Enabling one parent or both parents to neglect their child or children’s emotional needs is Abuse by Proxy. There… we finally came right out and said it.
It’s a sad state of affairs when one parent consistently is put into the position of having to explain to a child or children why Mommy is always playing golf or tennis at the country club or Daddy is always off to work or engaging in some time-consuming hobby like obsessing about watching sports, going camping with his buddies, or heading out deep sea fishing on the boat for the week.
But it’s an even sadder state of affairs when that person fails to recognize that a child is trapped in an unhappy home life — one where one parent sacrifices the child’s very real need for keen role model parenting for their own insufferable, tiresome, and ultimately self-centered personal or romantic needs.
Neglectful parenting comes in all forms. It’s not simply something that happens to latchkey kids or children who are at risk due to extreme poverty.
Parents of all socioeconomic strata have the ability to distinctly neglect or “under-parent” their own kids. One need not send a child to spend 50 plus hours a week in daycare from the time they are six weeks old to neglect them socially and emotionally, either.
Abuse by Proxy can happen when one person overlooks the needs of a child in an effort to avoid conflict with a parent, including overlooking neglect and abuse of a child or children who are in the direct care of their mother or father (especially if they do not seem to enjoy spending time with kids).
The more narcissistic or toxic the parents are as human beings, the more likely they are to mess up their offspring by over-parenting them in some areas while deliberately neglecting them socially and emotionally as human beings in others.
In some situations, a narcissistic parent may choose to focus primarily on her or his self-absorbing interests, which to the narcissist are more exciting than child-raising. These activities may provide the narcissist the stimulation, validation, and self-importance she or he craves, be it career obsession, social flamboyance, or personal adventures and hobbies. The child is left either to the other parent, or on his or her own.
“My husband’s an absent father. He’s always off doing something fun for himself, which he prefers to spending time with our child. He’s an extremely selfish person.”
Psychology Today — “10 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent”
Typically, the more egocentric a parent or set of parents are (as Co-Narcissists), the more likely they are to view children as possessions. While some extremely toxic and dysfunctional parents engage in helicopter parenting (over-involving themselves in a child’s daily life while striving to relive their own fantasy childhood and young adult life), others will simply go on about living their everyday life — allowing children to have very little impact on their comings and goings in daily life.
Examples of parents who neglect or under-parent their children are plentiful. Here’s a few common examples of neglectful parenting styles, including but not limited to adult Enablers failing to recognize or address the emotional needs of children in general or an individual, targeted, strategically scapegoated child — thereby becoming Abusers by Proxy who willfully fail to care for or protect the rights and needs of children (in general):
- A mother finds child care boring; she leaves her baby or toddler in daycare the maximum number of hours the facility allows by weekly pre-paid contract. The father realizes she’s less than enthusiastic about having to stay home and take care of the baby, but he chooses to make her stay home and do it.
- A father gets bored after a few hours on the weekend playing “daddy”; he intentionally takes a job that keeps him out late during weekday evenings or keeps him away more than a few days a month in general in order to avoid having to interact or socialize with his wife and kids daily. Mother makes excuses for him, claiming he got “tied up at work” whenever he fails to return home on time for dinner or to show up for one of the child’s milestone events.
- A new mom cannot stand the noise of a crying baby; she turns up the television as loud as she can, puts the infant in a playpen or crib in a room, pours herself a cocktail or glass of wine, and when the screaming gets too loud she slams shut the infant’s door. The grandmother who lives in the house with them knows but elects to ignore the behavior and stays in her room rather than risking verbal conflict sure to happen if she steps up to help the child or voices her legitimate concerns.
- The father of multiple children cannot stand to listen to them bicker in the car; he buys a truck or two-seater sports car in order to avoid having to take all the children with him at one time on road trips, when the family goes out to dinner, or when the mother asks him to take the children with him to run errands. The salesman at the Porsche store egged him on to do it, reminding him how practical a two-seater car is for a man who is a father of six.
- A working mother truly prefers going to the office to having to suffer through attending a child’s school events or after-school activities; she hires a nanny to shuttle the child back and forth to school, soccer games, violin lessons, and pays them to attend parent-teacher conferences on her behalf. Her boss offers to give her a raise in order to help pay for child care and takes professional advantage of her for being willing to work countless hours of OT as a salaried professional clocking in at the office.
- A dad cannot stand having to listen to or talk with children; when his child approaches him in the evening when he gets home for work seeking to shower him with affection and tell him about their day, dad withdraws emotionally or bellows that he wants peace and quiet and to be left alone. The mother shoos the children away from the father in the hopes her husband will be nice to her and they can have a romantic one-on-one date night or romantic interlude after the children are fed, bathed, and put to bed later.
