By Anne Ream
We automatically inherit the parenting skills our parents used as they were raising us. That is one reason parenting can be such a challenge. Because our parents used a particular method of discipline, we often believe that such a method is normal, so we do the same. Unfortunately, what we think of as “normal” is not always healthy.
Parents have a legitimate complaint when they say, “children do not come with directions.” That is true, and unfortunate. Parenting is the most important and most difficult job we ever do, and no one teaches us how to do it, effectively.
Fortunately, some people, long ago, noticed that by increasing their kinder parenting skills, their children seemed better. By treating their children better, the children were happier, more compliant with the parents wishes, and eventually became adults who were able to function better than other adults whose parents had not been as kind. And those healthier children, in turn, also raised healthier, more functional adults. This has benefited and continues to benefit humanity. The discovery of positive parenting skills eventually resulted in the 1963 passing of child abuse laws. The laws have been highly controversial and, fortunately, remain in place.
Anyone would feel bad if they were accused of abusing their children. No one wants to abuse their children. Most of us genuinely love our children and want to raise them to be healthy, high functioning adults. Indeed, some scientists believe that there is a natural desire, perhaps driven by evolution, to raise our children using positive parenting skills. Looking at the history of raising children, and the social improvements that have been building throughout history, with mankinds increasing ability to be kind to one another, one can see that this might be true.
When parents are accused of abusing their child, they genuinely feel hurt and shocked. It is the most difficult accusation for any parent to hear. It is wise to be aware, when we first become parents, that someday this child will be an adult and as an adult, will process how he or she was raised and decide if his or her parents were good enough. Someday this child, as an adult, might confront her or his parents with the accusation that they were abusive.
An accusation of abuse does not mean that the parents did or do not love their children. Millions of parents have both loved and abused their children. Indeed, most parents believe that they are doing what is best for their children, while they are abusing them. Many people remember their parents beating them while telling them it was, “for your own good.” Many people remember their parents beating them while telling them, “You asked for it!” And there lies a key to the problem. Many people believe that they deserved the beatings they got, because their parents told them so. Many people believe that it is their fault that their parents beat them. And many people, who were beaten as children, believe that they are “okay” despite having been beaten, so, will beat their own children. It is called the cycle of abuse. This cycle is very difficult to interrupt, precisely because the parents do love their children, believe they are doing what is right and do not want to lose their children.
The majority of people who abuse their children are not monsters, nor are they crazy. Child abuse does not know any boundaries such as education level, class, income or level of sophistication. Nor does child abuse know any limits placed by religion. Child abuse exists in all neighborhoods, at all levels of income, education, and class. Much child abuse occurs through churches. Some churches still advocate beating children in front of the congregation.
All abuse is traumatizing. Anyone who has been abused as a child has been traumatized. Traumatized parents will have difficulty raising their own children. Occasionally it happens that a child will recognize, during his or her childhood, that what his or her parents are doing to her or him is wrong and she or he will begin to plan to be a different sort of parent. Although they can do a better job, it is difficult. When a traumatized parent’s child begins to go through the normal Terrible Twos stage of growth, it can be very difficult for that parent to restrain him or herself from doing what her or his parents did. The parent often feels as if a child’s normal temper tantrum is directly assaulting him or her. It feels as if the child’s tantrum is saying, “You are a bad parent!” Or “You gave birth to a bad child!” Or “You are spoiling your child!” This thinking is especially true if a parent is out in public with his or her child and the child begins to have a tantrum. Then there are others witnessing. Few abused, traumatized parents understand that most two or three-year-old children will have tantrums occasionally and it is not a reflection on the parent. Few abused, traumatized parents know how to handle a child’s temper tantrum effectively.
The opposite of abuse is spoiling a child. Some abused adults will react in a manner that is completely different from their parents and spoil the child. Allowing the children to have their own way, most of the time and giving them whatever they want, when they want it. Children who are raised in this manner often become highly self-centered. The purpose of parental discipline is to help children learn self-discipline. No one can be in our society and do whatever they want, anytime they want, without regard for others. If children are raised to think they can be this way, they will have a difficulty developing healthy relationships during their adult years. Healthy discipline is not abusive, and a lack of discipline may be perceived as a different sort of abuse. Children need guidance and guidance can be given positively. It is a question of being a balanced parent.
The first step to begin to resolve this type of problem is for parents to recognize that they have been either traumatized, or spoiled during their childhood. Recognizing the problem can be difficult. When we are in and part of a situation, it is difficult for us to see it objectively. A few visits to a counselor or therapist can help a parent begin sorting through his or her issues. Getting counseling is the most important step a parent can take. A good enough therapist will be able to gently guide a traumatized or spoiled parent through his or her traumatic experiences, toward becoming healed, whole and healthy. Too often, children are brought into therapy, when it is actually the parents who need therapy. A good enough therapist will be able to perceive the problem in the parents and will gently guide the parents into recognizing their problem. As parents heal from their traumatic, abusive (or spoiled) childhood and are treated kindly and with wisdom, they begin to feel better about themselves and about their children. Parents are then much more able to learn and use better parenting skills. As they do this, they begin to feel better and better about themselves. This is the cycle of health and is the soil in which authentic self esteem will take root and grow.
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See Also Parenting Articles by Dr. Randy Cale at www.TerrificParenting.com