Following Your Heart

Sometimes, although the belief in punishing is present, people’s hearts aren’t in it, that is to say, many parents don’t punish, or at least don’t punish much, despite sharing the normal belief in it, despite that they don’t condemn their own parents punishing practices. Many simply don’t have the stomach for it, which is a good thing. Many of today’s parents have intuitively seen through the sham, even if not many have in a cerebral way.

I personally know of a family, which has a lot of the characteristics of a classic abusive situation, where there was drug abuse by both of the parents, with alcoholism and much anger, frustration, and ambivalence regarding his own parents on the part of the father, and co-dependent issues. The kids, though, seem to have survived it fairly well, at least there doesn’t appear to be substance issues or violence; they are in their early twenties now and seem to be making lives for themselves. In many ways, it appears that the marriage is a clone of the father’s parents’ marriage. There is the dad’s alcoholism, frustration and anger, and there is the mom’s co-dependence and compensation (some would say ‘over-compensation’) strategy, but the newer generation of kids seems to have suffered much less damage. The kids of the previous generation in the father’s family were pretty messed up. The difference is in the use of punishment, as far as I can see.

Whenever I mention this book to the younger mother, I get in the usual arguments, arguments I get a lot on this subject; she doesn’t see either that anyone punishes, or that there’s anything wrong with parents wanting or getting it all their way, depending on the particular point we’re discussing – but she never hit her kids, and hardly grounded or anything. There may have been a certain amount of compensation or co-dependence in that, an attempt to provide the kids a nicer life than they got from their dad, but he was forbidden any sort of physical punishing as well, that was her line in the sand. The upshot seems to be, despite all the typical elements of abusiveness – he was verbally and emotionally horribly abusive – there was very little in the way of punishment. That is the contrast from one generation in this family to the next, while the grandmother denies her punishing, or denies any extreme punishing, she punished, and her kids were badly damaged. In the younger generation, while the mother professes not being opposed to parental rule and the parents’ right and duty to do it, she didn’t punish, and the kids appear to have survived much better. All the while, the grandfather and the father appear identical, except the younger man was forbidden to use physical punishment.

This case seems to make a very clear case that the alcoholism and the verbal and emotional abuse being common, the outcomes were very different, and the difference was in the use of punishment. With no punishing, the children seem to have survived an abusive situation, while the generation that were punished show all the expected signs of abuse.

This is anecdotal, to be sure . . .

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