- Mom cannot quite cope with the stress of having to be around children all day; she hands one child a television remote and another an iPad with children’s games programmed on it and she retreats to take a nap in her bedroom every day at the same time (despite having spent 8-12 hours in her bedroom sleeping the night before). Dad complains about her lack of interest in doing educational activities with the kids but keeps footing the bill for electronics while never actually taking time with the kids learning how to use all of it.
- Dad has no interest in reading to the kids before bed or at any other time of the day or night; he buys them books with computer readers to accompany them but never actually engages with them during their learning to read process. Mother gets mad at listening to irritating, repetitive noises the electronic books make when kids push their replay buttons, so she gets mad and rips the book out of the child’s hands while cursing the non-present father for buying the child the expensive toy books as a gift.
- One child is pampered as the Golden Child while another older sibling net gains attention by acting like a rebel; the middle child is forced to take personal responsibility for the younger child’s care with regard to babysitting or told to overlook the younger child’s copycat negative behaviors while being expected to deal with being abused by the older sibling without complaint. All parents, siblings, extended family members and grandparents enable the process.
- A parent overlooks the bad behavior of one sibling but not the other. Both parents pick a favorite child and help one abuse the opposite other.
- A parent plays favorites or encourages sibling rivalry by constantly fawning over one child while ignoring the social, emotional, psychological, or developmental needs of another. All the siblings pick up on the pattern and begin to abuse the targeted scapegoat (typically whichever child is the least complaint to narcissistic abuse and the most emotionally in tune or sensitive); grandparents and family friends stereotype and pigeonhole children into set expectational roles.
- One parent does all the housework and childcare while the other is free to pursue their own career goals and hobbies; children are ignored when the laboring parent runs out of emotional resources while simultaneously feeling estranged by the non-present or non-participating parent. Both parents are guilty of abusing their children by proxy using the other.
- One parent handles all the discipline while the other parent shows up to play the hero; one parent plays bad cop all day long, only to see the “fun” partner arrive every other weekend and on Wednesday night for dinner at 7 (bearing gifts, unwilling to properly discipline children or co-parent). The gift-giving partner provokes while the annoyed co-parent takes the bait, leading to the child feeling torn, confused, and unsure who to look up to as a role model.
- A new step-parent, paramour, or mistress encourages a lover to ditch their children or neglect the former family unit’s needs with regard to co-parenting, finances, or social interests. The parent is directly responsible for the abuse, while the person striving to alienate the parent from their child is guilty of abuse, abuse by proxy, and enabling.
- It’s the weekend and mom and dad are ready to party; children are shuffled off to grandma or the baby sitter’s house because… well… you know… there’s beer being served on tap, old friends are getting together to listen to a new band, or there’s this great night club downtown where all the single twenty-somethings are hanging out partying. Anyone who is over the age of 18 and has kids really has no business ditching little ones so they can go party, noting that if a child were to be hurt or get sick while their primary caregivers are wasted it puts the child in an endangered state and whoever is babysitting under extreme, totally unnecessary duress.
- Mama and Papa jet to Cannes, leaving the child home from boarding school for the long holiday weekend at home with the servants; they leave a short, handwritten note of apology or send the child a text saying they are sorry but something came up related to business, a social function, or some other excuse not at all related to validating a child’s very real need and right to spend quality social time recreationally with parents. Hired staff enable; so do schoolmasters.
In all the aforementioned instances, Narcissistic Abuse of the children happens by default due to varying situational ethics scenarios. Not all people who have children find the experience to be pleasurable, but it’s no excuse for failing to notice or recognize a child’s very real need to feel valued, safe, loved, respected, or appreciated by their own parent or parents.
If one parent realizes the other is an unhealthy co-parent but elects to overlook abuse or neglect of children (or themselves) in the relationship, that person is guilty of sacrificing the best interest of their own children for the sake of maintaining their own social position, status, or romantic interest. No child should be forced to remain in a home with two parents at each other’s throats. But children should not be forced to remain in homes with adult human beings who could care less about their needs as people, either.
Mothers and fathers who claim the reason they stay in unsatisfying marriages or romantic unions “because of the kids” put an unfair social burden on their own children. No child wants their mother or father to stay in a relationship or environment that makes them miserable — unless that child is themselves on their way to developing a big, fat, whopping personality disorder.
Claiming the reason people stay is for the children is one of the most neglectful parenting or co-parenting mistakes any parent could possibly make. The effects of being raised in a home riddled with dysfunctional communication patterns, obvious egocentrism, passive-aggressive adults, and caregivers who seek to foster things like sibling rivalry or parental alienation are lifelong, negative, and completely avoidable.
If you are in an unhappy relationship, don’t blame your children for you deciding to stay. Leave your partner and get on with your life in a single, mature way.
