I write about my abusive childhood a great deal. Often, it’s difficult not to. Today I was reading an article on Facebook about a father who took his teen daughter’s telephone away from her due to some inappropriate pictures on the telephone. The issue ended up in court, which in my opinion was a failure in parenting on the mother’s part for calling the police instead of communicating with the father. I also believe they should have communicated and worked together to decide on an appropriate consequence. While I say that, the father’s consequence does seem appropriate to me. When the parents don’t work together, even when they are separated or divorced, everyone loses, especially the child.
I was telling a friend that I didn’t see what the father did as a punishment but more as a consequence. No, it’s not just a matter of semantics. at least not to me.
I grew up in a crazy, abusive household, where looking at my father wrong, or standing to close to him when he was in a bad mood would get you hit. I am familiar with the concept of punishment. I am familiar with its randomness. I am familiar with violence, although the two, punishment and violence, I mean, would not necessarily not have to go together.
My sister and I had different rules in the home we grew up in. She was mildly developmentally delayed. They adopted her when she was a little girl, first fostering her. I loved my sister, just for the record. Although, my parents, broken as they were worked very hard to try to make us hate each other.
They randomly beat both of us for a while. Then, that stopped as suddenly and as randomly as it seemed to begin.
From that time on, I had one set of rules and she another. Or to be more accurate, I had rules, and she didn’t have any rules.
I would tell my parents that my sister stole something out of my room and they would say, “Consider the source.” I would tell my parents that my sister lied to me or about me to someone at school, like a teacher, or to a neighbor. They would say, “Consider the source.” Not very imaginative, my parents.
That was what they did. They said that sentence over and over and put locks on my bedroom door for me to use when I left the room, and on their bedroom door, on a cabinet downstairs to keep her from stealing from them, and eventually on the telephone because neighbors complained that she called them very early in the morning to talk to them. Problem solvers, my parents were.
My sister continued to lie and steal, what a shock.
I was required to get A’s in all of my classes at school. I was required to be a perfect student and daughter. Never mind that I knew that I was not perfect, that I could never be perfect, and I lived in fear of what would happen when my parents figured that out. My parents also consistently told me I was stupid and worthless in so many ways. However, they did require that I follow rules and get good grades. Do not mistake that for praise of my parents in any way, shape, or form.
My parents did my sister no favors. She grew up to be an adult that continued to lie and steal. People did not trust her. She did not work at any traditional jobs. She could not keep a job. She lived with my parents well into her adulthood, until she married a man that she eventually divorced. She told me herself that she didn’t think she could live alone. My parents convinced her she was incapable of it. They spent her childhood convincing her that she wasn’t capable of doing anything.
I went on to move out of my parents’ home when I was nineteen. At eighteen I attended college for a year. Then at nineteen I moved into my own apartment and continued to attend college. I never moved back although I did visit them. It took me many years to process that what they did to me was abuse. They pretended to be perfect parents in public. They attended church. Everyone liked them. They didn’t know them like my sister and I did.
I went on to work with abused and neglected teenagers in residential treatment, group homes. Ironic, I know. I learned about consequences and how to give them in a reasonable and fair way.
I believe that consequences are important. Giving your children consequences is important. You can and should do it with love, respect, and do it calmly. My parents did not know how to do that and were not capable of doing that. I decided when I was seven, ironically during a beating, that I was not going to treat my child like my parents were treating me.
I learned from them how NOT to be a parent. I learned how NOT to be a person. I learned how NOT to do everything.
I worked with an intelligent, kind teenage boy in one of the group homes who would ask me for permission to do something. I would calmly say, “You can do anything you want to. You just have to live with the consequences. Just like everyone else.” He would smile at this every time. I think he liked the idea that he could make his own decisions.
My point is that, this applies to all of us. We all have to live with the consequences of our actions. Adults get consequences in the form of a speeding ticket if we speed when we drive. If our boss is not happy with our work, we may get fired. If we do not treat our spouses well, we may have a problem in our marriage or relationships or even lose that relationship. If we choose our friends well and maintain healthy friendships with them, we have a good support system.
Children also receive consequences for their actions, but the adults in their lives are usually in charge of them. The adults, usually the parents are responsible for teaching their children about life, protecting them, and helping them learn to process and even identify their emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and frustration.
Please don’t feel badly for giving your child a reasonable, fair consequence in a calm, respectful manner. You are teaching respect. You are teaching life skills. You are teaching patience.
Also remember the positive consequences like telling your child when he or she has done something well, like when they treat the family dog with kindness and gentleness, when they are patient with a sibling, when they make a good attempt at cleaning up their room, or whatever great or good thing they have done.
Please use time outs for young children, one minute for each year of age. They do work if you are consistent. No, it’s not easy. Nothing important ever is.
Please take away privileges for older children, for reasonable periods of time. Don’t say forever or give consequences that you won’t follow through on.
Don’t give the consequences when you are angry or upset. Tell your child they will receive a consequence but you are angry or upset and you will wait until you have calmed down to give them a reasonable consequence. This is good role modeling.
Please role model appropriate behaviors for your children. Be patient, be kind. Also please be silly and playful and have fun.
Children need limits. It helps them to feel safe as children and into adulthood.
Please don’t hit, don’t spank. It teaches violence and fear. It is not necessary. Ever.
My parents did my sister no favor in letting her do whatever she wanted to. She did not feel safe. Even as an adult, she felt like she couldn’t live alone. That wasn’t fair to her. She deserved so much more.