I have been thinking about parenting this weekend. Tonight, we had my son’s friend for dinner, who lived with us last year, which is a usual Sunday night thing. We watched The Voice and he told me he had blocked his terrorising parent from his phone and on social media. He’s sad but he’s at peace with it. It’s a sign of accepting that this parent can’t do the work on themselves to be worthy of parenting that child. It’s also a sign the child is nearly an adult.
It’s a brave thing to stand up to an adult as a child. Impossible without support from another adult. A social worker from the Department of Human Services once said to me, “They will be okay if they have one adult standing up for them. They only need one.”
I have tried to be that “one adult” to my children’s friends when asked. I know what it’s like to have no control in your childhood, and if I multiply this feeling by 1000, then I might be able to experience what some children feel in a home where alcohol abuse is rife, and where you’re being set up to fail with extreme rules and severe punishments that the other siblings don’t receive, where you’re invalidated by your mother because you’re being “dramatic,” when you’re told you need to be a perfect student by parents who never got a perfect mark in their life, and have shitty, mediocre jobs. When you get grounded for being one minute late after curfew, where your passion for music is used as a punishment, when you start taking drugs to escape the pain of your home.
And that’s when they call me and I sort shit out.
I have sat with a kid who is not mine in a hospital from 1 am till 6 am, talking to the doctors, hoping like hell he doesn’t do it again. I have picked up kids at 4am, drunk in a park. I have talked down kids on acid and cleaned up vomit from the drunk ones. I have been sworn to secrecy about things that happened and I have always taken this seriously. When I break this, it’s because I’m so worried that I have to speak to the parent. That I have a duty of care to them, and it’s time to get serious. I have sobered up kids and then spoken to them about the liver and alcohol and how they need to drink more water, and how they need to know it’s okay to say no to the next drink. I have discussed the issue with ICE and showed kids the MRI of a brain on ICE, and discussed the autopsies of the addict’s brain after taking ICE (BTW- It’s the greatest anti-drug message I know of.) I have had 20 children in my house after the funeral of their friend, and fed them and held them and driven them and been there for them. I have talked about cortisol and serotonin and pain and loss, and that sometimes, parents are just not very good at it, and I I have tried over and over to be the best adult I can be to my own kids and to others when there are so many narcissistic idiots pretending to be perfect to their community.
When I spend time with my own kids now who are now really adults, I witness the way we talk, hang out, laugh at ourselves and each other, the passion they have for their interests is exhilarating and inspiring. The responsibility and bravery they have in equal amounts is overwhelming. And the biggest truth I know is that anytime as children, they fucked up, or they weren’t in a good place mentally, it was our fault as parents. We weren’t protecting them or we weren’t there enough, or we had expectations that were unreasonable, etc etc. So we would go and work on ourselves and they would benefit. A rising tide lifts all boats, non?
So, why do so many people think they don’t need to self-improve once they have kids?
Right now I’m working with a barrister and lawyers on a large child advocacy legal service and it’s disheartening how many people call themselves good parents, not seeing that they are the reason their child is one step away from stepping off a tall building.
Emotional abuse is the worst. A child can be removed for emotional abuse. The DHS in Victoria sees the red flags of emotional abuse in a child as:
● Has low self-esteem.
● Exhibits unexplained mood swings.
● Exhibits age-inappropriate behaviours, for instance, overly adult (parenting other children) or overly infantile (thumb sucking, rocking, wetting or soiling).
● Is withdrawn, passive, tearful.
● Exhibits aggressive or demanding behaviour.
● Is highly anxious.
● Has difficulty relating to adults and peers
Emotional abuse is the least reported but has the most effect on a child’s adult life, if they make it that far.
So what is emotional abuse?
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, it is:
- rejecting: the adult refuses to acknowledge the child’s worth and the legitimacy of the child’s needs;
- isolating: the adult cuts the child off from normal social experiences, prevents the child from forming friendships, and makes the child believe that he or she is alone in the world;
- terrorizing: the adult verbally assaults the child, creates a climate of fear, bullies and frightens the child, and makes the child believe that the world is capricious and hostile;
- ignoring: the adult deprives the child of essential stimulation and responsiveness, stifling emotional growth and intellectual development;
- corrupting: the adult “mis-socializes” the child, stimulates the child to engage in destructive antisocial behaviour, reinforces that deviance, and makes the child unfit for normal social experience.
My take is, work your own shit out before you parent anyone. Look at the way you were parented and see if it’s normal or questionable. How did you feel as a child? Anxious? Scared? Happy? Worried? WORK IT OUT!
Next month I go to court for a child who deserved better. I will do it again and again until children know they have rights, that they deserved better and that there is someone out there who believes in them.
For any child reading this who might be suffering from this abuse, please click here for a support service in Australia. and It’s not your fault that this happened, you did nothing wrong. Your parent’s job is to love you, not hurt you. They are wrong, not you.
For adult survivors of child abuse and trauma, please contact Blue Knot and they can help you. You’re amazing, never forget that. You are here, you survived.
And for parents who want to do better, be better, click here for a start. I commend you for wanting to change.