Struggling with old beliefs
The demand for absolute obedience from a child is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Parents often look at children as if they were just “little adults”. They also treat them as if they were all the same, and expect adult reactions from them. But like every color in the rainbow, every child is different, one from another. One child is as calm as a lake on a still, sunny day; another is caught in a storm of frenetic activity. One child listens intently; another cannot because their own internal soundscape is too loud. One child is accepting, never questioning what they are told; another is curious and questioning by nature, and must know for themselves. One child is patient and focused; another impatient and scatter-brained. One child is comical and friendly; another is serious and withdrawn. One child is blindly obedient, so eager to please; another senses injustice and powerlessness, and are confused by thoughtless demands, or enraged by angry, dishonest ones. Some children are sensitive; others are not, but the most sensitive among children, are the ones who float on the stormy seas of their parents emotions. Those children will have a very difficult time, indeed.
Too often parents make their children into servants. That’s different than teaching responsibility. There needs to be flexibility, when we are dealing with children. Parents do this because “That’s what parents are supposed to do!” Gradually, these “jobs” will “belong” to the children, even when it makes more sense, one time or another, for the parent to take care of that particular “job”. Parents often “bark” orders, reminding the child of past “indiscretions”, threatening punishment instead of pleasantly and calmly reminding a child of their “duties”. That sets the child up to fail, and “raises the stakes” in a very disfunctional parental game. A parent sitting next to the front door shouldn’t be demanding that a child on the other side of the room open the door every time, when they themselves are closer. Most children are not stupid, and will see the injustice in that. They will see the inflexibility. Parents who make their children into obedient servants, do this for one reason, and one reason only – because their own parents did that to them. They will tell you otherwise, of course.
“But they have to learn how to obey”, is the usual mindlessly repeated retort by protesting parents. This response usually comes from a place of frustration at the least, anger in most cases, exasperation and rage in other cases. If you feel rage because of your child’s disobedience, and especially if you do not give that child adequate time to respond to your often angry or threatening requests, your rage is not about the child, although you do not know that. You are allowing your own past to interfere with your, and your child’s present. Rage is only a proper response to gigantic loss or betrayal. It’s not a response to a child’s disobedience, unless you want them to be injured in the same way you were. Most of us carry our own childhood injuries so deeply inside ourselves, that often we are not aware of the extent of the damage done to us. Those injuries are not silent, however. Often they are expressed in an unyielding, inflexible, enraged attitued directed at our own children, when that rage should have been directed at our own parents long ago. Some of us were never allowed to disagree, or God forbid, disobey our parents. There would have been Hell to pay! That Hell would have been our own parent’s rage, and its consequences, the same rage, we may be directing at our children! This rage is a jealous rage, because it seeks to destroy in others, what was destroyed in ourselves. Like a wolf in waiting, neither parent nor child will ever know when it will attack. Children are led to right action through a calm, patient demeanor.
A parent doesn’t have to beat the “bejesus” (curious expression!) out of a child to do damage. When a parent is feeling this rage, and their child is experiencing their parent’s inflexible, impatient demands, one child may suddenly feel drained of energy, feel frightened and confused. Another may feel an awful feeling in the pit of their stomach, from the fear of being trapped in an out of control situation, with an out of control adult. (Their awareness is still undamaged, and they see the situation for what it is.) Some children respond “like a deer in the headlights”. One child may blame themselves for the parent’s rage, asking themselves, “Why am I so stupid. Why am I so bad. Why can’t I control myself”. (That child doubts their own awareness, no longer feeling what they truly feel, nor seeing what they truly see. They take on the false story that the parent is telling themselves.) The strongest child may feel rage at the injustice, the dishonesty, the lack of love in the parent’s actions and mood. Woe to that child! It will be “proof” to this disfunctional parent that the child “deserves” this treatment. They believe the child is challenging their authority, when in essence the child is challenging the dishonest story being presented to them. It will then become their quest to convince this sensitive, intelligent child, that what they are aware of is not true, that they, indeed are “the problem”! Awareness is eventually destroyed, perhaps losing an Einstein, a Mozart, or a Michaelangelo in the process! The child’s belief that no matter what, they will be OK is destroyed as well. They may carry these tremendous losses for the rest of their lives.
When I see the absolutely honest expression of anger, fear, determination, and sadness on a child’s face after one of these confrontations with a parent who is out of control, I pray the child can hold on for just a little longer. They still know what is true at that point, and still trust themselves. Their awareness is not yet fully damaged. Eventually, without some sort of intervention, the wolf will get the lamb. The parent’s injury then becomes the child’s, and the child’s birthright of an undamaged awareness is stolen from them.
If you are a parent or child like I describe, I hope and pray that you and they will not carry these injuries for a long time. Although healing anytime is a wonderful blessing, healing at say, fifty, sixty, or even later in life, brings with it, the knowledge, that an integral part of yourself, a powerfully creative, sensitive, empathic part of yourself, has been missing for most of your life. We need the “be jesus” in us.
© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved
Dreams and Love are the sustenance of a child’s soul, which must have an abundance of both to power them properly later as adults.
He had accumulated little of both as a child. What he had accumulated had come later in life, from therapists, friends, from his wife, and from himself, as he learned to view himself and his history with compassion. His wife had suggested that they take this trip, as a way of fulfilling some of those “lost” childhood dreams.
Darkness, drizzle and grey clouds hung in contrast to the bright lights of motels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions on the strip about a mile from the entrance to Disney World. Two young Japanese tourists hurried to their cab, which had just pulled up to the curb. On one side of the lobby was an internet café, frequented by two well-dressed professional looking women in their late twenties. Next to the front door was an ATM, numerous racks of Disney coupon pamphlets and other publications. On the right, signs indicated the way to various in-house restaurants and bars, shuttle buses, a miniature golf course and a swimming pool. People bustled everywhere with intention and good spirits, typical reactions of folks on vacation. Everywhere, folks talked and laughed unselfconsciously, especially the children.
He stood by the registration desk of The Best Western, mortified, frozen in painful all consuming self-conscious isolation, not sure how to proceed. One more humiliation, one more hope-crushing disappointment on public display robbed him of his decision making abilities. The desk clerk pretended to be busy, to not notice his discomfort. A previous motel had double billed him for a week’s stay in the Keys, and there were no funds available on his debit card for either his hotel room, or his one day at Disney. Countless phone calls had proved fruitless. This was Mickey Mouse land, a place of magic, and childhood dreams. This shouldn’t be happening here in Orlando, one mile away from fulfilling a childhood dream that he had given up on nearly 50 years ago!
Every child who grew up in the fifties and sixties shared this special dream given to them by a kindly Walt Disney; the dream of going to Disney Land, or (later) Disney World. Sometimes, if we hide things well enough from ourselves, we don’t know what we desire, until we have lost it. Disappointment didn’t even begin to describe what he was feeling. Frustration hadn’t surfaced yet. There was no room for frustration, so large was the black void of shame, despair and isolation. He would have felt no more “exposed” if he had a big letter “L” for loser tattooed to his forehead.
Why had this happened? Did he contribute to it happening? Was this some sort of punishment from the God of his parents, a God of fear and retribution or proof of the Devil’s existence? Did he deserve this? Why did stuff like this always happen to him? Was this one more proof of his parent’s assertion that he was “no good”, and that no matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, he would never be “OK” in their eyes or in anyone else’s for that matter? Would Hope always be a fantasy that he tried to hold onto, while despair was a fact that he could never disprove?