Layla was shaking as she walked towards her mother, Susan. She’d just knocked a glass on the floor while playing with her toys and had watched it shatter into little pieces. ‘I’m sorry,’ the eight-year-old began, almost in tears. ‘I didn’t mean to.’
She waited for the inevitable explosion. Would she be banished to her room this time, screamed at or, worse, would she be ignored for the rest of the day until her mother’s temper subsided?
‘Oh that’s fine, sweetie,’ Susan said. ‘Accidents happen. Where is it? I’ll clean it up so you don’t cut yourself.’ Layla’s shock at her mum’s calm reaction was more than if she’d verbally lashed out. That’s because Susan is an eggshell mum – because she could crack at any time.
Sometimes she reacts calmly to a situation where Layla was expecting a meltdown, but often she’s blown up over something rather trivial. There’s no other way to put it: with this type of eggshell mum you always feel like you’re walking on eggshells. And Layla’s not alone in her suffering.
Signs Of An Eggshell Mum
An eggshell mum is emotionally unpredictable, and prone to mood swings. One minute everything is fine, and the next, it’s not. The highs are high, and in extreme, the lows are bang at the bottom. This results in verbal abuse, punishment, manipulation and lies. Children are made to feel guilty or responsible for taking care of them.
Clinical psychologist Dr Kim Sage went viral on TikTok earlier this year describing eggshell parenting. ‘At the heart of emotionally unsafe parenting is real emotional endangerment,’ she said ‘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.
‘Even if you’re loving and safe and wonderful, if it follows that you can be unsafe at the core, you are not safe.’ Children from these environments are nervous to make one wrong move, and therefore insecure and overly cautious.
Clinical psychologist, Dr Annabelle Chow, explains that children feel that the parental behaviours are inconsistent and lack a discernible pattern. ‘This inconsistency creates uncertainty and confusion within them,’ she says. ‘They often find themselves assuming the role of the “parent” in their interactions. They are forced to manage their own emotions and behaviours in order to prevent or avoid unpleasant outcomes. Over time, the repeated interactions with an eggshell parent can lead to emotional trauma for the children… creating lasting effects that can be difficult to overcome.’
Signs that you were, or are, being raised by an eggshell parent are easy to spot:
- Low Self-esteem They likely had an unstable upbringing and never learned how to soothe themselves from uncomfortable feelings. Psychotherapist, Anna Hindell says: ‘If parents don’t work through their own past issues causing present instability, their reactivity will affect their children and those around them.’
- Predisposition to Psychological Conditions ‘As a result of trauma over a long period of time, children’s risk for conditions such as depression, anxiety, or unstable moods increase,’ Dr Chow says. Many of these conditions manifest or reappear later in life.
- Confusion about their identity Due to the sustained inconsistency and shifting perceptions of how they should behave [to stop a parental outburst],’ adds Dr Chow, ‘children may become confused about how they “should” behave.’ These children can struggle to find their true identity. ‘My whole personality was based around being an empath [to my mother] until I woke up to it being a trauma response,’ one child of an eggshell mum said. ‘Now I feel I don’t know who I actually am.’
- Feeling Responsible For The Emotions of Others Dr Sage said on TikTok: ‘There’s no room for emotional separation. The child is tasked with regulating their parents’ emotions and even act in the role of parent sometimes.’ In the comments section under her TikTok post, one user wrote: ‘My mom relied on me like an emotional crutch. I was [aged] 5-9. Then she started hating me as I got older cos I saw through her. I’m hyper vigilant 24/7.’
Eggshell Parenting Dynasty
So are you wondering if you’re an eggshell parent? Is it possible to break the pattern of eggshell parenting, if you were exposed to this earlier in life? Or will the cycle keep spinning? According to Dr Sage, the fact that you’re considering this means that you have the awareness to likely not be one.
But if you were raised by an eggshell parent she says: ‘There are additional steps you may have to take to ensure you don’t repeat that pattern with your own children, like learning to regulate your own emotions and apologising to your children when you have an emotional outburst.’ If parents start to regulate themselves, kids might stop overanalysing situations and grow up feeling more stable.
As a parent, it’s your ultimate responsibility of not only meeting your child’s physical needs, but shaping how they grow emotionally. Of course, we all snap occasionally – whether it’s because we’re overworked or just stressed from juggling life, but eggshell parents isn’t an occasional lapse, or temper loss, it’s who you fundamentally are.
Your behaviour and reactions will all have a huge impact on their well-being, even later on in life. Nobody likes feeling as though they’re walking on eggshells. Instead, take gentle steps towards eliminating this toxic cycle and its negative experiences. Give children the space to run around with confidence, unafraid of breaking anything in their path.
Signs You Could Be An Eggshell Mum:
And even eggshell parents can change their behaviour. Start by asking yourself if people find it difficult to interact with you because of frequent, unpredictable mood swings. When something happens, even relatively minor, do people worry about how you will respond? If the answer is yes, you have the characteristics of an eggshell parent and need to work on improving unpredictable mood swings and temper outbursts when raising a child.
Consider Repairing Conflicts
If you’re the child of an eggshell parent, it can be healing to resolve issues with them. Be open with the parent, understanding that they might not realise the impact of their own behaviour, or could even deny it. Listen to what they say and try and help them recognise their parenting style, rather than try to make them feel ashamed.
But, ultimately, you have to realise that only they are accountable for their behaviour and only can change it. You are not responsible for healing them, but it is essential that you protect yourself.
Seek Professional Help
Talking to a therapist can help heal childhood wounds and will avoid adopting a similar eggshell parenting style – or help you to stop being an eggshell mum. You don’t have to go it alone and the ultimate goal is your well-being so you can take care of your children’s too.