My Journey into Parenting

When we finally caught pregnant and made it past the first three months, we decided we were on our way, and we set up a bedroom for the baby. We cleaned a room, painted it, and found a nice crib – but before the baby arrived, we had changed our minds. We’d been thinking and talking a lot about raising children, and it had occurred to us that no animal on earth except Homo Sapiens Sapiens puts their infants away from them like that, out of arms’ reach, especially down the hallway in another room. Just imagine our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees or bonobos having a separate nest for their babies, where they would be easy pickings for predators of all sorts! We had learned to see that idea as counter-intuitive at best, completely unnatural in the mid-range, and a total set-up for even the worst kinds of abuse – privacy for any horrible act by anyone –in the worst case. We placed the crib against our bed, with the bedside wall taken off. We became a ‘family bed’ family, and remained as one for longer than we ever would have imagined, long past what was to be a lengthy nursing period. It was just the most natural, most loving, and the safest thing to do.

I don’t know when it hit me exactly. I know it came out of what I’ve called ‘the many problems’ in the first few chapters, the umpteen sorts of failed childhoods that people spend their lives recovering from and my suspicion that everyone is suffering that sort of pain, even those who can’t claim one of the popular abuse syndromes. There was something else, too. It was the disenchantment of growing up, the feeling of having been lied to – well, that’s too strong, but I never have been free of a certain childish judgement that life was not what it should be. As a young man, I read about Maya, the world of illusion, in “The Glass Bead Game” the Hermann Hesse novel, and some yoga book, and it struck a chord in me. I think I’ve always seen two worlds at once, the world we have and the one we only say we have. I think in the one we say we have, children are loved, the policeman is your friend, the western world is full of functional democracies, and there are good people and bad people. In that world, we can change the bad people by hurting them.

In the world we have, however, hurting people only hurts them.

In the world we really have, punishing people only hurts them. Punishing people has all the negative effects that abusing them has, and that is our state of affairs, that is what has happened to very nearly all of us. This was my epiphany. Punishment is abuse, only legitimate: abuse with an excuse.


The Common Denominator

There are many ways in which child-rearing can be mishandled, many sorts of trauma and many corresponding types of damage that we suffer. As I said earlier, raising children is not what we call a ‘mature science,’ and although we may think it is, in actuality, the scientific method has really never been applied to it. In a sense, I think the old one about the elephant being examined and described by a group of blind men is appropriate –

One man at the elephant’s backside feels the tail and says “an elephant is very like a rope.”

One at the side says “an elephant is very like a wall.”

One at the trunk says “an elephant is very like a snake.”

One feels a leg and declares “an elephant is very like a tree.”

The story has many versions and there is more to it, but the aspect I’m going for here are the several different views from various limited perceptions of one unimaginable thing. I think it’s most likely that the varying forms of childhood trauma may all be aspects of a single, larger thing, and that thing is our belief in punishing, our faith that a process of ‘bringing the pain’ produces good things in us and in the world. It is this belief that helps to make all the forms of childhood trauma either more justifiable, or at least easier to hide.

Psychology has put forth the idea that abuse and trauma are damaging to people, particularly developing people, meaning children. I think this broad idea is largely accepted among the majority. There is a lot of material about it, and types of abuse and its effects are many and well documented. There is no end to the number of the types of childhood damage that can be named, among them, issues of

– Physical abuse
– Sexual abuse
– Abandonment
– Alcoholism and drug addiction
– Verbal abuse
– Emotional abuse

This is not a complete list, and of course some of these categories overlap, and include one another to some degree or other, but it serves to make a point. Again, there are many ways in which child-rearing can go wrong, many types of trauma that can affect us, and many sorts of damage that former children can and do live with, with varying degrees of success.

Much of psychology and personal counselling deals in the details of these particular sorts of problems. There are substance abuse counsellors, rape or incest counsellors and support groups. Often there are very specific things that can be pointed out to people, very specific errors left in the victims’ minds due to the type of abusive environment, or more to the point, many specific kinds of emotional support for the type of feelings that result from it. Of course, these kinds of support and therapies are well informed and well intentioned, and provide a great deal of help for a lot of people. It’s all good. Having said that however, it does sometimes seem that everybody can find one or more of these specific errors in their own childhoods, it can become unavoidable to think that everyone has problems, and if so, that maybe we are getting bogged down in the details, and that all the various forms of abuse might be masking a bigger problem. At some point, it starts to appear that rather than all these kinds of trauma being distinct things in themselves, that they may in fact be various aspects of a larger, almost universal cause, the common denominator in the equation, or perhaps a common facilitator that makes them all possible.

– here’s part #2