Editor’s pick: How your childhood shaped your adult personality

Parenting is largely undervalued in our society. So much discussion among politicians and policymakers centers on public education, gender equality, and poverty alleviation. These are all important areas, but parent support is glaringly missing from the list…

When I refer to parent support, I mean research-backed parenting education for all parents, regardless of income class or at-risk group.

Relatively few parents seek out parenting classes when they’re not court-ordered. Many parents do pick up a parenting book from time to time, or seek out support from Facebook groups, or search for specific parenting questions on the Internet. But there is much to be considered whenever any parent solicits advice in how to raise their child. Most parents don’t feel they have the time do the homework necessary to make sure their references are up-to-date, accurate, and aligned with their family values and personal parenting goals.

Media Analysis Guidelines for Parents

It’s important that we all learn how to read between the lines on any media report about parenting, so we can make informed decisions on how to raise our children. Attachment Parenting International (API) created these guidelines to help parents to be able to better discern appropriate resources amid the clutter of information that bombards us everyday:

What’s fact or fiction in parenting news?

Get the most out of a scientific study

Trusted resources

API supports parents in raising their children in a way that meets all of their needs for healthy development, not only physically but also socioemotionally. Growing up without a close, warm, trusting, and sensitively responsive attachment to the parent can have serious, lifelong consequences for a child. These children grow into adults who then struggle with raising their own children in a way that is warm and loving. In many ways, we could view this as a mental health crisis.

Not only that, but research also demonstrates that certain childhood events can alter our biological stress responses, translating into physical health problems not only in the affected individual but in his or her DNA with the possibility of being passed down the family tree through epigenetics. From this perspective, the lack of consistent parenting education available and promoted to all parents is a public health crisis on many levels.

Attachment Matters

API explores the effects of insecure childhood attachment on adults in-depth in our latest ebook, Attachment Matters. Receive your copy of this ebook with a donation of $25 or more to API.

To get a better feel for the specific effects of parenting that is not in line with research, this API Editor’s Pick highlights the Psych Central post, “Unloved in Childhood: 10 Common Effects on Your Adult Self” by Peg Streep, a parenting book author from New York City, USA. It’s important to note that while this post refers specifically to mothers and daughters, the effects of a son feeling unloved is much the same. These 10 effects include:

  • Insecure attachment
  • Undeveloped emotional intelligence
  • Impaired sense of self
  • Lack of trust
  • Difficulties with boundaries
  • Tendency toward toxic friends and partners
  • Fear of failure
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Inner conflict.

What I particularly like about this post is how it draws attention to the fact that the problem is not so much how well the parent perceives he or she loves the child, but rather, what’s important to that child’s development is the sense of love from the child’s perspective. It’s all about how the child perceives he or she is loved her by the parent. That’s an important distinction.

The author has so much to impart on this subject, so be sure to read the entire post, but here’s a quote I found especially enlightening:

“Because the culture stubbornly believes that all mothers are loving and that mothering is instinctual, the unloved daughter mistakenly believes she’s the only child on the planet to find herself in this predicament. As a result, she feels isolated and afraid, and is likely to continue to self-isolate because of her deep shame. She’s not likely to tell anyone. More than anything, she wants to belong to the tribe — those girls who hug their moms and laugh with them.” ~ Peg Streep, Psych Central

Parents, I urge you to be the parent whose children — no matter their age — finds it easy to laugh with you and who feels completely comfortable in seeking out a hug with you anytime. Don’t be afraid to be warm toward your child, don’t be afraid to offer comfort to your child night and day, don’t be afraid to use positive discipline rather than spanking or timeout, and don’t be afraid to be different from your friends and family. Seek out your free parenting support from a local API Support Group or the API Warmline.

Home should be safe in every way

Peace in the home: A look at domestic violence and “normative” abuse

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorPeace is something I take very seriously, in my life and in my home. It is no afterthought here. It is intentional every moment of every day.

I follow API’s Eight Principles of Parenting so closely, because they reflect my values so closely — the values I want to pass down to my children, the values I want them to express to the children and adults around them, the values I want them to choose in a potential spouse.

