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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Confessions from a Toxic Parent

WARNING: TRIGGERS! F word is prevalent, and potential emotional triggers.

Please allow me to preface this post by saying that I have almost never claimed to be a perfect parent. At least, not since my second child called 911 at 18 months of age for fun. After that, all hell pretty much broke loose on my parenting plans. I will share more of that story later.

At the time of writing this, I have three adult children and two grandchildren. I adore them all, and they know it. But a parental fuck up I am, and they know that too.

My youngest child and only daughter still lives with me. She came home from work the other evening expecting me to be in a good mood. I was not. She left me mail on my bed while I was getting ready for slumber that included a medical bill for her. Normally, I don’t handle her medical bills. Her father does. I lost it. I got angry and let her know it.

Thankfully, my daughter has better sense at times than I do. She calmly asked me, “Did something happen while I was at work? What has you so upset?” She correctly knew she hadn’t done a damn thing wrong. I could have very easily set the bill aside until the next day.

I did not cool down immediately, but I did have the fortitude to at least acknowledge my anger was about me, not her. “I don’t know,” I replied. “Something about this, the numbers, having to plug all this into my phone, has triggered me.” I do have issues with numbers ever since I became sick with Lupus years ago. Although my health is stable now, I still have this ongoing issue.

“Well,” she said, “I am going to go to bed.” Emotionally intelligent move on her part because she recognized I needed time to sort myself out.

I slept on it and apologized to her in the morning. She was gracious to me and even took me out for a brunch I did not deserve but enjoyed. My daughter is a wonderful human being I am blessed with the job of parenting. And I am fucking it up.

Side note: I don’t normally swear this much. Once in a blue moon. But I want to clarify the seriousness of this issue in this post.

Yesterday, I was in the car with my middle child, the younger of my two sons, and told him the story. He sympathized with me without allowing me any excuses for my bad behavior. Instead, he focused the attention on the loving behavior his sister gave to me. “That was nice of her,” was all he needed to say to make his point.

I am blessed with wonderful, loving children. I can take some credit for that, but not much.

Generation X parents, I hope this isn’t news to you, but most of us are parental fuck ups. We are fuck ups because our parents were fuck ups, our grandparents were fuck ups, the society that raised us on tv, movies, music, and celebrity heroes is filled with fuck ups we looked up to and mirrored. We didn’t want to be fuck ups. We wanted to be loving and educating and, in a word, perfect. We wanted our kids to have the childhoods we had that we thought were great as latch-key kids. Problem was, our childhoods were fucked up. We were surrounded by fuck ups, drowning in them, and became them.

And our children? Fuck ups. Yes, they are fuck ups too.

Here is the best news of all: it’s okay. We can share in the muck of the world that we are all fuck ups. This is the one thing we all have in common. It’s the journey we can take together – healing from our fuck uppiness.

The incident with my daughter brought me back to a memory from my childhood. A prominent trigger for me. Please understand, as I write this, I might anger members of my extended family who want to believe my grandmother was a wonderful, angelic person. And they are not wrong. She was a wonderful person. She was also a fuck up. And, she contributed to me becoming one too.

When I was young, my grandmother babysat me when my parents were at work and my older siblings were at school. Most of the time, it was fine. I played, often with neighborhood friends, in her large home. I had food and shelter and Sesame Street and her soap operas. (Soap characters are total fuck ups.) Lunch was often peanut butter sandwiches with extra sugar sprinkled on top or hamburger patties fried to hockey pucks. (Which is how my dad learned to cook.) We lived next door to them on the edge of town where every day I had the option of going into town to play with friends or go out of town into the fields to have alone time to explore. There was a lot of freedom to my childhood I was blessed to have. And she was kind and loving to me often.

However, way in the corner of the backyard, my grandparents had two dogs chained up with rickety old doghouses. One was a female Grandma treated very kindly. The other was a male she was unkind to when she was frustrated. And she taught me to be the same. I have a memory from when I was five or six of her encouraging me to kick that dog because he was, “a bad dog.” Except he wasn’t a bad dog. He was just a helpless little guy who couldn’t understand why he was not being given the love he craved. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to figure that out. I did not spend me childhood kicking that poor little guy. I often went back there and loved on him. He was a sweetheart.

She wasn't horrible to him. She was still mean to him at times. She was in the wrong. He was emotionally scarred regardless of physical hurts.

Damage was done to me too. I don’t know why she taught me to be that way to him. I don’t know what triggers were in her past that taught her it was ok to take her frustrations out on that dog. I’m glad she didn’t do it to me. I don’t believe for a moment she had a clue what damage she was doing to me through him that I have potentially past down to my family.

Not every child in the family got that lesson from her. There were other pets owned by various members of the family, mostly dogs, that were loved and nurtured. There was something about that particular dog at certain times that was a negative emotional trigger for her.

I share this story because this is how I am growing as a parent even though my parenting job is pretty much done. It is a specific emotional trigger that haunts me still decades later, and sometimes affects my emotions. I am working to identify when it and other childhood triggers come up and interfere with my interactions with my children and other people in general. Identifying those triggers and examining them is how I disarm them.

This confession of mine that I am a parenting fuck up does not mean that I am a parenting failure. It doesn’t mean my parents or grandparents were parenting failures. They were not. In fact, I would say they were parenting successes. They were successes because they openly admitted they were doing the best they could with what they knew. As am I.

