Do you feel like your life is mostly chaos? You have an opportunity to overcome neglectful parenting habits to build a strong foundation for your kids and family.
Many people face a crisis at one time or another in their life and each person handles crisis differently. I’ll never forget a home visit I got to do as a young School Social Worker. I pulled up to a run down apartment complex and made my way to the address I had written down. I had to do a quick homevisit with this student’s family. This young man was struggling in school academically and behaviorally.
I knocked on the door and the young man answered. His dad was gone and had not returned for several days. His mom was passed out from drinking too much alcohol. I asked to take a look at their refrigerator and there was 1 item in the refrigerator. 1 item! It tore me up inside. This young man was just trying to survive two parents in complete chaos and crisis and it was spinning his life out of control.
Have you ever seen a parent and said, “they apparently weren’t ready to have kids” or “they probably shouldn’t have had children”? Keep in mind that there is always a story behind everyone’s behaviors. These parents had chaotic upbringings and the momentum was continuing. Something needed to be done to stop this destructive momentum in this family.
Not surprisingly, evidence consistently points to the fact that the neglectful or uninvolved parenting style can have very damaging and long-lasting effects in a child’s life, relationships, and development.
What is Neglectful Parenting?
The neglectful parenting style is when a parent is neither guiding nor reassuring their child and is absent either mentally, emotionally, and/or physically. The parent is unattuned and unattached. In other words, the parent is not usually showing affection and sensitivity. Also, they are not not guiding their child toward any goals or through any kinds of limits along the way. There are low levels of communication, involvement, warmth, and guidance.
4 Types of Neglectful Parents
Throughout my invitations to come alongside families the past two decades through counseling, I have found the following 4 types of neglectful style parents:
- Multi-problem (Single and overwhelmed with multiple “big” challenges) – These parents are exhausted, working multiple jobs, and may have traumatic backgrounds that are mixed with other challenges such as addictions and/or mental health issues. Also, many of these parents have not been raised within a loving, stable, and guiding family culture.
- Unaware (severe mental health issues) – Many neglectful behaviors can be seen when a parent is dealing with severe mental health issues. These can include schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, severe eating and anxiety disorders, depression, narcissistic personality disorder and others. In some of these cases, there is so much going on in their brain that there is very limited capacity to care for others.
- Disconnected (ongoing and debilitating addictions) – Some parents using a neglectful parenting style could be struggling with crippling drug, alcohol, sexual, video game, and/or social media addictions. Addictions can leave people unaware of caring for anyone, even themselves.
- Severly Wounded (severe trauma) – Severe traumatic events can leave a parent disengaged, unattached, and unaware for various reasons. In these cases, anxiety may overwhelm a parent. So, they’re not able to pursue any deep relationships or provide guidance to others.
Risks of Neglectful Parenting
It will come with little to no surprise that research on the neglectful parenting style points to a higher likelihood of many significant problems in children, including increased risks of:
We All Need Help
Deuteronomy 6 exhorts parents to love God with all their heart and to love and guide their children out of that foundational relationship.
One common theme for neglectful parents is that life is in chaos and without an anchor.
If your life is in chaos, then your parenting is most likely off balance and could have hints of neglectful parenting. Also, a great starting point is to look at what your core relationships look like, including your relationship with Christ.
There are two practical tips to combat the chaotic momentum in your parenting:
The first is being teachable. Proverbs 15 talks about being able to take on life-giving correction or reproof in order to gain wisdom and knowledge.
Proverbs 15:31-33 (ESV) – The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reprooff gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
What is happening inside of you and what is it like to have you as a mom or dad? Are you open to instruction and life-giving reproof?
Change the momentum through accountability. Parents using the neglectful parenting style need some form of help. Also, they most likely have not accessed the help they need.
I love what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 about the relationship between accountability and encouragement. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” (ESV).
The image of building each other up implies that we need each other to become stronger and more unified. But I love how Paul pairs this type of accountability with encouragement. The two are inseparable.
Surround yourself with people that will encourage you to invest in your family relationships. You get to be a foundational influencer in the lives of your children, so you need a community of people on your side cheering you on as you build in your children’s lives!
Gratitude and Intentionality
The second is selflessness with gratitude and intentionality. At the core of neglectful parenting is a bend towards satisfying only your own needs and not your children’s needs. Changing this habit requires intentionality.
Scripture and research consistenly affirm that parenting with intentionality, selflessness, and gratitude can lead to a healthy and more connected momentum in your home.
Psalm 127:3 says, “children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him”. Gratitude is one of the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting. This is a great starting point for engaging with your incredible invitation as a “mom” or “dad”.
Being selfless also means you are providing life-giving instruction or boundaries and limits to your kids. Proverbs 1:8-9 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Your loving, caring, and wise instruction are a gift to your children.
In fact, your child needs loving biblical guidance and positive interaction with you to mature and develop their character and personality. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
If you notice that you’re neglecting your child’s needs, you can show initiative and care by modeling selflessness and intentionality in your parenting style.
Is There a Better Option?
The goal is for this parent to recognize the need for help. Then, decide to pursue the balanced and healthy authoritative parenting style.
The authoritative parenting style balances both warmth and sensitivity with boundaries and healthy demandingness. Focus on the Family’s 7 Traits of Effective Parenting outlines practical ways to cultivate an authoritative parenting style in your amazing invitation of being mom or dad.
Finally, to learn more about the neglectful parenting style and the other three parenting styles, visit www.focusonparenting.com. There you can also learn more about the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting, which are based on extensive research about secure attachement theory and the authoritative parenting style from a biblical worldview.
© 2022 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
DANNY HUERTA, PSYD, MSW, LCSW, LSSW