A teenager once described that the most painful words she ever heard came from her own mother. She had been called many things from as far back as she could remember, but the words which hurt the most were those which made reference to a female dog and a prostitute, words shouted to her by her own mother. It did not matter that this young girl knew that people often curse each other with little, if any, thought of the true meaning of the words. She just knew that the intent was very exact – to inflict as much pain as possible. She believed that if her mother thought these things about her, then it must be true. Words are as powerful and as deliberate as blows if they are delivered with equal violence. Knowing that her mother probably was not even thinking of the meaning of the words she fired at her did not make this young girl feel any better. All that she knew was that her mother had called her a ‘female dog’ and a ‘bad woman’.
Parenting is a difficult job and it is a job that no one is ever sufficiently prepared to do. The little bundle that comes home from the hospital comes with many things along with the joy. There is no prior training and very little warning of the exhaustion, the frustrations, the fears, the tears, the moments of helplessness and exasperation which comes with raising another human being. Parents are the mentors for each new generation, but all of the learning to do the job occurs on the job itself. There is no manual. Caring for a child can sometimes be overwhelming, but being a good parent is absolutely essential.
Bad parenting can lead to anger, depression, self-harm, and even suicide in children. Children who are rejected and mistreated, both physically and verbally, develop a poor image of themselves- they feel useless and worthless. They feel unloved. This can result in the use of drugs in an attempt to silence the sadness, or turning to gangs or predators in the hope of finding acceptance and a misguided version of love. Children are dependent on their parents to create a positive experience of the world and parents have a responsibility to learn how to do that.
Here are some the things that might lead to better parenting:
See your child as an individual:
As much as your child was born to you, she is still an individual. She has her own way of being in the world. She has her own hopes, her own dreams, her own way of speaking, walking, her own pace in doing things. Your daughter is not a copy of you. See her for who she is and appreciate the unique beauty that makes her special. Teach her to love herself and to discover her gifts and a healthy way to live and grow. Love her for who she is and not who you think she should be. It is the purest form of love. Your actions determine what kind of man and what kind of woman your son and daughter will become.
Place blame and anger where it belongs:
It is easier to project rage and revenge on a child, rather than direct it towards the spouse, ex-partner or father who rightly deserves it. A child cannot strike back, she cannot inflict harm. Children need their parents, so they will endure many things in order to not be rejected or abandoned by a parent. Furthermore, if a father is missing from the family, children often have no-one else to turn to or to care for them other than their mother. If a mother is angry at a child’s father, direct the anger where it belongs – at the father. A daughter is not responsible for her father leaving, being unfaithful or not providing financial support. She is a victim of rejection as well. She can be an ally and a comfort. She is not the enemy. Fathers are equally guilty of taking out their anger for the mother on the child. No child bears blame for the behaviour of the adults.
Remember your own experience:
Every parent has had parents. Every parent has been a child. Every parent knows what it feels like to be screamed at, hit, accused wrongfully, made to feel foolish, inadequate, clumsy and incompetent. Every parent also knows the words, the moments, the looks and the touch from a parent or cherished adult, which made him feel important and loved. In life it is important to learn what to do based on life experience and observation of others. Parenting is no different. It is important that parents remember the good things that adults did when they were growing up, and work towards using those skills in raising their children. It is also just as important to remember the things that felt awful and to vow to not repeat those. In other words, learn from both the good and the bad.
Pause before you lash out, even with words:
When you feel the anger rising, before losing control and doing something harmful, it is better to break away, leave the situation and come back when the rage has calmed. This gives a parent the time to think and the ability to see the child as a person that is loved and not just as a source of frustration.
It is important that a parent takes time out for herself. If there is no spouse, arrange with a family member or a trusted friend to take over the parenting duty periodically. Just leaving the children to go to work is not enough. Stress and resentment can build up when a person feels alone and lonely. Take the time to do something enjoyable, to have fun, to refuel. Take time to rest. Adequate sleep is one of the most important factors in managing stress. Without enough sleep a person can become irritable and short-tempered. It becomes difficult to think and make good decisions. A minimum of seven to eight (7-8) hours sleep per night is the recommended amount. Go for a walk on the beach or spend some time with someone who makes you relax.
‘Sorry’ goes a long way:
Parents are human, so they are bound to make mistakes. When that happens, take time to talk things through with your children. Tell them what made you so angry and what you can both do differently next time before the situation gets out of hand. This is good role modeling for children on how to learn from mistakes and to take responsibility when they do something wrong.
If you tried everything and you find that it is still difficult to cope, get help from a professional. There are free counselors and therapists available in the psychology department at the Joseph N France General Hospital (465-2551, ext. 2304/2255), at the Counselling Center, located at Greenlands, Basseterre (465-5000) and at Community Centers located at many sites around St. Kitts.
"LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column appears monthly, and is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine".
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