little lovers emotionally, often sleeping with the children (or one of them) and constantly "adoring" the children. She is intimate with them in terms of the kinds of discussions and conversations that she should be having with her adult partner... but the children (or one of the children) replace the adult emotionally... (Similar to "parentifying" behavior discussed below.)
She may make the child responsible for her emotional or physical health: "I'll be so sad if you don't do a, b, or c... I was so upset when I saw you doing a, b, or c, that I took to my bed with a headache."
Children who are the victims of emotionally incestuous or parentifying behavior often are very "good" children: They do well, often very well, in school, they are usually respectful, they do what they are told, don't need to be "reminded" of things too often. Very often the parents brag about how responsible or mature these children are.
Many times these kids are too pale and don't laugh, smile, or play as easily as other kids the same age. There is usually guilt or manipulation involved here... the child is subtly or overtly asked to show how much he loves Mommy or Daddy (whichever is the BPD/NPD parent). And maintaining a good relationship with someone who isn't BPDMommy is often seen as a betrayal, producing great guilt in the child.
Ultimately, these kids can rebel during adolescence or even after they leave the house. They may choose "bad" partners or friends. Or they can move through life being fearful and cheerless... and choose demanding spouses.6. Parentifying:
The mother turns towards the kids to make decisions, take care of chores, etc., which she can't handle. The child in effect becomes the parent's parent. This is particularly true for children of BPD parents who are alcoholics, have lots of physical problems, or take various kinds of drugs. Often the kids are asked (either by the mom, by the other parent, or by their own instincts) to make value judgments as to the drunken parent's ability to drive, cook, etc., and they are always watching for the BPD/drunk parent's state of being.
The child may be asked many inappropriate questions about what he/she wants to do, where he/she wants to live, etc. 7. Abuse of the other parent.
Just because the kids aren't getting verbally ripped, it doesn't mean that the abuse isn't impacting them. When they see/hear the other parent being abused, it creates an atmosphere of tension in the home, and the children have very bad role models for women and men and how the two people are supposed to interact. Also, a boy seeing/hearing dad abused can grow up to devalue men and himself. A girl seeing/hearing dad abused can grow up thinking that men are pathetic, weak and useless.
Even if the parents split up, this behavior may continue. A single mom below is criticized by her ex when their little girl is "too dirty", even though little kids are supposed to play and get dirty. However, if the parents live apart and the abused parent has ample time with the child/ren, the abused parent will usually have ample time to be a good, kind, loving parent and decent role model to those kids, despite the criticisms and complaints of the abusive parent. 8. Inconsistency.
Most BPD parents swing between these various "styles" of parenting, from out-and-out abuse or neglect, to more appropriate parenting, to pedestal/"kid is my little darling" behaviors. So, not only are the kids harmed by the style of parenting, but they can't get a fix on what is coming next. Some adult children of BPD moms who have posted here feel that the inconsistency is even more damaging than a parent who is consistently critical or abusive.
I invite others who have experienced BPD parents (either as children with a BPD parent or their spouses) to describe other ways in which the BPD parents are harmful.. which don't involve outright abuse or negligence. Remember, "Workshops" is about general situations, not your specific situation, so please describe types of behaviors you have experienced, with specific examples.