It has never escaped me that AP Month falls on Domestic Violence Awareness Month every year, each October. But this year’s theme is especially close to me, being a domestic violence survivor myself and now working in the field as an advocate: “Nurturing Peace: Parenting for World Harmony.” I take this theme to heart with every interaction with my children, and work to support other parents in having more peaceful, meaningful relationships with their children.

It is my sincere belief that how we raise our children can change the world, and if we go the extra mile, so to speak, to teach them healthy relationship and peaceful conflict resolution skills, that they will “pay it forward” with their life choices. They can at least change the legacy of their family tree, though I am far from giving up hope for the next generation with API’s influence.

Domestic Violence is Not Rare

dv-meme-2We would like to hope that the statistics don’t apply to API families — that 1 in 3 of all women (and 1 in 4 men) are victims of physical domestic violence sometime in their lifetime — but sadly, these statistics know no boundaries. Likely, in your group of friends, there is at least 1 domestic violence survivor among you.

While men can become victims of domestic violence, I want to focus on women.

You likely won’t know who she is. Women of all ages, income classes, educational levels, social statuses, races, ethnicities, cultures, and personalities are affected. While there is a certain psychological profile typical of most abusers, there is none for victims. Any woman could find herself in that position.

She won’t be forthcoming with information, either. Being a victim of domestic violence creates a lot of strong emotions, such as shame and embarrassment and confusion. She won’t talk easily about it, to just anyone.

If you see bruises, she’ll explain them away with some common cause, such as being clumsy. It’s not that her home life really isn’t that bad — no one deserves any level of abuse, so it’s all that bad — it’s that she feels alone and like no one will understand or believe her, or be able to or want to help her anyway. It’s complicated and impossible to fully understand unless you’ve been there.

We can hope and pray that she feels comfortable enough with someone to open up and confide in. Perhaps she will call the national or local hotline for domestic violence survivors.

1-800-799-7233
National Domestic Violence Hotline

Hopefully, she won’t suffer in silence. But many do.

What is Domestic Violence?

When we think of domestic violence, often we think of physical abuse — the hitting, pushing, punching, and other stereotypical behaviors of characters we see on TV and in the movies. We may or may not think of the shows we’ve seen of women being killed. We may think this is extreme, but the fact is: It’s not uncommon for abused women to be in grave danger in their relationships.

If we think a little deeper, we may think of sexual and verbal abuse as part of domestic violence. Finally, we may get down to emotional abuse.

A lot of people think that emotional abuse isn’t as bad as physical abuse, or sexual abuse, or even verbal abuse. But it’s not really that any type of abuse is more or less severe than another. Abuse lies on a continuum, and abusers tend to use more than one type of abuse to control their victims. Here’s the thing: If a person is being emotionally abusive, he is on the continuum — the same continuum that, on the other end, includes being physically abusive up to and including killing his partner. This is no exaggeration: All types of abuse are about control and intimidation, all types of abuse are about violating and devaluing another person, and once you cross that line in any way, you are fully capable of abuse.

But here’s the other thing: Our society isn’t that far away from accepting domestic violence as normal. Esta Soler first lobbied for a legislative bill to outlaw domestic violence in 1984. One politician referred to it as the “Take the Fun Out of Marriage Act” — really.

It took Esta and others 10 years — until 1994 — to get a law passed!

That was the same year that API — one of the world’s largest positive parenting organizations — was founded. In the same time since the first anti-domestic violence law was passed, API has been working toward attachment-promoting parenting, nonviolent communication, emotion coaching, nonpunitive discipline, nurturing touch, and other components of parenting for peace.

API and domestic violence victim advocacy have the same goals: Peace in the home.

Abuse May Be More “Normal” Than You Think

In so many ways, our society has made great strides in increasing awareness of the effects of abuse, and what constitutes as abuse. Most people on the street, if asked, would likely say they agree that many of the abuse tactics that fall within the physical and sexual abuse categories are wrong. But what about emotional and verbal abuse? Do you think people would easily classify the silent treatment as abuse? Or sarcasm? Or gift-giving out of guilt? Or yelling?

