When I was a toddler, I found a small bird on the floor of my family’s house by the front door. This was, of course, quite out of the ordinary, so I told my mother, “there’s a bird in the house!” “No there isn’t,” she responded. Then the bird chirped and my mother said, “there’s a bird in the house!”
When I was four and started learning how to read I would miss punctuation marks and sometimes entire sentences. My mother would yell at me, call me stupid, and place me in time-out for “cheating.” I would cry, promise I to try harder, and apologize for “cheating.” I was still sent to the corner for time-out – sometimes for an hour. Years later, I found out I have a vision problem called divergent strabismus where my eyes do not track or focus properly. I never did receive corrective therapy.
Another time when I was four, I watched my father back my mother into a corner and put his hands around her neck. When I confronted him about it as a teenager, he laughed and told me I was imagining things.
My mother decided to home school me from kindergarten onward because she did not want me to learn “unholy” things, like evolution, sex ed, or critical thinking skills. Obviously, no one person is qualified to teach every subject, but my mother was not even qualified to teach one subject. I particularly struggled with math. When I failed to find the correct answer to most of the problems, I was sent to the corner or to my room and called stupid. Not until my last two years at university, after over half of my professors had validated my academic work and intellectual capacity, did I realize that I am actually very smart.
When I was still very young (perhaps four or five) I watched both my father and my mother abuse my older sister. My father would pin my sister to floor or wall and twist her arm. My mother would hit her in the face or pull her hair. I didn’t know that in just a year or two I would be next.
When I was nine, I told my father “no,” so for punishment he slammed me into a wall, stood on my feet, and held my wrists while he screamed in my face. My dog, who was still a puppy, tried to protect me and nipped him on the leg. My father kicked my dog across the room. When my sister told my mother to “do something,” my mother replied, “he’s disciplining her.” That was not the first, nor the last, time something like that happened.
When I was 12 or 13, my sister and I were driving home when a drunk neighbor started screaming at us from his yard and chased us back to our house. The drunk neighbor claimed my sister was speeding, so my mother yelled at her and befriended the drunk neighbor. I told my mother he made me uncomfortable; she proceeded to develop a crush on him (which she still maintains to this day) and regularly invite him into the house. This continued even after he spied on me through the windows when I was home alone as a young teenager and forced me to hug him several times.
When I was teenager, my father started waking me up on Sunday mornings for church by caressing my ass. I never told my mother because past interactions had taught me she did not care to know; her piece of mind was more important.
When I was 14, my father caught me trying to kill myself with a bottle of benadryl. He yelled at me and blamed my mother. Nothing else was said about the incident. Nor I did not receive professional help until I was an adult and sought it out myself.
When I was in high school, my boyfriend at the time was abusive. When I finally managed to break up with him, he stalked me online, had his friends harass me online, called me a whore for talking to other guys, and threatened me. When I told my father about it he said, “that’s disappointing, I really liked him.”
When I was 21, I confronted my father about his physical abuse of me for the last time. He laughed in my face about it and interrupted me. When I said I wasn’t finished speaking he responded with, “you won’t be finished until you’re 40.”
I am not a parent. I will never be a parent. I do not like children, and know I would not be a good parent. I do not see this as a shortcoming, but as being self-aware enough to know I simply shouldn’t have children – it is what’s best for me and for my non-existant kids. Nonetheless, I’m going to give you some parenting advice, and you need to listen up:
One, LISTEN to your kids. They have important things to say, and you need to be someone they feel comfortable confiding in. It’s YOUR JOB, as a parent, to listen to your kids, and to help them address any problems/concerns they are facing.
Two, BELIEVE your kids. If you do not believe your kids, who will? Yes, children lie (as do adults), but if a parent automatically assumes their child is lying, that child will be taught they are not believable. If something bad does happen to them, they will be unlikely to report it because they have learned no one believes what they say. Parents who regularly disbelieve their kids place their kids in a dangerous position for the rest of their lives.
Three, VALIDATE your kids’ feelings/emotional responses (especially your daughters’). It is extremely important to validate your children’s emotional responses (no, I’m not talking about toddlers throwing tantrums), because it teaches them that experiencing and expressing emotions is not only okay, but healthy. Emotions are not something people can usually control, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s important to teach kids how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, rather than teaching them to bottle things up. And women are especially susceptible to being told their emotions are not valid (e.g., “you’re overreacting,” “don’t be so emotional,” “you’re such a drama queen”). Validating your children’s emotional experiences will give them the confidence to resist emotional manipulation as they grow up.
Take this from someone who was ignored, dismissed, and invalidated by their parents – it’s emotionally abusive, harmful, and dangerous. Set your kids up for emotional, psychological, and interpersonal relationship success.