Another Way to Wound Children Under A Guise?

Another week of painful experiences in our world – the result of generations of childhood wounding that have been repressed, held at bay, denied, ignored, misnamed, normalized, completely discounted. 

Another week of shootings . . . as I write this there are reports of yet another shooting at a high school. 

Another report of a  psychiatrist who has had a sexual relationship with a patient and instead of having to go through and live with the most painful consequences of the exposure, gets away with brokering a deal to surrender his license and move abroad. And the only reason this even came out into the public is that he was once the psychiatrist of Adam Lanza, the young man who did the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. 

More weeks of a politician falling from grace, this time the Governor of New Jersey, and fighting to land “safely” despite what’s being revealed.

Another round of people so desperate for love – the desperation a sign of wounding right there – that they are willing to expose themselves in a competition for love on the reality show, The Bachelor/Bachelorette.

Once again these – and more – events happening out in public view. What about all the occurrences that result from childhood wounding that nobody ever shares or discovers? What about all the times the wounding and its consequences are kept secret? And what about all the people who look at these kinds of happenings and are either blind to the roots in childhood or refuse to see the roots in childhood?

And now, under the guise of yet another parenting fad, they’re talking about treating children like adults!  They’re talking about wounding children . . . under the guise of yet another method for parents to parent.

I can hardly believe it.

I can predict with fair certainty that in 20 to 30 years, if not before, those children will need help. Or they will be acting out in their lives – and ours – in ways that are not good for them and others affected – or downright harmful – and in ways that they and our society will deem normal, despite the harm.

I have worked with many people over my years as a depth psychotherapist. I can’t tell you how many of those people were treated like little adults when they were children. How many of those people were talked to like adults, expected to act like adults, expected to think like adults. How many of those people were told as children that they were responsible for their own feelings? Their parent could yell at them or humiliate them and then blame them for having feelings in response. How many of their parents misunderstood and/or misused the latest parenting trends at the time (like Parent Effectiveness Training), accessible therapeutic models (like the popularized version of Transactional Analysis), and social philosophies (like Ayn Rand’s individualism and objectivism) to turn their children into rational little adults? How many of those people as children were expected to feel like adults – or some version of what their parents thought adults should feel? Or some version of what their parents wanted so the parents wouldn’t have to deal with children? So the parents wouldn’t have to be triggered by their children and their children’s feelings?

I can’t tell you how many of those people were left to figure out for themselves how to get along in their families – get along with their mothers, or fathers, or extended families. How to protect themselves because nobody intervened in their behalf, because nobody protected them. I can’t tell you how many of those people had to figure out how to get what they needed from the youngest age . . . usually before they even knew what they needed or could articulate it. But even then, even as the youngest children, they were already trying to please mommy and daddy . . . as most all young children do reflexively. Even as children, they were trying to act like adults . . . from a child’s vantage point. A child cannot be an adult. A child can only pretend to be an adult. A child can only act as if s/he is an adult. A child can only be precocious enough to stretch way past the age s/he is and role play the part of an older person. A child cannot be an adult. And it is a great disservice to expect him or her to do so.  It is not an act of love, even if the parent intends it to be.

I have to wonder what the childhoods of the parents who choose to treat their children like adults were like. Lay people and celebrities alike. As with the examples above, there is a new parenting trend whose potential is huge for misunderstanding, misuse, abuse of the system – in relation to the state of consciousness and healing of the parent using it.

Some guidelines in RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) are more likely to be misused or abused than others.  For example . . . many people don’t want to hear babies cry. Crying babies often trigger memories – conscious or unconscious – of our own crying when we were babies . . . and whatever caused us to cry or however we were responded to that may have caused us more pain. Think of the parent who says, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” in an attempt to threaten and scare a child out of crying.  The RIE system doesn’t endorse stopping babies from crying, which on the surface looks like an improvement over the lengths some would go to stop a crying baby and not have to relive their own triggered pain. Rather RIE lets babies cry as long as they “want” to, justifying it with the concept of not causing them to repress their feelings. The abuse possible from this is heartbreaking.  Letting a baby cry as long as s/he “wants” to?  That’s absurd. Perhaps as long as s/he needs to if you understand that a baby’s crying is the way the baby communicates discomfort, pain, need. Then maybe the baby needs to cry until someone responds, or until his or her needs are met, or until some soothing action on the part of the parent reassures the baby that s/he is safe and loved. But if you just let the baby cry and don’t respond . . . the baby will eventually give up, whimper, and fall asleep either from exhaustion or to reflexively get away from the pain of not being responded to.  Or the baby will cry him/herself into a rage and then fall asleep from exhaustion or escape from the pain.