Allow me to share another story of that same grandmother years later. When I was in high school, I would sometimes go visit my grandparents for my lunch hour during school. We did have good relationships with each other. It was a good place to relax and decompress from the fuck up teachers and administrators who were also trying to do their best. (Another side note: my school teachers and administrators did a great job educating me and sending me off to adulthood. Again, I am trying to emphasis how we are all fuck ups.)

On one such visit, my grandmother was in an emotional funk. I have no idea why. My grandmother started telling a story of a time when my father was young and she had spanked him hard. I don’t remember what it was he had done wrong. At the end of the story, she said, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” Those words struck me. An admitted mistake. She continued, “There are a lot of things I wish I hadn’t done.” I have never been able to forget those words. It was the beginning of a parental apology that never fully manifested. At least, not that I know of. Maybe she did to someone else in the family.

She was a good person who was the fucked up product of a fucked up system of generational and societal issues that each succeeding generation is doing their best to fix; and my children, all our children, are on the frontline of that battle. So are our pets.

My daughter-in-law, who loves my grandchildren with all her heart, has asked me more than once if she is failing as a mother. My answer to her, my son who is also her husband, and to my other children and in-law children for if and when they have children in the future, of course you are a parental fuck up. Because your parents are parental fuck ups. Your grandparents were parental fuck ups. Society is filled with parental fuck ups. Here is the good news: you can own it and do better. In fact, you already are doing better because you are asking the question.

It almost doesn’t matter what type of parent you are or were. You are a product of nature and nurture. It almost doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum. No one has it all figured out. I say almost because, facing facts, there are some people who should never be allowed to be parents. They shouldn’t be around any children ever. Let’s leave those people out of this particular discussion please.

For the rest of us normal fuck ups, show me a parent who has been able to get their adolescent, heavily sports involved, all male child to take a shower using only the word “please” sweetly falling off the tongue, and then maybe, just maybe, I will admit to that being a perfect parent. That parent deserves a medal.

Our society in this period of time is real big on cutting off toxic people from their lives, often children cutting off from parents, especially between Millennials and the Baby Boomers. Sometimes, that is the right thing to do. I have done it myself with a couple of people and only for a time. It helped with healing.

My mother is a wonderful parent. However, her personality and mine clash like two Titans vying for the affections of the Spartans in mythology. For my entire life we have been oil and water. Now, we both understand we don’t always see eye to eye. And there is nothing wrong with that. We have different world views on multiple topics. We simply step forward when we want to share and step back when we don’t. It’s a wonderful relationship. My children love their grandmother. Sometimes more than they love me. It’s family, not a competition.

How do we make the parenting world a better place? I have no idea. Can we? Absolutely.

When my children complain about my parenting, I do my best to not take it personally. What one thinks was bad parenting, another sometimes thinks was good. In fact, my daughter recently informed me that when it came to academics, I was way too lenient with her. I about fell out of the car when she said that. I thought I was too strict. I’m pretty sure my oldest thought I was too hard on him. What works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another.

I try to steer my children to learn better and do better than I did. And they try to steer me to ignore my aged brain and focus on continued growth. It’s really the same lesson in opposite directions. If we can learn better, we can do better.

Love is a learned behavior. No human living on the planet today has it all figured out. I thought I did for a time. Here comes the story I started with.

When my oldest son was a toddler, he was the perfect child. He was the model of toddler behavior. He followed all the rules as best his little mind could comprehend. He didn’t go searching for trouble. He rarely got dirty. He didn’t throw food. He didn’t throw major temper tantrums. Except one. In the middle of the Mall of America during Christmas shopping season. Still, it was a tolerable one off. His father and I couldn’t understand why other parents were having issues with their children. This was easy!

And then, child number two came along, and the fucking up began. He was wonderful as a baby, but when he hit a year and a half, the gloves came off. As I mentioned earlier, there were calls to 911 for fun, food somehow got tossed up along the ceiling, he was running around in the middle of church services, he had screaming temper tantrums to raise the roof off the mall and make other parents run for cover, and he did so much more. That’s when his father and I realized we didn’t have a clue what the hell we were doing.

Then, something major happened. I have no idea what the catalyst was. All I know is one day I woke up and my parenting world was all different. When my oldest became a teen and the middle was an adolescent, they did a Freaky Friday behavior switch on me. My oldest became a law breaking, back talking, hell-raiser, and his brother turned into an angel minus the necessary showers and deodorant adolescent boys fail to understand they need. It was a total shock to the parental system of the household, grandparents too. No one saw this coming. I went to my parents for advice. They had none to give. My brothers didn’t do this to them. I got so angry at one point that I put a hole in the wall. That was a big wrong. I’m still not over the shock.

Now that my oldest son and his wife have children of their own, they are bracing themselves for the rollercoaster ride they bought tickets for and can’t get off. The rest of us are looking on in our own states of terror, humor and anticipation for them and for future children that may come along.

I do have advice for anyone interested from a woman who is a parental fuck up and doesn’t have any of the answers. Talk to your kids. Talk to your parents. All of us, from the youngest not yet out of the womb, to the oldest lying in a hospital bed waiting for the next world to come, we all have the capacity to share and grow and change and love. We can learn and do better.

Are you open to sharing your parenting fuck ups with your children? It’s scary, exhilarating, and helps cleanse the world of all us fuck ups. God, help us all!

And to all my children, grandchildren, and future progeny, I am so very sorry. But, hey, we are in it together. Thank you for continuing to forgive me for my fuck ups.

Thanks for reading! I hope you were well braced for the ride.

Shoot me an email at


Humor In Chaos


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