At the “Challenges of Equal Parenthood” conference held in Novi Sad on April 27, 2023, Dr. Marija Mitković Vončina, a distinguished psychiatrist and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist, brought to light a critical issue plaguing family dynamics: the persistence of toxic parenting behaviors. Despite clear consequences and the threat of losing parental rights, some parents remain unchanged in their detrimental ways.

Dr. Vončina poignantly noted, “Some parents do not change their toxic behavior towards a child that deprives them of equal parenthood even when they are explained the consequences on the child, even when they are threatened with the loss of parental rights. They do not change for the same reasons that the behavior originated.” This insight reveals a deep-seated challenge: the difficulty in altering behaviors that have likely been part of the parents’ psyche for years, if not decades.

The systemic failure to recognize and address such toxic behavior not only cripples young minds but also does a disservice to all parties involved. When a system overlooks the signs of such damaging conduct, it inadvertently contributes to the cycle of psychological harm. This neglect leaves children vulnerable to long-term emotional and mental health issues, as they are denied a nurturing environment that is essential for their growth and development.

In my personal experience, the Swiss system, including the tribunal and social workers from SEASP and SPMi, has been “protecting” the alleged victim without a thorough assessment of the state of mind of the “victim” to determine if they are indeed a victim or a troubled individual with their own traumas that are inadvertently victimizing the entire family. This approach can sometimes create a paradox where the system, in its effort to protect, does not fully consider the complexities of the family’s situation, potentially leading to further harm rather than resolution and healing.

The message from Dr. Vončina’s address is clear: it is imperative that the justice system and social services develop a more nuanced understanding of family dynamics. They must be equipped to identify toxic behaviors and intervene effectively. This includes providing mandatory psychological support for parents who exhibit such behaviors, as well as offering continuous education on the importance of equal parenthood and the devastating impact of parental toxicity on children.

As we reflect on the insights shared by Dr. Vončina, it becomes evident that the path to addressing toxic parenting is not through punitive measures alone but through a comprehensive approach that includes education, support, and therapeutic intervention. Only then can we hope to mend the unseen scars of toxic parenting and pave the way for healthier, more resilient future generations.

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