Unintentional Parenting

A little boy once told me he was afraid to go to the bathroom at night because his mom didn’t allow it. Later I found out she had never banned it, she had simply spoken harshly to him after he had woken her one night going to the bathroom. But he was so scared of making her unhappy that, instead of padding down the hall quietly to the bathroom, he was peeing in his Lego container in his room and emptying it whenever he could sneak it out. I don’t think she ever realized how much she hurt her little boy, just by those few angry words. The problem was, he lived to please authority, it was just a part of his personality. But that was also crushed easily. And she crushed it. She hurt him over and over again and, instead of living in harmony, she ended up sending him away to a boarding school. They only saw each other once a year, if that. They were never the mother and son they were meant to be.

Simply because of a misunderstanding, because their personalities never learned to listen to each other.

This is a true story. 

My parents did an amazing job at watching us, learning who we were, and acting accordingly. My and my sister’s punishments were different, because we were different. She was extremely sensitive to what people thought of her. Consequently, simply the threat of displeasure would drive her to doing what my parents’ asked. On the other hand, I was really independent. I didn’t care what my parents thought. I’d rather do what I wanted or what I thought was right.

As a result, strong punishments like taking toys away or spanking or even strongly worded lectures would drive my sister to hysterical tears. So she got very mild punishments and they were enough to get her to change her ways without throwing her into hysterics. On the other hand, I didn’t care if my parents talked their mouths off. They could take away almost everything and it didn’t have much effect on me. It took a lot more work for my parents to find things to make me do what they wanted.

(Neither personality is right or wrong, I would add. Even though my sister was a lot easier to parent, she is also more easily influenced by peer pressure. On the other hand, I have a really strong inner compass. Independent children can be a pain in the butt, but once they know what’s right, they’re also hard to dissuade).

Some parents think they need to treat every child exactly equally. This is totally wrong, in my opinion. Now you should try to be fair, of course. But everybody is different, and treating children exactly the same is a lot less effective then figuring out what makes them tick and using it in your training. Punishment should fit both the child and the crime.

So here is my challenge: find out who your kids are. Are they strong? Sensitive? Independent? Remember what your own parents did well or badly. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Remember what it was like. Observe how you deal with them. Watch how they react. It may make a HUGE difference in the long run.

P.S. In the news recently, there was an article about a 15 year old girl who, along with her 11 year old sister, shot their abusive older brother and ran away. Their 3 year old sister was also in the house. Their parents were away, driving truck. They apparently started the solution of locking the 15-year-old in her room for weeks at a time when she would misbehave. She had also attempted suicide several times.

Usually, with murder, I like to punish the murderer. But this case, to me, is a little gray. Obviously, there was a lot going on in this girl’s head. And her parents weren’t paying attention or didn’t care enough to address the issue or at least look into why their daughter was trying to kill herself. This makes me blame the parents more than the girl for the murder. She had obviously cried for help thousands of times. And nobody pulled their heads out of the sand long enough to look around and see that something was wrong. 

I could have been that girl, if my family had been different. There was even a period in my own childhood that I thought about suicide, and if abuse had been added to the situation… my story probably would have gone the way hers has… And that makes me really sad. Take away God, the morals He gave me, and a great family, and instead of a promising young charity worker and author, you would have a wild, depressed, reckless young runaway. 

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