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Signs of a Damaged Parent Relationship and Its Consequences

Is there always unrest and tension in your home? Are your kids always upset with you, or the other way around? Does it seem like nothing works out no matter how hard you try to understand it?

Sometimes, a damaged relationship with your spouse becomes the root cause of most of your problems. Without mutual respect and effort, a family can go from braving life together to just coexisting in the same space.

Previously on Sheasmother, we discussed how parents' relationships affect child growth and development. Below is a detailed explanation of damaged parent relationships, their signs, consequences, and solutions.

Signs of a Damaged Parent Relationship and Its Consequences
Signs of a Damaged Parent Relationship and Its Consequences


In This Article


How Damaged Parent Relationships Affect Children

Damaged Parent Relationships Affect Children

‘Tell Him, Tell Her': A Painful Game of Monkey in the Middle

In families where there is a constant tension between parents, it is not uncommon for children to take the biggest blows. In these situations, children are often treated like punching bags, messenger owls, or peacekeepers.

For example, if a child asks one parent something, they will be told to ask the other parent instead. Instead of working together to help their child, these parents are stuck in an emotionally immature battle, leaving the child helplessly stuck in the middle

No child should have to constantly hear their parents talking badly about each other. This not only damages the child’s relationship with the other parent but also teaches the child that they can’t trust their parents as well.

Not only does this cause children to grow up in an unstable and unpredictable environment, but it also makes them feel frustrated and angry. Those feelings will lead a child to pull away from their parents and distance themselves from their homes.

What Is an Emotionally Detached Parent?

As suggested by the phrase itself, parents that are detached from their emotions are known as emotionally unavailable parents.

Emotionally detached parents are unable to empathize with their children. They are often numb to their own emotions as well. This behavior may stem from an unwillingness or an inability to connect with others.

Emotionally detached parents lack what is known as emotional awareness, the ability to understand feelings and why an individual is feeling those emotions. For this reason, emotionally detached parents are often apathetic toward their children. They won’t be affected if their baby is crying, or if their child expresses feelings of being hurt or in pain.

Emotional stimulation is crucial for children, especially in the early years. Having unresponsive parents can be extremely devastating for children.

An experiment known as the "Still-Face Paradigm" was conducted concerning this.

Click Here to learn more!

What Causes a Parent to Be Emotionally Distant?

When stuck in a situation you don’t like, it is easy to become bitter or repulsed by it. Some parents only have children because they are expected to. Since they aren’t ready for all the responsibilities that come with caring for kids, they often want their children to quickly grow up and not have to be burdened by their responsibilities anymore.

A conflict of wants and goals between parents and the future they want for their children can also damage a spouse's relationship. This can result in different reactions, one of them being emotionally distant or spiteful of kids.

In other cases, Unhappy parents with no goals or involvement in their own lives often have issues in their relationships, which further affects their relationship with their children.

Some parents that struggle with mental health, addiction, or poverty may also have damaged relationships with their spouses, once again resulting in emotional detachment.

What Are You Living For?

If you’ve realized that you’ve become detached from your life and the needs of your children, you’ve overcome a big obstacle. It is not easy to accept circumstances beyond your control. Now, to get back on track, the next step is just as important.

Retrace your experiences and identify the root problem that is bothering you. Seek resources and support from professionals and those closest to you. More importantly, focus on your own life.

Children don’t want their parents to live for them, they want to live with them. Help your child by helping yourself.

Parents are often taught that they need to give up everything for their children. While it is true that parents sacrifice a great deal for their children, it is necessary to understand that an empty bucket cannot give.

You cannot understand your child’s feelings if you are indifferent to your own. Children do take up a great deal of parents' lives, but it is just as important to live your own. If you have a stable life, you can be a stronger pillar for your children in their lives.

Why Healthy Parent Relationships Are Important

Parent Holding His Baby Crying
Parent Holding His Baby Crying

How Parent Relationships Become a Reflection of Parent-Child Relations

If you’ve grown up in a dysfunctional family you know all too well how difficult it is to do everyday things because of your family. A small, casual conversation can turn into a big argument within a matter of minutes.

This often happens because of already existing deep-rooted problems within the family, along with a lack of emotional maturity. Unhealthy parent relationships can, directly and indirectly, affect your relationship with your child.

