The myhorridparent.com website is a forum for people to share their stories of abusive mothers and fathers, says Áilín Quiinlan
They f*** you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to, but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you.
THIS extract from the famous Philip Larkin poem is what the controversial new website, myhorridparent.com, is about.
However, unlike the poem, the website also offers hope and help to the children of “horrid” parents. It provides different techniques for dealing with toxic mums and dads, whose faults, it emphasises, are most definitely not caused by their offspring.
There’s no such thing as the perfect parent, but are there really mothers and fathers who make a business of emotionally crushing the children they have brought into the world?
Journalist, Angela Levin, and her friend, clinical psychologist, Alyson Corner, believe there are — so they launched myhorridparent.com at the end of February.
The website has touched a chord with people all over the world, attracting stories — confidentiality is guaranteed — from as far away as Kenya, Iceland, Australia, the US, Canada, Belgium, and even Hong Kong.
Within a fortnight of its launch, the website had had 100,000 visitors, among them the Irish woman who contacted myhorridparent.com the day after Angela Levin was interviewed on RTÉ Radio One.
“It’s a story about a big Irish family,” Angela says.
“A woman contacted us to say how she was the only girl in a family with several sons and she didn’t matter.
“She married very young to get away, a man who already had children. Because he had been married before, her parents refused to come to the wedding. They also stopped her brothers, who all apparently worked in the family business, from attending, too, so she walked down the aisle herself. Later on, she had a baby and although she invited them to her home to meet him, they didn’t do so til he was two years of age.
“They spent the whole visit telling her she was doing everything wrong with the toddler, so she ceased communication.”
Non-nurturing parents can cause significant damage to a child’s emotional and psychological development. As a result, the child may not know how to respond satisfactorily to its own needs, says Dr Patrick Ryan, clinical psychologist and director of the doctoral programme in clinical psychology at the University of Limerick.
“If my parent does not show me love, I will not know how to love myself. If I don’t know how to love myself, I cannot show that to my own child. We get this transmitted across the generations,” he says.
“We learn the script when we are very young and, unless we change the script, it’ill repeat itself through the next generation on a loop,” Dr Ryan says.
“I like what it’s doing,” he says of the website. “I think it’s highlighting something we have been afraid to talk about for a long time. In Irish culture, we have idealised the concept of family and parent.”
It’s taboo to say negative things about your parents, though you may ‘diss’ them to your mates.
“There is a very subtle message being given to children — that parents are all-powerful, all-knowing, and always right.
“Many of us, as parents, know that we rarely know what we’re doing, rarely have any information, and are rarely right.
“If we free both ourselves and our children from that preconception, we end up with healthier relationships,” he says, adding that what he also liked about the site was that it makes it clear “that a horrid parent is not necessarily a horrid person.”
“When we give advice about parenting, we ask parents to distinguish between the child’s behaviour and personality, and this site advises children to do the same with parents,” Dr Ryan says.
He felt the advice was “clear and accessible,” in a format that young people could grasp and that it “hit an emotional tone that responds to the needs of some children, without dramatising a negative situation that they might find themselves in. It seems to empower children.”
There’s a real need for the website, says Levin. The stories of the people who have contacted the website are often very sad.
“We couldn’t believe how bad it was; the sadness of people. Some people had even decided not to have children, in case they risked turning into their mothers.”
Something similar occurred to Levin, herself a survivor of a difficult mother, whom she describes as “beautiful, intelligent, witty and smart in public, and horrible to me in private — she said she wished she had called me devil, instead of Angela.”
When Levin grew up and got married, she was afraid she might “turn into my mother,” but she went ahead and started a family, and now has three, happy adult sons. “I have never turned into her. I always loved them, encouraged them, and thought they were terrific,” Levin says. She was lucky enough as a child, she recalls, to believe her mother was wrong about her.
“My innate confidence led me to think that while I may not have been perfect, at least I was OK,” Levin says.
When Alyson approached her with an idea for a website, Levin was immediately on board.
“This website is aimed at teenagers and young adults, but we’ve had responses from people of all ages, including those in their mid-40s and right up to their 70s,” Levin says.
“Most have been women talking about difficulties with their mothers, but some men talk about their fathers.
“One woman who contacted the website was 74. Her mother was in her nineties and she was still terrified of her,” says Levin.
“Our website is not about parents who are physically or sexually abusive, and nor is it about strict parents. It’s a website for parents who try to crush their child — who are very negative and who criticise them.” Having treated adults who reported difficult parenting experiences, clinical psychologist and lecturer in clinical psychology at NUI Galway, Dr Malie Coyne, is well aware of the potential poor outcomes of parental emotional abuse.
“Emotional abuse can be very damaging for a child’s self-confidence and ability to have relationships, and for their learning in every way in their lives,” she says.
“Children learn to love through their parents and, if they experience emotional abuse, it stunts their development and affects other relationships.”
Lack of proper nurturing “affects them to the core,” says Dr Coyne, adding that it can lead to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and borderline personality disorders, which are characterised by damaged relationships and risky behaviours, as well as lower academic performance and less ability to get a good job.
While Dr Coyne dislikes the name of the website, believing that it “trivialises a very serious issue,” she feels the platform it provides “promotes an increased awareness that having a difficult-parents experience is more common than people think and it normalises the issue for people who have had such experiences and provides coping strategies.”
Corner says she got the idea for the website after years of experience as a therapist.
“One of the things that is hardest to watch is when a parent is running a child down in front of the child,” she says, adding that, “occasionally, you’d get a parent saying there is nothing good, the only thing they are good at is making me angry. The relentlessness of the attack on the child is mind-boggling.”
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