I notice that many parents abuse children around here. Many will not accept what I have to say… after all, I run in highly educated circles and spend time with people who dig discussing childrearing philosophies over designer cocktails. Folks in my neighborhood (Capitol Hill) invest heavily in their kids…Soccer on The Hill, French classes, sewing lessons, visits to the White House… We are all about igniting our kids’ dreams and passions. In such a crowd, nobody would admit to being abusive.
Abuse is, after all, actions of monsters. Abusers rape and beat their children. Abusers do not take their offsprings to the Smithsonian museums followed by trips to Annadale for Korean barbeque, and then nights out at the Kennedy Center.
I wonder if we are willing to bring to mind the parent who could not say “no” to a child for fear of his disapproval. Will we consider the parent who projects an idealized perfectionism toward her child? (That is the stereotypical Washingtonian parent.) Such a child can never fail, as every weakness risks [emotional] abandonment from the parent. Will we recall the mother who keeps having children so that she could hide behind them and disengage with everyone else? Does this parent ring the bell: He constantly modifies the family menu and controls the eating of his children because of his own body image issues? More privately, there is the mother who has a momma’s boy, and the father who has a daddy’s little girl, the children who have been made surrogate spouses to play the roles of confidante, caretaker of siblings and mediator between parents. Do we consume our children? Do we abuse them? Are we a ball of turmoil when we cannot control our children…or do we shut down (go watch TV, kids! or the more sanctioned version: I signed you up for another activity so you can leave me alone)?
Using children as a way to gain approval and comfort is a form of abuse to cope with unresolved pain and anger. Like rape, this kind of consumption can cause PTSD and other psychological issues. The kinds of abuse I just mentioned are subtle and insidious. I am burdened to write about this topic, because our parenting can look so good on the outside, yet we can still be seriously harming our own children by our violation of their personal boundaries. I witness chronic abuse in some families, and it breaks my heart.
The only way for parents to stop abusing our children is by giving ourselves the grace of time to process our emotions and needs often and thoroughly (self care is NOT selfish) so that we do not project our unresolved needs onto our children. These days, when I have to make a parenting decision, I make sure to ask myself, “Am I using them?” I had certainly centered parenting around my own needs at one time. I am so glad to have had a wake-up call about the dangers of this kind of child abuse; my family has been happier and healthier for it. I hope this message will bring about many positive changes in presently abusive families.