And yet, these are abusive tactics — ways that a person uses to create or maintain control over another person. They each violate a person’s right to a healthy, safe relationship.

A few, some, or many of the abusive behaviors in any of the categories below may be a surprise for you. Depending on the family or community in which you were raised, you may feel the questionable behaviors are actually normal. But are they healthy?

Just like having babies cry it out (CIO), which is a parenting behavior that API does not support, some or many people in your family or community may not agree with your view that CIO is violating your baby’s emotional health. But you know that it is. You can see it on your baby’s face, hear it in your baby’s cry, and feel it in your heart.

And if we think about it, CIO is a lot like giving the silent treatment — which is an emotionally abusive tactic according to psychological research.

“Normative abuse” includes behaviors that society classifies as acceptable, but that actually have damaging effects on others. Dr. Karen Walant, PhD, API Board of Directors member, writes about normative abuse in relation to CIO and other seemingly harmless parenting behaviors.

Though there are plenty of people who would disagree with me, it’s really not that much of a stretch to say that if we expose our children to parenting behaviors that fall under normative abuse, that they are more likely to grow up with a mindset that is more likely to accept related behaviors toward them and toward others, including overt abuse.

Don’t underestimate emotional abuse. Just because a person isn’t hitting or being physically abusive, doesn’t mean he or she is not still an abuser. Plus, as insidious as it is, emotional abuse is in many ways more harmful than physical abuse.

So, what is abuse?

Physical

Hitting
Punching
Pushing
Kicking
Restraining and holding
Biting
Choking
Hair pulling
Grabbing
Destroying property
Threatening to hurt you, such as with first or weapons
Throwing things at you
Scratching
Slapping
Reckless driving
Pushing you out of the car
Poking
Taking your keys
Throwing you around
Excessive tickling

Sexual

Forcing sex
Withholding sex
Rude stories or gestures
Double standards
Using sex as a weapon
Punishing you for not complying
Making sexual threats with objects
Talking dirty
Laughing at you
Shaming
Intimidation to do unwanted acts beyond comfort level
Sex as a form of control
Sexualizing in public
Rape
Possessiveness
Mocking of body parts
Accusations
Sex for favors
Pornography

Verbal

Name calling
Swearing
Yelling
Degrading comments or put-downs
Mimicking
Threatening to take the children away
Lying and being deceitful
Brainwashing
Sarcasm
Outright cruelty
Using information you have revealed against you
Blaming
Guilt trips
Demanding
Threatening tone of voice
Contradicting
Irrational questioning
Interrogating
Twisting your words
Calling you “crazy”

Emotional

Double standards
Crazy-making behaviors
Isolation from family or friends
Silent treatment
Accusations
Twisting things
Telling you how you feel and think
“His” agenda or male privilege
Avoiding issues
Tension in home
Immature behavior
Sabotaging
Bringing up the past
Playing mind games
Withholding or controlling the money
Inequity in the partnership
Harming pets
Questioning paternity
Selective memory
Stalking
Harassing
Degrading in public
Not being OK with you being sick
Intimidation
Discounting his own behaviors
Threatening suicide
Empty promises
Gift-giving out of guilt

Spiritual

Discounting your sense of right and wrong
Denying, minimizing, or ridiculing your faith
Denying your value as a unique person
Questioning your motives
Questioning your sense of reality
Refusing to allow you access to faith groups

So, what do you think? Have you ever been on the receiving end of any of these behaviors by another person? How did you feel?

It can be difficult looking at the long list of abusive tactics, and realizing that one has been a victim. Most people don’t want to identify themselves as a victim. It’s easier to justify the other person’s actions or to say to ourselves that we’re being overly sensitive.

dv-meme-1But in reality, abusive behaviors — whether overt or normative — aren’t dependent on the recipient’s sensitivity level or even their actions. A person’s abusive actions are always their responsibility — that person has the choice every time to say “no” to him- or herself, that he or she will not act out a certain way that could violate the other person, physically or emotionally.