In other words, if you don’t respond to the baby’s crying – under the guise of letting them cry “as long as they want” so they won’t repress their feelings – you abuse and wound them terribly. You may not think you do. You may think they won’t even remember. They may not remember consciously, but their experience will show up in their lives – in their thinking, feeling, behavior, defenses, coping mechanisms, beliefs and decisions about themselves, others, and life.

Again, I have to wonder about the childhoods of the parents who choose to treat their children like adults. I have to wonder what these parents are trying to bury and forget and keep unconscious about how they were raised. I have to wonder what they are compensating for – perhaps a mother who consumed them emotionally or infantilized them way beyond the time they were infants and small children? I have to wonder who turned them into little adults. Who “parentified” them, trying to get them to take care of their own parents? Who turned them into little “partners”? Who didn’t let them be the little children they were?

Through a very important lens, one that many would like to discount, but one that cannot be pushed aside or minimized . . . our world today is very much an out-picturing of the children still alive inside the adults who are supposedly taking care of the planet. But it is the children alive inside the adults – the very children who were wounded when young and haven’t yet been helped to heal their wounds – who, from the wings so to speak, drive the families today, drive the businesses today, drive the governments today, drive the citizenry today, drive our world today. And mostly we don’t realize it. And mostly we don’t want to realize it.

Mostly we go about our own business, not realizing how the child still alive inside us is driving our life, our business, our world . . . our parenting. And then we wound our own children because we are too frightened to remember, feel, and heal from our wounds and traumas as children – from the wounds our parents inflicted on us because they weren’t doing their own healing work.

Imagine how much more distorted and how much scarier it will be to have a world populated by people who from the youngest age were treated like little adults according to a parenting fad that just happened to fit hand in hand with the parents’ own wounding . . . and who never, ever were seen, held, responded to as the real children they were. Imagine how dysfunctional it will be, under the guise of extraordinary functionality, when people don’t have memories of being little children, only memories of being little adults . . . and little or no access to the child still alive within who is actually driving their life and the life of our world, making it much more difficult to do the healing that is so needed, or even to know there is healing needed.

And now imagine a world where children are allowed to be children, where parents have done their own work – and continue to do it – and can truly be the loving, caring, guardians of their children. Where parents can truly see their children, hear and feel them, attune to their children. Where parents can be self-responsible, acknowledge their own mistakes and make repair when they’re wrong. Where parents can view their role as parents in the truest perspective: not expecting their children to take care of themselves (or them, for that matter) . . . real parents.

© Judith Barr 2014

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP MAKE OUR WORLD SAFE
FROM THE INSIDE OUT

This month, whether or not you have children of your own, make the commitment to explore how you were treated as a child. Were you expected to be a “little adult” regardless of your age? Were you – subtly or blatantly — given responsibilities and expectations beyond what you were or should have been capable of at that age? Maybe even expected to not only care for yourself, but also for your parents? Or were you, on the other hand, infantilized well past the time when you were a child…smothered by parents who could not accept your growing up? How did you feel then…and most importantly, how does this affect your life now?

If you have children…how has your own childhood affected the way you behave with them? Do you infantilize them? “Parentify” them? And what can you find in your own childhood that affects your relationship with them?

Parenting is not easy…and how much harder do we make it – on ourselves and our children –when we carry with us wounding from our own childhood experience, undiscovered and unhealed? And how much better could we be as parents if we all, each one of us, did the inner work needed to heal those wounds?

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