For example, if you and your spouse have different views on parenting and are unable to navigate those differences, the constant clash of opinions in your relationship will affect how your child is raised. While different beliefs and opinions can help a child expand their understanding of others, having parents on two extreme sides of a rope can make a child feel helpless.

Responsible parenting means being able to compromise and work out differences so that children aren’t impacted. Unhealthy spouse relationships can also indirectly affect your children as well. If you and your spouse are constantly fighting or bickering daily, your child is going to be weary of sitting in the same room as you.

You might think that you’ve never stopped your child from coming to you and asking for help, but your actions have. However, a child won’t share their problems if their parents have always made it clear that they have enough problems as it is.

What Are You Teaching Your Child About the World?

Sometimes in authoritarian parenting, parents believe that it is necessary to show their children the harsh realities and ugliness of the world through difficulty. This way, children will be prepared for adult life and won’t trust other people easily.

When parents don’t have a good relationship with each other, they often try to prove the other parent wrong or put them down in front of their children. Moreover, a damaged parent relationship puts a negative influence on a child’s perception of communication, respect, and teamwork.

Children don’t need more examples of harsh realities, they will learn them anyway. What children need is a safe space they can come back to and pick themselves back up so that they can face the world again.

If you and your spouse cannot provide that environment for your children because you aren’t on good terms with each other, then maybe it’s time to tackle the issue at hand.

Common Problems that Lead to Toxic Parent Relations

Some common problems that lead to toxic parent relations are:

  • Physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse

  • Overbearing and controlling

  • No respect for each other's personal: space, goals, needs, or time

  • Blaming each other for issues, escapism, and being ungrateful

  • Lack of trust and boundaries

  • Putting kids or family before everything (not working on their relationship)

  • Mental health issues or addictions

  • Avoiding each other and lack of communication

Signs Your Relationship Is Impacting Your Child

Have you ever seen your child use a bad word and think that they must have learned it from their friends? Some parents often claim that whatever habits their child adopts (that they dislike) are influenced by their child’s friends or from school.

Children are indeed influenced by the people around them, all people are like that. However, children aren’t as greatly impacted by the actions of others as they are by the people closest to them.

You, as a parent, have the biggest influence on your child’s life.

It’s irrational to expect that your child will do as you say and not what you show them. Words don’t cut it. If you want your child to deal with others with respect, ask yourself if you do the same.

Especially in the case of spouse relationships, individuals often forget that those closer to them deserve better treatment. Parents often take their relationship with each other and with their children for granted.

How you treat your spouse is how your children will learn to treat others, and how they will expect to be treated.

For example, if you don’t help your spouse around the house and constantly belittle them, don’t be surprised if your child begins to show the same attitude—to you.

More signs that your relationship is affecting your child

  • Your child gets anxious and tries to put your focus on themselves when you and your spouse are talking (they are afraid of a fight starting)

  • Your child tries to avoid drawing focus to themselves

  • Your child seemingly has no problems (they can’t share their struggles with you)

  • Overly mature (are you treating them like your therapist?)

  • Your child is overly clingy with you or very distant (separation anxiety or detachment)

  • Nightmares, sleep and eating issues, or aggressive behavior

  • Your child is not independent (can’t make decisions by themselves)

Ways to Improve Parent Relationships

A Dad Holding His Children

The Key Elements of a Healthy Parent Relationship

  • Respect each other’s opinions on parenting

  • Communication and compromise

  • Listening to each other's concerns

  • Both spend meaningful time with children together and separately

  • Acknowledge and tackle bad parenting habits

  • Appreciate each other's efforts

  • Mutual trust and dependency

  • Forgive each other's shortcomings

  • Healthy arguments (overcome problems by working them out together before they become bigger issues)

Click Here to learn more about unlearning bad parenting habits!

Respect and Team Effort Are the Only Way to Go

Respect is the biggest factor when it comes to how spouses interact with each other. If you don’t respect your partner as a person, your relationship with them as a spouse and parent will not be a pleasant one.

Respect doesn’t just mean speaking nicely to another person. As a spouse (and as a parent), you need to respect your partner’s feelings, time, goals, opinions, and needs. Moreover, many spouses often embarrass each other in front of other people. Respect also applies to your spouse's honor and dignity.

When highly acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki was asked about the romantic relationships in his Ghibli films, he said,

“I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live - if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.”

Truly, what can be more beautiful than individuals who know how hard it is to face the world every day; who encourage each other and support each other's lives?

