If you’re reading this, we don’t have to tell you parenting is a roller coaster of emotion. One moment you’re frustrated trying to get your kids ready for school, and the next, you’re laughing over something cute or funny your kid said. But some parents wear their emotions on their sleeve too much, randomly crying during an embrace, acting warm and encouraging because of a stellar report card, and then having an outburst over a messy room minutes later. If you’re entrenched in parenting TikTok, you might know there’s now a phrase to explain the moodiness, inconsistent behaviors, and erratic emotions some parents display: eggshell parenting.
The phrase “eggshell parenting” was coined by licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Kim Sage, and it is derived from “walking on eggshells,” which is how a child can feel when witnessing a parent go from happy to infuriated in a mere moment for reasons that aren’t obvious.
“The child feels responsible for their parent’s care and feels guilty when things don’t go their parent’s way,” Dr. Zishan Khan, a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, tells Parents.
Eggshell parenting is not a style that parents choose when raising their kids. However, its popularity on social media (a place we wouldn’t typically seek parenting advice) has helped make millions of parents aware of the unhealthy behavior associated with the term, which, according to Stephanie Wijkstrom of the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, is probably the same as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. However, anyone can display these traits.
We’ll delve deeper into the behaviors of eggshell parents and how they can affect their children, along with some ways to break out of these behaviors.
What is eggshell parenting?
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As explained above, an eggshell parent displays unstable emotional behavior or moods. Per Psychology Today, children are highly attuned to feelings. When they pick up on negative and fluctuating emotions, it causes them to feel insecure and cautious at home, the one place where they should feel safe.
“At the heart of emotionally unsafe parenting is real emotional endangerment…it’s a way of putting a child in a position where they have to always be hypervigilant to what may or may not happen next,” Sage explained on TikTok. “Even if you are loving and safe and wonderful, if it follows that you can be unsafe, at the core, you are not safe.”
Some examples of eggshell parenting can be praising your child for performing well during a track meet, then criticizing them later for not going faster. Using threats to force your child to do what you want, like saying you’ll throw them out of the house if they get a certain type of hairstyle, is a behavior typically found in eggshell parents.
Children often don’t recognize the abusive conduct, but it is causing them harm. In fact, it’s likely that the behaviors of an eggshell parent were caused by being raised the same way by their caregivers.
“This unpredictable behavior is confusing, sends mixed messages, and doesn’t provide the child with consistent mirroring, the behavior and affect that a child needs from the caregiver to feel safe, secure, and understood,” psychotherapist Anna Hindell tells Parents.
But parents have outbursts, right?
Timeouts and yelling aren’t viewed as effective disciplinary methods anymore. Instead, we’re working on teaching kids empathy, respect, and understanding. But no parent is perfect, and it’s normal for even the most calm and collected caregiver to lose their temper occasionally. Chances are, if you’re wondering if you’re an eggshell parent, you’re probably not. You’re aware of what’s triggering your behavior.
“All of us lose it at times,” Shari Botwin, author of Thriving After Trauma: Stories of Living and Healing, tells Parents. “An eggshell parent is unpredictable and will yell or lash out more often. The other difference is that an eggshell parent usually does not take responsibility for their actions. However, parents who do not have this type of pathology will usually sit down and talk about what happened, and in most cases apologize.”
How can eggshell parenting affect my child?
Eggshell parents likely had their behaviors passed down from their parents. For example, Sage explains on her website that not only has she studied how instability and trauma affect children and adults, but she has also personally experienced childhood and adult trauma.
Hindell adds that children growing up in an unpredictable and erratic environment tend to blame themselves instead of their parents for the instability they feel, and this can lead to anxiety, depression, and mood swings later in life.
How do I break the cycle?
Taking responsibility for your actions is the first step in breaking the cycle of eggshell parenting. Apologizing for a sudden outburst and changing how you respond in stressful situations go a long way in healing yourself and the relationship with your children.
If you were raised by an eggshell parent, you probably don’t want history to repeat with your children. You can seek professional help through a therapist or talk to your caregiver to repair lingering conflicts. It can be a tricky discussion. Khan recommends managing your expectations for resolution and maintaining personal boundaries to protect yourself.
“You can’t assume you’ll be able to teach an old dog new tricks. Remember that you aren’t their therapist and are not responsible for ensuring they can heal and move forward, which may be your natural inclination since eggshell parents raised you,” Khan said to Parents.