If you absolutely hate spending time around children, stop making them. But more importantly, go take some parenting classes. Read some books about how to make parenting more fun. Learn to do home school study units with your kids based on their interests as well as your own. Find a way to connect with them on a personal level as miniature humans who lack experience — rather than looking at them as being unintelligent or boring (no matter how stupid and annoying children are prone to acting at any given minute of any random day).
But most importantly, make sure your child’s emotional needs, as well as social needs with you, are being met. If you are not sure how, ask them.
Get this — kids know what they want, for the most part, when it comes to asking for parental attention or life guidance. While they might seem like they don’t know you are there or paying attention most of the time, kids know. They understand the difference between a working mother or working father who is busting their butt to make the family mortgage payment versus the egocentric, emotionally cold or distant Narcissist or Narcopath who simply cannot stand to be bothered by a child who happens to make a peep of noise in their presence.
If a child says, “Hey Mom [or Hey Dad], watch this!” and you do not, chances are you are either not interested or you are an over-stressed parent. Figure out which type you are, get yourself some help learning how to cope or process, and start paying attention.
Children grow up really fast. If you don’t keep your eye on the ball as a parent, playing the neglect or under-parenting game with one can almost guarantee problems with children during their middle school, teenage high school, and young adult years with regard to both their personal lives and bonding with family members.
But the worst-case scenario is not for the parent who slips and avoids taking actual day-to-day personal responsibility of ensuring their children’s psychological welfare. It’s actually for the kids of such people.
Because all Cluster B personality disorders are suspecting of having their forensic psychology roots in what happens to a child between birth and the age of four, the environment any child is exposed to (especially during those key years of social and psychological development) impact them for a lifetime. Parents modeling Anti-Social, Psychopathic, or narcissistic behaviors (for example) tend to end up with teenage children who display all the traits and symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is the precursor to growing up and developing Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD forms permanently in most individuals between the years of 18 and 28, noting that it’s historical origins tend to be rooted in how they were treated from infancy through early childhood. Those who were overindulged then ignored in favor of a younger sibling coming along tend to be the most likely candidates for forming a nurtured personality disorder.
On the other hand, children exposed to trauma at an early age — something like witnessing a father strike a mother or being brutalized themselves by a jealous and angry or irrational older sibling — tend to flatline emotionally. In response to trauma, they may take on the personality traits of a person with ADD or of a mild Anti-Social person by nature.
Angry children who copycat Anti-Social Personality traits role modeled to them by toxic parents or siblings acting out with rage and aggression against their emotionally clueless parents tend to get mixed up with toxic peer groups at school and in the neighborhood. All run a high risk of withdrawing into complete introversion socially or worse — ending up developing Childhood Conduct Disorder traits even if biologically speaking a proclivity for sociopathy or psychopathy is not innately in their biological or genetic nature.
No matter what the case with regard to under-parenting or emotional neglect of a child, it’s the child who suffers from the parent’s selfish behavior most when looking a the grand scheme of social impact long term. But parents of such children also set themselves up for heartbreak in their senior years.
After all, what child who was left neglected or was abused, who failed to bond closely with anyone in their nuclear family unit, or who themselves end up mimicking traits of people who are Anti-Social, Psycho, or raging Narcissists by nature ends up being the most loving or reliable of senior caretakers? For that reason alone, selfish parents should be more inclined to really think through whether or not their short-term needs for pleasure and stress relief from the daily grind of parenting their children as a couple is worth their own long-term interests.
For parents who have plenty of retirement savings or a trust fund coming to them in their later years, it might not be such a big deal to think about simply checking into a retirement facility at the age of 65 and living out the rest of your remaining days in the company of hired caregiving professionals. But for those who either prefer not to be alone (or who actually would like to have a relationship someday with their adult children) it’s an entirely different thing they need to plan for… so choose wisely.
Learn how to spot the warning signs of under-parenting or over-parenting in your OWN behavior, long before your children have grown up. Otherwise, you are likely to end up old and alone — or worse.
As the late, great, stand-up comedian and Hollywood movie actor Robin Williams once said, there is nothing more lonely than spending your life surrounded by the wrong people. Children of toxic parents can and should take heed of his words, noting that the reason people SHOULD stay in one another’s life has nothing to do with DNA.
The only healthy reason to stay socially, personally, or professionally involved with anyone is because A) you want to — not because you have to and B) because at their core they are fundamentally kind, loving, or caring people. Moms, Dads, Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Step-Family Members, Grandparents, and Great-Grandparents all fall under this rule, noting that if any one of them treated you in an unloving, disrespectful, or invalidating way while you were a child, they are likely to be worse by the time you make it to adulthood.
Resist the urge to grant a hall pass to ANY of them if they abused you themselves for their own reason or they agreed willingly to Abuse by Proxy on behalf of another person. Keeping such people out of your personal life and social sphere, limiting contact or going NO CONTACT with them completely, can help reduce the risk of them engaging in the Narcissistic Abuse of you, your future family, or any love interests during adulthood.