Parenting Without Physical Abuse
I decided to write this article not because I want to be a parent, but because I was once a child. Educated parents world over have begun to accept that it is not ok to beat a child even if the level of irritation he or she causes is driving them mad inch by inch. The western world propagated several behaviour modelling techniques, 'time-out' being one example that stands out. It is simple enough, it works on a dog and it should ideally work on children. It is old enough now, for some of the time-out children to have grown into adults and found their own purpose in life. So let's look at the lives of two such children XX and XY through the eyes of fiction to see how they have fared. They were both well loved children from mid-income-group families.
By the time XY was two, he was already coupling sentences, and by three, he was telling stories. He had incredible amounts of energy and he always had one more story to tell before he fell asleep. If his mother realised that, it would've been good, but she thought he wouldn't sleep as long as she was in the room. So she began to leave him alone at night, after tucking him in. XY didn't like it. He couldn't adjust to the new regime for a long time and tried to change it by being cranky all day long. When she realised she couldn't control him by sharp words anymore, XY's mother brought in another new technique into the picture, called the time-out. 'I am going to punish you,' she proclaimed, making XY think of all the worse things he heard about parents from his kindergarten friends, "Go stand in that corner, facing the wall," she said. After imagining the worst, XY was quite happy to do his mom's bidding and stood in the corner. It didn't seem hard at all...for a full two minutes. After that, his back grew eyes and told him exactly when the situation looked hopeful. He kept darting looks at his mother, waiting for her to call him back, but she sat quietly on the couch knitting a sweater. He imagined she must be going through the same pain he was. His mother always knew exactly how he felt. But then, her face was calm and cool while his was crumpling by the second. Ten minutes was an unimaginatively long time for XY, while for his mother, it was one row of stitches on the new sweater. Time-out worked perfectly well on XY and his mother taught herself to provide and withdraw attention as and when it is convenient for her. It wasn't always time-out that worked, it was the principle.
XX's mother wasn't as imaginative as XY's. She knew through experience that having rules was the only way a child's behaviour can be managed. The rules can never be broken, that's the only way. She learnt it the hard way with her first child. XX was a bright child, but it was hard to get her attention. That was the only problem with her. Her mother didn't really have a reason to punish her, until she found XY eating chalk in her father's study. She gave her her first time-out. XY tried it out, just like XX, but she had none of the feelings of remorse afterwards. For the first time, she used her words and called her mother stupid. It was all very funny. The family had a good time at dinner. The chalk problem never came to cease, and by the time XX's mother tried out calcium supplements, it was too late. XX began to like it. She learnt at the age of five how to hide things from her mother, and she was successful owing to the fact that XX's mother was a working woman. Her other problems emerged soon too. Being rude to her teachers, throwing tantrums when asked to eat her food, etc. XX's mother could handle almost everything. She couldn't handle XX's fights with her brother though. It seemed like all of her work in taming her firstborn, who was almost exactly like XY we described earlier had gone to waste. The fights between the siblings were long drawn and often ended with someone getting hurt. Mostly, it was XX, but she was shameless and went after her brother again the next day. 'He's a good boy. She provoked him,' XX's mother said to her father in passion after one such fight, afraid that he might hurt the child. XX's father decided long ago not to raise his hand against his children, but her mother never believed him. She knew his temper very well, and it was simply a matter of time for it to boil and for him to lose control. For her age, XX understood her mother's situation. From then on, whenever her brother and XX were both in a time out, she stopped looking at him, waiting for the time out to be over to see if he wants to go back to the fight. She simply sat down doodling on the ground with her fingers that were always moist with sweat and very soon, fell asleep.
XX and XY met when they were adults and fell in love. He told her that he loved his mother, but she never paid any attention to him and that hurt him deeply, growing up. She told him that mothers are crazy and they never understand the emotions of their children. He should let it go. XY was a fine young man with an excellent career and he knew that the only direction he would go is up. XX was a flaky young woman who was never satisfied with a single career. She wanted all of them. Her mother called her Jack of all trades and Master of none and that was her biggest insecurity. XY pushed her to focus and become the master of one trade. Secretly, though XX wanted to become the Jack and all Trades and Master of all too. XX had emotional issues, XY had issues with lack thereof. She couldn't handle his passion, he couldn't handle her apathy. XX reminded XY of the worst things about his mother, XY reminded XX the worst things about her father. Eventually, XX became the master of a trade, but XY was no longer in her life. She put him on indefinite time-out and moved on with her life.
XY grew vengeful over time and thought about finding XX and killing her many times over a period of three months. He grew up to be a brilliant strategist and he knew very well, he would be successful at getting away with doing it. Only one question stopped him.
What if I like the act of killing?
When the time-out ends, XX is going to be back in XY's life. Just like waking up from a dream, and finding herself in her mother's arms when she was a kid.
Parenting without physical abuse doesn't guarantee that mental abuse does not happen. What is described in the story is an example of the most minimal mental abuse a mother can impart on a child. In all likelihood, she was helpless against it, despite her good intentions. Still, depending on the rest of the environment, the culture and the company a child is exposed to growing up, different kinds of rationale can develop from that tiny sliver of mental abuse. Crimes of passion are not always be performed in a fit of uncontrollable rage. XY felt helpless throughout childhood against the tides of his mother's attention. When he realized XX was the same way, he decided to do something about it. XY may never go as far as the worst case scenario, but in thoughts and in unconscious actions, he might be drawn to it over a long period of time. If circumstances are in favor of this particular fate, who could stop it? Only XY. But XY loves his mother and doesn't know where his deep seated resentment for women comes from. As such, the actions that are a result of that resentment are unconscious in nature. XY doesn't know why they happen. Who can tell him? XX can tell him, but she dumped him because she gave up fighting with her brother long ago and couldn't ever find that same level of energy to raise her voice and fight to be heard. Her mother never allowed the siblings to finish the fight they started among themselves, in fear that some physical abuse may come upon her daughter. As such XY came to believe that there is no fight worth starting in this world, and if one starts on its own, it isn't worth finishing. She grew up being fascinated by Eastern ideas of peace and non-violence and expects fate to bring good things to her. She doesn't know of any other way how they would come to her.
I would like to conclude that parenting is neither a science nor an art yet. It is a fledgling idea that is yet to take concrete shape. Ten thousand years of civilization later, humanity is still lagging behind in understanding its multitudinous forms. Only a parent can finish the story of Time Out, so lets all hope that it has a happy ending.
Note to blog readers: How to create a Delusion and The story of Time Out are experimental pieces that I am using to develop a format that involves both story telling and opinion. The idea is to merge them both together into a seamless form, so that propagating new ideas will become easier for any writer without the endless research to prove his/her point. An article is not meant to prove anything, it is merely a statement. Whether a statement of fact or fiction must be left to interpretation. So that's the purpose of these story-articles.
I will soon be posting more in the same format, so that my opinions may be heard. I want to know if I am right about them, and only a reader can tell me if I am. Thank you for reading.