Those who were spanked or verbally scolded as kids need to find healing in order to break the pattern.
Sometimes we forget that our first mission as parents is to love our children and make them happy. I don’t know where we get the idea that we have the right to treat their little bodies badly and in this way, unconsciously, vent our frustration on them.
When we shout at them, ignore them, insult them, treat them with scorn, humiliate them, strike them, compare them (negatively) to others, abandon them — among other things — when we are actually supposed to love them, care for them, teach them, understand them, educate them, accept them, protect them, and embrace them unconditionally, we violate their dignity as those human beings whom God has entrusted to us. We should only touch children to embrace them, console them, and hug and kiss them.
Violence leads to more violence
I remember sleeping over a close friend’s house when, at midnight, the father entered to cruelly awaken one of his daughters by beating her. I was paralyzed with fear. The oldest daughter tried to hold her father back so he would stop hitting her, but that just seemed to make him more energetic.
One phrase in particular that he told his daughter still echoes in my ears today: “I cursed the hour you were born.” A short time later, that girl, who was barely 15 years old, went to live with a drug dealer and got pregnant with his children. I hardly need to say that today that woman suffers from severe emotional trauma, and as her father treated her, so also has she treated her own children.
Every emotion that is not acknowledged and accepted becomes self-destructive. This was an excessively violent man, and what he was doing was repeating patterns of behavior. He had never healed from the abuse he’d experienced in his own childhood, and he carried it with him into adulthood, only to unload it onto his own children.
We dream a world without violence
I remember another episode when we came back from school, and as soon as we walked into the house, that same man began to mercilessly beat another of his children because he had gotten very low grades in school. For that man, the fact that his son wasn’t as intelligent as him was the perfect excuse to mistreat him. The man took a tennis racket and he left its marks all over his son’s body, in front of his friends. The boy only managed to say, as he cried inconsolably, “Some day, I’m going to grow up, and I’m going to hit you back for every time you’ve hit me.”
More than 35 years have passed since those events. Sadly, family violence continues to increase, and it’s not limited to blows or to words like those I described in the anecdotes above. Any kind of violence — direct or indirect, verbalized or silent — leaves its marks on the lives of the children who suffer it, and those consequences are very difficult to erase. Violence leaves lifelong scars.
Another kind of violence is one that now comes to my mind, and which I have also witnessed. It was a man who lived alone with his wife; all their children lived separate from their parents in the house next door. One day, we went to visit them, and you can imagine how surprised — or startled — we were when, upon entering his apartment, we saw that the decoration on all of the walls were pictures of naked women in erotic poses.
No, it wasn’t art. It was pornography, pure and simple. Wherever we looked, there were images that would have been an assault on anyone’s eyes, and especially ours, since we were just children. That is violence in the full meaning of the word. Of course, when I went home and talked about what I had seen, my parents never let me go back there. The fact is, that kind of imagery is a way of attacking a child’s healthy development. Taking away a child’s innocence is violence.
I’m not sharing these experiences to judge that man, who was clearly very emotionally disturbed; rather, I do it to emphasize that violence presents itself under many different guises. A violent and abusive person has no sense of limits of any kind, as is the case of this father who abused his own flesh and blood with violence on many levels: physical, emotional, verbal, spiritual, and moral (through exposure to pornography).
I’m sure many of you are already asking, “What about the mother?” This is a small detail of great importance: there was no mother. She had died in a car accident; the father was the driver. After this event, the man became even “harder to love,” to avoid using a more pejorative term.
How many stories do we know like this family’s! How many more cases go without being reported, remedied, or healed.
An open letter to married couples who aren’t ready for children yet
No kind of violence should be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances. Words hurt as much or more as physical blows, and many times, without realizing it, we abuse our children and hurt their feelings, affecting their emotional lives forever.
There’s the typical kid who is very restless and gets into some mischief. His mother gets angry and hysterical and begins to shout things like, “I am fed up with you! I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of dealing with you…” I’d ask that mother, “Are you really fed up with, tired of, and unable to put up with, your son anymore? Or are you actually fed up, tired, and not able to put anymore with your son’s ‘behavior‘?”
Do you see how different the emphasis is? In a situation like this — using your emotional intelligence — the way to talk to the child would be: “I’m very tired of this behavior. The way you are acting is wrong. I feel frustrated. But I still love you, son.” This way, you send your son the message that you disagree with his way of behaving, but your love for him was, is, and will be, unconditional. You are telling him how you feel— in first person — and you aren’t “blaming” him for how he makes you feel.
Parents: at the end of the day, our children are a mirror, and they faithfully reflect who we are. Let’s change our attitude towards them. This kind of mistreatment — which generally comes from a mother who is tired because she’s been with the kids almost all day — is the most common, and it leaves indelible marks on the children’s lives.In children’s hearts, there is no possibility that their father or mother doesn’t love them. Consequently, they often interpret violence as a way of their parents showing love for them. That is to say, abuse and blows are equal to love. So, can you imagine what kind of spouse they will choose? That’s right—one who shows love with violence, because that’s the only way they know how to recognize affection. How terrible!
Parents, if we are frustrated or tired, let’s not take it out on our children.The next time you feel like you’re losing control, hold yourself back! And listen to your own words. If you can’t believe your ears, imagine how your children feel when they hear you say such terrible things.
If you lose control easily and frequently, and you are the type whose gut reaction is to hit other people, I suggest the following technique. As soon as you feel that you are losing control, count to ten, breathe deeply, and bite your tongue so as not to speak. Instead of balling your hands up into fists to attack and strike the first blow, stretch your hands and weave your fingers together behind your back.
My mother used to employ a different technique with me. When I drove her over the edge, even when she was very mad at me, instead of insulting me or saying harsh things to me, she’d grit her teeth and say, “God bless you, Ivonne, God bless you.” I think I must have made her angry very often, because God has really blessed me a lot!
This article was originally published in the Spanish Edition of Aleteia, and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.