When they are young, most children idolize their parents. In healthy relationships eventually, the child realizes that the parent is not perfect but is still a good person. That is not always the case. What happens when the parent is not a good person? How will the child reconcile that reality?
In some cases, the child seems to convince themselves that their parent is not actually bad. Some decide to emulate the parent and follow in their tainted footsteps. Cognitive dissonance can be a powerful force. One need only look as far as the first family to see that sometimes the rotten apple does not fall far from the rotten tree. Some children fall right in step with what the bad parent wants and become willing accomplices. A legacy of evil.
In other cases, the child is disturbed by the bad parent. The child wonders if they are also a bad person. The child wonders if they have any chance to be good. A smart enough child will use the bad parent as an example of what not to become. They will break the unhealthy cycle. If a family history is particularly horrid, some will end the family line with them. While not actually his offspring, the children of his half-siblings decided to let the Hitler line die with them. It need not be as dramatic as that. Many unnamed families who are mightily dysfunctional have members who decide to let their part in the shitshow end with them. Of those who do decide to reproduce, often it is done very intentionally after a great deal of thought is given to not repeating the mistakes of their own parents.
How you were raised is not necessarily your destiny. Everyone has a choice.
It starts with an honest evaluation of the situation. Do not try to mitigate the circumstances or make excuses for their behavior. Do your best to be objective. If you saw this behavior in a stranger would you excuse it because they had a hard life or their own parent treated them like that?
It does not mean you have to condemn them, file a police report, cut off contact, or anything else that you do not want to do. You are just getting clear and being honest and objective in your own mind. Accept that what they did to you reflected poorly on their character.
In the unlikely event that they were awful in the outside world but good at home, then you have to decide for yourself how you want to judge them. However, those cases would be rare. Most people try to present a good face in public and save their worst behavior for at home in private.
If there was a mental illness involved, the situation is more complex. If they were truly mentally ill enough that they were incapable of knowing what they were doing was wrong, then the fault lies in the other adults in your life who did not protect you as they should have. If someone is that ill, then some serious failures in the family or community occurred that they were allowed unfettered access to a defenseless kid.
Deal with Your Own Shit
The next step is to handle your own issues. Whatever the bad parent did left scars. Physical, emotional, sexual. You need to get a handle on the damage. Much of it isn’t going to be healed, but it is usually containable.
Therapy, medication, self-help books, a caring partner, or whatever works for you and that you have access to.
Separate your own self-image from that of your parent. As my late boyfriend used to say about his abusive mother, “She is her and I am me and we are not the same.” He was usually saying this to an unfortunate employee who had to deal with his mother as a client. He usually followed it up by telling them to just let him know if they wanted him to intervene. The older his mother got, the more unpleasant she was to everyone.
Internalizing the message that you are not the same is of particular importance if you and the bad parent are of the same gender. It’s a cliché that woman grow up to become their mothers, but those of us who had abusive mothers feel a particular horror when we hear something she would have said come out of our mouths. There is a moment of irrational fear when you wonder if the transition has begun.
Reproduce or Not
Society puts a lot of pressure on people to reproduce. It is an expected part of becoming an adult. Finish school, get a job, get married, have a baby. Culturally, those things may be in a different order, but for everyone, it is pretty much the expected list.
It should be less of an expectation. If you come from a bad familial situation, you should think long and hard before you decide to have a child. I’m not suggesting that you should not. I’m saying that you need to make sure that you have faced and dealt with your own issues enough that they will not be repeated in the next generation. Shitty parents can be an excellent example of what not to do. A whole lot of my own parenting style is to do the opposite of what my mother did.
Accepting reality and taking proactive steps to deal with your issues can keep you from repeating and spreading what a bad parent has done. Take responsibility for yourself and accept that you do not have to be like them. Choose a better path.