Reactions to an article on the NYT
Saturday October 31, 2009
Dear Alice Miller,
A recent article in the New York Times entitled “For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking” suggests that as spanking is becoming more ‘politically incorrect’ today’s parents are no longer relying on it to control behavior and are instead replacing it with shouting and screaming (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/fashion/22yell.html?_r=1&em). It was encouarging to hear that some parents are no longer spanking (even if externally motivated) but it was disturbing, though not entirely surprising, to see that the roots of violence continue to be overlooked. Without that awareness, parents who are encouraged to put down one violent tool will invariably pick up another and use it to the same damaging effect without ever inqiring about the source of their aggression toward their children. There continues to be a cultural incapability to experience the violence in our souls that has accrued through the generations. Instead, denial becomes the dominant mechanism that keeps feeding the flames of our own projections. Instead of facing the violence, we pass it on. Perhaps the temporary feelings of exile and alienation that come from dismantling the intricate network around the idealization of the parents is more than most can bear with the support available to them or the support they can even imagine.
Even more disturbing was the reaction of readers to the article. I read through the first 150 email responses and there was only one that showed any awareness that the blows that children suffer are registered deep within the body and have long-lasting detrimental effects on the developing intelligence and the behavior of children. Some parents expressed exasperation at having to ‘give up’ these tools (spanking and yelling), feeling as though they were becoming increasingly trapped in a place of powerlessness. Some parents mis-interpreted the article as a demand for perfection and felt considerable resentment at being made to feel guilty about their actions toward their children, a response that probably helps insulate them from their own experience. Some parents thought that by shouting at them they were teaching their children how to express feelings. Some parents absolved themselves by saying that they didn’t need to yell anymore, that just the threat of yelling was enough to maintain the desired behavioral control. But the threat of violence is still violence. In many of the responses was the common theme of control –that parents need to control kids and that kids and parents need to control themselves. There was a strong focus on getting children to obey in order to become functioning adults –in other words, not treating children as children but as the functioning adults they need to become, denying them the developmental experience of who they are in the moment. Many of these parents just wanted ‘the answer’ to come from outside themselves. They wanted someone to hand them a simple solution with a guarantee of the only outcome they can imagine — control of the child. Still other people claimed that kids need to be tough to survive in the world, but it’s this instilled toughness that creates the need to interpret the world as hostile.
The most effective path of course would be to challenge their own histories but this is nowhere to be found on their palette of options. As you point out: “If the mechanism becomes conscious, if people are allowed to become aware of what their parents did to them, they would surely try to direct their response to the preceding generation and not the following one.” This idea seems lost on our culture. No one suggested searching their own histories for the truth and instead used their own violent histories to justify the propogation of abuse.
Children communicate primarily on an unseen, feeling level. Most of these parents probably don’t realize that their children have already mapped to the parent’s state of being, conscious and unconscious, and that their angry words are validating what they already know. As you pointed out so eloquently: “children live out the unconscious of the parents”. Many of these parents expressed frustation that their kids were always pushing their buttons — buttons that the parents refuse to touch themselves.
People do not seem to understand just how much of the right kind of love a child needs to grow up to be healthy, whole and who they are. And it seems that people are dead-set against finding out. The primary task of parenting, as I see it, is to take care of the heart of the child, not in sentimental way, but in a fierce way that encourages a full experience in the world where they can claim the unconditional love which is their birthright.
Thank you so much for all your insights through the years and the courage with which you voice them to a struggling and often deaf world.
P.S. Please publish if you think useful.
AM: Thank you for informing us about the reactions to the New York Times article. They are very disturbing indeed but also very informative because they show how parents feel and think about their children even today. They show also how a prestigious newspaper do everything it can to keep its readers in the deepest ignorance when it goes to the issue of common abuse and disrespect in what is so nicely called child-rearing. The recent scientific discoveries of the much telling effects of violence on the child’s brain seem still unknown to the edtitors of the NYT.