Opinion: Narcissistic Parents Oppress Their Children With Constant Disappointment

Walter Rhein

Image by Walter Rhein

Growing up, my narcissistic father used to let me know he was going to be disappointed with me before I even did anything.

“I don’t know why I’m asking you to do this because you’ll probably mess it up.”

At first, I tried my absolute best to meet his expectations. No matter what I did, he always found something to criticize.

When I did the dishes, he’d go through and examine each one. He studied them and looked for the slightest smear of grease that I might have missed. Sometimes he’d spend more time examining the plates than it took to wash them.

When he was done, there were always four or five dishes that I had to redo. He’d hover over me criticizing everything from how I picked up the dishes to how I put the soap on the sponge.

I think, in his mind, he thought he was being a good parent. He thought he was strict. He thought he was teaching me an important life skill.

In reality, all I learned was that nothing I did would ever please him.

I knew better than to protest when he claimed he found a smear. There were times that I knew I did the job perfectly and that his complaints were fabrications. By then I had learned to wash them again without comment.

All this interaction taught me was to get away from him as quickly as possible.

People will often complain about things like giving children participation trophies. They say that you shouldn’t reward anything less than perfect behavior.

People who say that never recognize that they, themselves, were less than perfect parents. Sending a card on father’s day is an example of a participation trophy.

“You’ll get your father’s day card when you show me you can do a better job as a father.”

The truth is that we’re all imperfect people and we should have a little more tolerance for each other.

The thing that everyone has to remember about being a parent is that you have to teach your children everything. Even something as basic as washing the dishes is something a child doesn’t know how to do.

Encouragement is a far more effective way to teach your children than criticism.

When a child doesn’t do a job to the parent’s satisfaction, it means the parent failed at showing them how to perform the task.

As a parent, I always try to praise my children before I offer any criticism. Nobody likes to do the dishes. It costs me nothing to show appreciation when they do the job, even if they could have done the job better.

The first few times my kids did the dishes, I thanked them and then fixed whatever mistakes they missed. Even if they didn’t do a perfect job, they still saved me a lot of work.

It’s important to keep your focus on the positives rather than the negatives. I know that my children want me to tell them they did a good job. If I praise their effort, they keep trying.

Disappointment is something you can feel in the air. When I used to see my father in the morning, he would roll his eyes. He would sigh. Sometimes he would call me a disappointment.

Why would I choose to be around somebody like that?

Sharing the company of such a person is like breathing in a toxic atmosphere. Over time, it makes you sick.

My narcissistic father could only criticize and would not offer any praise. His behavior was abusive and unproductive. As a parent, I offer my children praise. My children are happier.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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