Your home should always be a safe place to be — in every way, and that includes verbally and emotionally.

This Children’s Day: It’s time to break Watson’s legacy in childrearing norms

By Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, API Cofounders and coauthors of Attached at the Heart

Editor’s note: November 20 is Universal Children’s Day, created by the United Nations in 1954 to improve the well-being of children. As Attachment Parenting International (API) observes Children’s Day today, we want to remember the rights of children to a safe, nurturing home where they can grow and learn with attachment-based care and discipline.

For hundreds of years, the treatment of children in many cultures has been harsh and disturbing. We know that the residuals of some of those abusive practices are still present today. Great strides have been made in the treatment of children, but we still have a long way to go.

Until the evolution of our modern Western culture, children had to grow up fast and get to work, usually on the family farm. By the time they were 8, 9 or 10 years old, their childhoods were over.

The period we call “adolescence” is a stage of development rather newly identified by child development researchers. With the identification of this new stage of development, coupled with new laws in the 20th century to protect children from abusive work practices, children were allowed to enjoy a longer childhood.

All along the way, attitudes about children and parenting practices were largely influenced by strict religious dogma or experts in the fields of psychology and human development. Over the years, thousands of parenting books have been written claiming to have the answer to raising “good,” obedient children — leaving many parents confused, anxious or feeling guilty and many children feeling disconnected from their parents.

John B. WatsonOne classic example comes from the work of psychologist John B. Watson, who admonished parents not to hug, coddle or kiss their infants and young children in order to train them to develop good habits early on. In 1928, Watson published his hugely popular childcare book, Psychological Care of Infant and Child. His parenting advice had negative and devastating effects on children and their families — sometimes for generations.

mariette hartleyIn her book Breaking the Silence, actress and comedian Mariette Hartley writes about the heartbreaking legacy for her family and millions of other families created by the advice of her maternal grandfather, John Watson, or “Big John” as she called him:

“In Big John’s ideal world, children were to be taken from their mothers during their third or fourth week: If not, attachments were bound to develop. He claimed that the reason mothers indulged in baby-loving was sexual. … Children should never be kissed, hugged or allowed to sit on their laps.

My mother’s upbringing was purely intellectual. The only time my mother was ‘kissed on the forehead’ was when she was about 12 and Big John went to war. Although she was reading the newspaper by the time she was 2, there was never any touching, not any at all. Grandfather’s theories infected my mother’s life, my life and the lives of millions.

How do you break a legacy? How do you keep from passing a debilitating inheritance down, generation to generation, like a genetic flaw?”

Suicide and depression have been the legacies left her by her family, having lost her father, an uncle, a cousin and almost her mother. Not without her own emotional “demons,” Mariette was able to break the chain through therapy and raising her awareness about life, love and spirit. She became a loving mother of 2 children and continues to work as a successful actress while donating her time to suicide prevention.

Watson’s legacy, like others’, continues to permeate our cultural psyche in many ways: how we view children, how we speak to them and how we treat them.

In order to discipline children, our culture has accepted numerous ways of keeping kids in line. They are often talked down to or spoken to harshly, hit, humiliated, shamed, ignored and, in some extreme cases, tortured, such as by placing hot sauce on a child’s tongue or forcing a child to stand for long periods of time with his arms straight out.

These culturally accepted forms of discipline — now being recognized by some as “normative abuse” — have been so much a part of our culture that we sometimes don’t think twice about it. We have learned to desensitize ourselves to the actual physical and emotional pain that it causes children. After all, that’s how we were raised, and we turned out OK — right? Maybe we were lucky and turned out well in spite of how we were treated…maybe we still suffer in ways we don’t realize are connected to our early childhood years.

Some of us were lucky enough to have strong, loving families with parents who did the best they could with what they knew then. We can understand that, embrace it and even forgive, because we know that there are no perfect parents and their love far outweighs anything else. But now that we know better, we must try to do better for our children.

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