03 June 2008

More on Abuse

My last post started me thinking about abuse in general, not just from teachers. I was abused as a child. My parents themselves were abused and probably their parents before them.
My dad was the only child of an England born Irish mother and an Ireland born Irish father. His father was the abusive one. His mother was strict, I remember her, but his dad was terrible. He was very strict Catholic. Actually fought with the IRA in Ireland, and was forced to leave Ireland for his safety in the late 1920's. His mom and dad met on the boat coming to America. My dad was born left-handed. Well, to my grandfather, that meant he was of the devil, so he was beaten until he learned to write with his right hand. My dad was a leftie in other respects, but he learned how to write with his right hand. That's an example of how my dad grew up. I know his mother tried to shield him from some of the abuse, but she was as afraid of my grandfather as was my father. My father was a very reserved man. Didn't show a lot of emotion and kept a lot of his feelings inside.
My mom's parents were born in the States. Her mother was of Irish descent and her father was of Scot/Irish descent. Her father was an alcoholic. He emotionally and sexually abused her. Tales from her childhood are too gruesome to describe here. One story my grandmother told me was when my mom's dad came home from the bar and took an axe to my mom's piano. Fun guy huh? Although my grandmother was no saint, she didn't protect her daughter. I reference our ethnicity only because I have heard from many people raised in an Irish Catholic atmosphere. It seems the Irish Catholics like to be physically abusive. Must be in our culture.
So, those are my parents. Two only children raised in very unfortunate circumstances. So they didn't have much to pull from when they had kids of their own.
I have quite a few memories of emotional and physical abuse from my childhood. I remember being hit for throwing up in my bed. I remember having my pants pulled down in front of a neighbor, when I was about 6 or 7 years old, and beaten on my bottom. I remember getting the belt (hit with my dad's belt 5 times across my bare butt, I was 11) for hiding an airplane size bottle of vodka in my dresser drawer. It was there because I wanted a friend of mine to think I was cool. (My parents had a bar in our house, so it wasn't hard for me to find alcohol.) The older we got, the more the abuse became verbal/emotional. (Although I do remember one time my dad chasing my brother around the house trying to catch him. I know my brother was a teen at the time. Not sure what he did, but my dad was mad.) My parents liked to say hurtful things to us. My dad called my sister and me a "bitch" all the time. He said we were bitches. He actually used the "c" word on me once. Nice. I remember my sister didn't get invited to her senior prom, and my dads' exact words to her were "Even the dogs (meaning ugly girls) get asked to prom, you must be a real bitch to not get an invite". I could go on and on, the stories never end. But that's not really the point. It's what we grew up in and what we knew.
Which finally brings me to the big question: Why do people/parents perpetuate this abuse generation after generation? My mom and dad would both probably tell you (if they were alive to do so) that we had it much better than they did. And they would probably be right. Even though my parents weren't AS abusive as their parents, they were still abusive. But they didn't see it. What made me see it?
When my first daughter was born the only book I had read was "What to Expect When You Are Expecting". I didn't read about how to raise a child. I had babysat before, I thought I knew what to do. What I realized after she was born was that I instinctively did know what to do. If I trusted myself and went with my gut, I really would do right by her. I took her to bed long before I read about the Family Bed. I nursed on demand even though the doctors told me I could put her on a schedule. I just did what felt right. And sure there were times when she cried and cried, and nothing I could do would console her. But I never, ever had the urge to strike her.
When I got pregnant with my second, I began to read. I found Dr. William Sears. I found the book "The Family Bed". I understood what attachment parenting was and realized I had been practicing it. I hung out with La Leche League people. I had a supportive environment.
So I made the decision, conscious or unconscious, to not raise my children the way I was raised. I have never struck my children. I admit I was a bit more of a screamer than I would have liked to be, but that has even tempered with time. I try to treat my children respectfully. They are not my possessions, I am not their dictator. I am their loving parent. A guide, a protector, a nurturer, a leader.
I hope I have broken the cycle. My daughters know it is wrong to hurt a child. They know what attachment parenting is and that was how I tried to raise them. We are homeschoolers, so they know I like to be with them. And I do like to be with them. I think that's part of the problem in this society. Children are seen to be a burden. Children get in the way, they are messy, they require attention and money and time. People have children and really are clueless about the life changes that will result. And some become resentful, and blame the child, when in reality it is the parent that deserves the blame. People continue to blame their childhoods for the mistakes they make as adults. "I never learned any better". Well, educate yourself. "I just don't have the patience." Well take a yoga class and figure out how to get some. "It's not my fault". Maybe not, but you are an adult now, and it's time to move on. I do get really tired of listening to adults continually blame other people for their circumstances. One has to finally come to the point in their lives when they realize all the decisions are up to them. You can put your past behind you and move on. And for the sake of the next generation, they really need to.
Once again I don't know what the solution is. I have issues with how quickly Child Protective Services in this country swoop in to remove children. I think the intention is good, but the execution has failed. I do feel mothers like myself need to get the word out. We need to talk about how abuse is not ok, that there are better ways to raise children. We have the Internet now. There are websites, and books and radio programs that can give parenting advice and help people to treat their children better. Maybe every mom that leaves the hospital should get a booklet of resources. It would list names of books, links to websites, maybe even email addresses and phone numbers of people they could contact. Maybe new mothers could have a mentor. A mother to show them the kinder, gentler way to parent. Do you think people would listen? Do you think they would welcome such help or advice? I suppose I can dream, can't I?
"In a nutshell, people whose lives are hard, boring, painful, meaningless—people who suffer—tend to resent those who seem to suffer less than they do, and will make them suffer if they can. People who feel themselves in chains, with no hope of ever getting them off, want to put chains on everyone else."
~John Holt~
Teach Your Own, Introduction


jewlsntexas said...

It is sad but most people continue the cycle - it is the doing what you know mentality.
I found the same to be true that you did - my instincts were good. Even if everyone around me was telling me to do something different - I have followed my gut. I have been praised for it and I have been put down for it. I just don't care. I hope my children will repeat this cycle and get even better at it than I.

I am sorry about your childhood - but I dance with joy for your overcoming!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for sharing Donna, I had a lot of abuse too, mostly mental/emotional, some physical as a teen dealing with an alcoholic stepfather.
I vowed to treat my kids differently, I was not going to treat them the way I was treated. I don't know what makes us see it and others don't.
I'll share a quote from you that is very true:

"When we have children we are either woken to our own childhood pain and work on healing it or we inflict it on our children."
~ J.A. Wood

Of course this one:

"If I had a normal childhood, I would have nothing to write about"

Sidda Lee Walker ~ Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood

We either break the cycle or continue in it. I chose to break it and so did you and our kids will thank us for it. I have only shared a few things with my kids, I guess I don't want them to know and of course it's their granparents. My mom divorced the stepmonster and he is dead now anyway.