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Only then can you learn to respect your child and the life they want to build for themselves—and they will need your help in achieving it.

That is why team effort is the only way to go. Both parents need to do their part and work together to resolve their issues so that they can work together to look after their children. Accountability and responsibility need to happen on both sides.

If you can’t resolve obstacles in your own relationship as a mature adult, you’re going to have a harder time when it comes to your relationship with your child and their problems.

What to Do When It’s Just Not Working

Perhaps one of the hardest things a parent can do is accept that their relationship just isn’t working out.

Sometimes there aren’t very big reasons behind a damaged relationship between spouses. Some people are just too different and aren’t fit to be a team. Other times, one parent isn’t willing to put the same level of effort into their role as a parent or as a spouse.

When this happens, some parents choose to remain civil for the sake of their children. This isn’t necessarily a bad decision. If spouses remain respectful of each other, they may find that they can work through their relationship and become close again.

Child Hearing Parents Arguing

However, if the same cycle of abuse and irresponsible actions keeps happening, then separation may be better for your children.

When talking about divorce, many parents are against the idea because it means that a child will have to live without one parent, or will not have a stable home. However, that isn’t always the case. In some situations, it is easier for parents to remain civil with each other for the sake of their children if they have their own space.

It is also important to understand that staying together for the sake of your children isn’t always the best decision. Unfortunately in most cases, spouses choose to stay together for their children.

However, because they refuse to work on their relationship, this only results in a toxic and abusive environment for the children and for the parents.

Your children will not be happy if they are raised in irresponsible and immature ways. They may also resent you in the future for refusing to uphold more accountability.

The fact remains that as parents, you need to choose the right decision for you and your family. This depends on individual circumstances. If you need help working out your relationship with your family, don’t hesitate to seek couple therapy or other resources.


What makes a real parent?

It is commonly believed that a parent’s only responsibility is to fulfill the physical and nutritional needs of a child. Giving birth to a child (or being biological parents) is enough to make you a parent. However, that doesn’t mean you’re a good parent. A real parent is someone who genuinely supports and nurtures their child. Being a real parent means being a role model. Your child should feel safe enough to be vulnerable and honest around you.

What is the 80/20 rule of parenting?

In general, the 80/20 rule refers to a cause-and-effect relationship. In parenting, this can mean putting in 20% of the effort in your relationship with your child and seeing 80% results. You don’t have to necessarily put 100% of your effort into being with your child. Having a balance between your other priorities–while still giving sufficient attention to your child–is the way to go.

Why do I feel no connection to my family?

Children raised in dysfunctional homes often feel little to no connection with their families. This form of detachment or resentment can happen because of abuse and neglect. Most of the time, a person might not feel connected to their family because they don’t have an emotional connection with them. For example, if a child rarely sees their siblings or spends enjoyable time with them, they might feel distant from each other.

What is the definition of an unstable parent?

A parent can be considered unstable when they are unfit to properly care for a child. Unstable parents are usually unpredictable when it comes to parenting. They can go from compassionate to aggressive in a matter of minutes. Uninterested parents, parents with addiction problems, or untreated mental health problems can be unreliable, resulting in poor caregiving skills.

How do you deal with an emotionally immature parent?

Dealing with an emotionally immature parent can be extremely challenging. It’s hard to have a hate-guilty love relationship with someone who is supposed to be your biggest support. While it isn’t your job to fix your parents, their baggage can impact your life as well. Seek resources and support that help you create a balance between boundaries for yourself and care for them. A highly recommended book for starters is Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson.

Summary of Signs of a Damaged Parent Relationship and Its Consequences

One of the responsibilities of being a parent is modeling how your child should have relationships with others. Telling your child to do what’s right doesn’t cut it. Children are people too. They get influenced by the actions of the people around them, especially close family.

The relationship you have with your spouse and with your children will mimic how they interact and build relationships with people in their own lives. If you don’t want your child to fall into an abusive relationship, make sure you show them what a healthy relationship looks like.

Sometimes difficult circumstances get out of hand. There might be times when we don't have control over the situation we are put in, but we always can manage how we react to them.

Recognizing signs of an unhealthy relationship takes time and effort. Children often grow up to understand that their parents barely knew what they were dealing with themselves. However, your children might have a hard time forgiving you if you refuse to try and take steps towards changing bad habits after you’ve become aware of them.

If you truly want the best for your child, make sure you are showing them what’s best.

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