When I found out I was pregnant with my first child over 9 years ago and I decided that I would keep the pregnancy and raise the child, I also decided that I was going to do things differently. I was not going to be the type of parent my parents were, I was not going to be the type of parent that I seemed to see almost everywhere.
Even though I was 21 when I became pregnant, I could still remember childhood as if it was the day before yesterday. I remembered what it was like to be a child and to be reprimanded, yelled at, spoken to sternly, finger wagging… yet I do not remember what it was I was getting in trouble for, only that these adults who were supposed to take care of me and protect me, were not to be trusted with my emotions or my body. All I remember from all of that negative feedback is that I was bad, I was not a good kid, and that I messed up far more than I ever did anything good or right.
I did not want to do this with my children, I wanted things to be different for them. They deserved to be respected, just as any adult person. They deserved to be listened to, they deserved to be forgiven for the accidents and mistakes that they would make in the natural process of learning how to navigate their bodies and the world around them. They are meant to feel protected by adults, not fearful or weary of them.
It seems that most adults have forgotten what it is like to be a child, maybe I am just fortunate that I have so many memories going back to a very early age. Adults, parents and non-parents alike, seem to hold children to an impossible standard in which the child (no matter how young) should know how to communicate and behave in a manner that is socially expected of adults. We forget that children are not born with fully developed brains, that it takes quite a few years for them to even have full control over their own balance and motor-skills. Children are not born with knowledge of the social norms of their environment, these are things that they must learn through trial and error as they get older – yet we get angry at them for making mistakes in situations they have never encountered before.
I have immersed myself in parenting books and self-education on child development. I was determined that I would do it differently, that I would do right by my children rather than doing what was most convenient for me.
What I was not prepared for was the fact that society, in general, seems set up for parents like me to fail. What I did not factor in to all my self-education and preparation was other people – including a co-parent who, in hindsight, seemed intent from the beginning to sabotage the efforts to treat our children with respect and empathy and understanding.
Our society is obsessed with authority. What hope did someone like me ever have in raising my children with respect when I live in a world that seems enthusiastic in its lack of respect and its lack of empathy and understanding? Our society dominates children. We force them into obedience, we force them to conform to the status quo. There is no love or no compassion for a child learning its way in life, children face the ruthless reality that adult life is a “dog eat dog” competition. A competition for what? I don’t know… maybe for who can be the biggest asshole while gaining the most material wealth.
And even within the walls of my own home, my children and I are not able to avoid the dominance-and-power-oriented mentality that I see so frequently on display when I enter the social sphere. My children’s father, the person whom I am legally bound to, is entrenched in the dominance-and-power schima. It seems that he sees disrespect and a fight for power everywhere in life, including in his own home. Any action or behavior exhibited by the children he sees as a play for power and as a sign of disrespect, which leads my children’s father to act as an authoritarian. He sees himself as entitled to more respect and more power than he is granted in work and in society, and this causes him to take on an authoritarian rule inside our home. The children are expected to listen, obey, jump, sit, beg, good dog, because “he says so”. And this authoritarian rule has lead to struggles of power where there should never be such displays – a child should feel wrapped in safety and love by their parents, not dominated over.
This is repeated in many families in the U.S. This is how we perpetuate the cycle of disrespect and lack of empathy in our society. By treating our children in this manner, they will grow up learning that power is something to strive for and that dominating over others is how to gain the power they lack. This will always result in dominance over those who are weaker and more vulnerable, whether that weaker more vulnerable person is a child, a partner, a co-worker, a friend… this insatiable urge for gaining power and demanding respect will encroach on all relationships. Who is dominating me? Who can I dominate to reclaim some of my lost power?
This is the cycle of abuse. This is the cycle of violence. What we do to our children, they will do to society when they join “the real world”.
I have been warned by adults with and without children that if I do not teach my children about the “real world” which is apparently a “cruel, harsh place” that they will get trampled on, they will be used as a doormat by others. These people (my children’s father included) seem to think that the way to prepare children for this reality is to trample on them, use them as a doormat, treat them with disrespect and lack of empathy to prep them for an adult life filled with disrespect and lack of empathy.
Is this what we want for our children? Is this what we want for ourselves? I am willing to bet that most people do not actually want to live in a world like this. For those of us with kids, that means that we end the cycle of abuse and violence by ending these power struggles with our children. Respect them: when they are acting out, instead of dominating them give them extra love and empathy instead. This is the closest thing I have to a solution.
I am exhausted. After 31 years of being dominated by strangers, acquaintances, and by the people who are supposed to love and care about me I am tired. I do not want this for my children, or any children for that matter. Dominance and power creates a society filled with people who are only able to think about themselves and their own self-interest, and I find that abhorrent.
I feel beaten and bruised by living in this kind of society. But I am not willing to sacrifice my hope for a better future in a pathetic attempt at grabbing for power and dominating over others. My children face lack of respect and understanding from their father and from society, but they will not be treated like that by me. Maybe my actions alone will not be enough to prevent them from continuing this dominance-and-power routine when they are grown, but I will not be able to forgive myself if I do not try. I am responsible for my own actions and behaviors, I cannot and will not control others.
And, likewise, no one has control over you or your behaviors. When you act like a shitty person, that is on you. No one forced you to do it, you chose that route. When someone disrespects you, when someone shows you lack of empathy, and you go on to treat others with lack of respect and empathy – that is YOUR choice. You do not get to put the blame on those disrespecting people for YOUR behaviors and choices. If you are going to continue the cycle of dominance and power, then you need to take responsibility for that choice and for your subsequent actions. No blaming the “real world” or the “dog eat dog world” or “harsh reality”. YOU are the one who chooses to perpetuate that, YOU are the one who chooses to continue that cycle by acting within that system of power and dominance. It is not being forced on you, you are CHOOSING to continue the cycle of violence when you do not choose the route of empathy, respect, and understanding with your children.