I’ve been meaning to write various iterations of this same post for a while now, and I even had a draft post finished last month that I decided not to publish because it was too personal. It was too raw, and only a few paragraphs can’t provide me with enough space to talk about the myriad ways in which abuse has impacted my life. But I think now I’m prepared to say what I’d like to in as concise a manner as possible without making it too much or too little about me, and that is: if you want to be a really good parent, you’ve got to let go of shame.
Some of you might have no idea what I’m talking about, and that might be because you were lucky enough to have been raised in a family that wasn’t bogged down by shame, and if that’s the case, you can skip this post. Just go enjoy your life, seriously. When the rest of us are done, invite us over for some chamomile tea, ’cause we’re gonna need it.
Some of you might be unwilling to admit that you know exactly what I’m talking about because you’re so mired down in a life filled with such a thick fog of shame that you can’t even see that you’re in it. That would make tons of sense to me, because America runs – no, not on Dunkin’ – but rather on the stuff that sells Dunkin’ and everything else we buy: shame. Unfettered capitalism is fueled by exploitation, and exploitation is fueled by shame. Almost every decision most of us make is motivated by shame or something like it – maybe fear, obligation or guilt. But those motives can really be distilled down to shame as well. Think about it – marketing works because we feel insecure (ashamed) and like we need to change ourselves, our lives, our surroundings. We buy creams and hair products and shave our faces and our legs in the name of achieving some beauty ideal because we are inherently ashamed of how we look naturally. We’ve been told that the way we look naturally isn’t good enough. We buy clothes and cars and junk to fill our houses in order to feel like we’ve achieved something because not buying into the myth of the American Dream is shameful. We work for far less than we are worth and we allow a handful of very important people to exploit the rest of us because we have been shamed into thinking that they are somehow better than us, more worthy of the things they have. We are worker bees, we are not as good or we would have the success they have. Our shame holds us back, keeps us down and is tearing our insides apart.
As a result, people are frustrated. We feel hopeless. Any joy we experience is momentary and fleeting, the buzz offered by a night out or a few beers. Some of us are so depleted and so exasperated we hit our kids in public. Quite openly. We’re already living in a world that has us feeling so ashamed about ourselves, and now we also feel ashamed about our kids. Because we’ve swallowed the rhetoric that children are to be seen and not heard. That children should act like little adults. That children should not exhibit the natural impulsiveness, high energy or curiosity inherent to childhood. We feel the pressure of all of the judgmental eyes around us, telling us we must be able to *control* our children, and we believe that if we can’t *control* our children, we are failures. Feelings of failure lead to feelings of shame. So we hit our children in an effort to prevent our children from being children, and our children learn that they too should feel shame simply for being who they are. Being what they are. Alive. We are born into shame. The Catholics call it Original Sin. Isn’t that nice? You just got here and already you’re a jerk who can’t do anything right.
Well of course children can’t do anything right – BECAUSE THEY’RE CHILDREN. We have to teach them how to behave. When we teach them to be ashamed of not knowing any better when the reality is they simply couldn’t know any better until they’ve been given a chance to learn better, we are creating the next generation of people living under pressure, too much pressure, the kind no one can live up to, the kind that makes people crack and become mass shooters. Some parents feel so much shame about falling in line with what they were told is right they disown their children for being gay. They publicly humiliate them. They destroy the joy inside of their children, and by doing so create depressives, anxiety-sufferers and even give their children cancer.
So to those of you who still defend getting physical with your kids, to those of you who defend verbally assaulting your kids, to those of you who know you’re emotionally abusing your children by saying things to undercut their confidence, I say to you: you don’t have to hold onto the shame any longer that you were taught. You don’t have to defend the generations before you who could not let go of their shame in order to do right by you. You are defending what was done to you so that you might avoid having to sit with the feelings of shame you feel, the feelings of shame you were forced to feel by people who were also forced to feel them. I say to you this: cry. Let your kids cry. Let your house be a mess for a few days. Get out of line. Be imperfect. Stop having unreasonable expectations for yourself and everyone else. You don’t have to look perfect, you don’t have to act perfectly and you don’t have to be perfect. Your kids can make a mess. The mess can be cleaned up. It’s not an imposition. It’s life. Someone will vacuum up your dirty footprints. Someone will wipe up the spilled milk. Hitting a kid across the head for yelling isn’t going to stop them from yelling. It’s only going to make them yell more. So you’re not accomplishing any kind of logical end result by abusing or physically disciplining your kids. You’re only creating a hurt person who is going to want to lash out more and more. Who is going to have a hard time not wanting to hit their own kids once they have them. You’re creating an alcoholic, or a drug user. You’re creating someone who will have an unstable romantic and professional life. You’re damaging an innocent person who doesn’t know any better than to do what they’re doing and you’re not actually teaching them anything of value.
All you’re doing is further cementing into your gene pool years and years of pain, disillusionment and despair. But if you want to make a difference, now, and stop generational abuse, stop propagating decades and decades of shame – let it go. I give you permission. To quote Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
But it is your choice.
You have the power to stop everything that has come before you. I know, because I did. And if you’re reading this and you know deep down inside that I’m right and that this applies to you, I hope you’ll stop the madness, too. Whether it’s physical abuse, emotional abuse, or just being cold and distant, stop doing it. Hug your kids. Kiss them. Love them. Let them love you. They want you to love them and they want to love you. Stop defending something you know deep down doesn’t work. Stop hating yourself and everyone else. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.
Photo via iStock