Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yitro 75 - Honoring Parents and Abuse by Allan Katz

The Fifth Commandment, honoring parents is claimed by the psychologist Alice Miller to be the cause of more suffering for children who are victims of parental ' abuse ' and exacerbate their emotional distress and disability. After reading Dr Sorotzkin's article ( a must read )  Honoring Parents who are abusive  , the problem is not with the Torah and the commandment to honor parents , but ignorance on the part of many about the parameters and ' gedarim ' of the Mitzvah and the psychological issues involved. Kids who are emotionally abused have a natural tendency to deny or minimize the harmful nature of the parental abuse and blame themselves for being bad kids. This causes a variety of emotional and behavior problems. There is an  unconscious  need to believe that everything that our parents did for us, was really for our own good and was done out of love. It is too threatening for many kids to even entertain the possibility that our parents weren't well-meaning or even competent. In order to show what was done to them was not that bad and out of love, they do the same things to their own children that their parents did to them. So obligating abused children to unconditionally honor abusive parents not only causes more damage but will serve to perpetuate abuse. Successful treatment and genuine reconciliation with parents means that care givers have to overcome the child's resistance to acknowledging the abusive nature of parent's behavior and the role of their parents in their difficulties. When the child is encouraged to externalize and direct their anger to the appropriate people they don't repress the anger which can cause excessive guilt feelings, self -punishment and other psychological symptoms. This allows parents to take responsibility for their actions, admit their wrong doing, do teshuvah and ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately, children are encouraged to forgive their parents even when their parents have not apologized and done teshuvah. They claim that blaming parents for ones' difficulties is not a good place to be and one has to move on and take responsibility for one's life. This view suppresses and perpetuates the negativity and gets in the way of true reconciliation.

In most cases of abuse, parents are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances and often the advice they are getting makes things much worse. But being in a position of weakness, they are often motivated by unacknowledged, unhealthy and subconscious emotional needs, especially to be in control in their mistreatment of their children. Disrespect is the weapon of the weak and it becomes hard for them to convince others that they are acting out of good intentions for the child's good. In a nutshell, children are not obligated to honor abusive parents because   a) they don't have to sacrifice their emotional well-being in order to do the mitzvah of honoring parents, b) one may be lenient in a mitzvah of Love your neighbor as yourself –ואהבת את רעך כמוך   if there is a benefit c) children can defend themselves against abuse or false accusations and admonish – tochacha parents who violate Halacha, d) the abusive parent is called a wicked person - רשע and there is no obligation to honor a parent who is a ra'sha.

    Today the problem with abusive parents is less about hitting and being physical but more about emotional abuse. This includes persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility, shaming and blaming and conditional parenting. Conditional parenting is making the level of care, love and acceptance you show to a child dependent and contingent on his behaviors, actions and how well he does at school or on the sports field. It loves them for what they do and not for what they are. It is using love and acceptance to try and leverage good behavior and test scores. When a parent's love depends on what children do, children come to disown parts of them that aren't valued and eventually regard themselves as worthy only when they act or think in specific ways. When kids receive affection with strings attached they accept themselves only with strings attached while kids who accepted unconditionally feel better about themselves as good people. Most parents say that they love their kids unconditionally, but what is important is how kids experience our 'love' and the way we treat them. Do kids feel that when my dad disagrees with me , I know that he still loves me and even during the worst conflicts with my mom she maintained a sense of  loving connection with me. The problem is not only with bad advice from experts – Baumrind - says that kids must earn what they get including love and loving kids unconditionally will encourage a kid to be selfish and demanding. Love and acceptance is a tool to help you modify your child's behavior and gain control.

Instead of our need to control children and get them to honor us, we should be asking ' what do they need from us'? We need to address their physical, emotional needs and needs for love, respect and acceptance. The Chazon Ish said that what children need more than love is respect and unconditional acceptance. The Steipler, explained to his daughter who asked him why he did not wake her up in the night when he was not feeling well. He deprived her of the mitzvah of honoring parents. The Steipler answered that his commandment – mitzvah was not to impose himself on her, while her mitzvah was honoring parents. In another story a parent complained to the Steipler about his uncompliant son who was not listening to him. The Steipler answered that the father could lower the rope, not make demands on the child and be ' mochel - forgive  ' him. If the father made demands on his son that he knows that the son won't comply with , the father in a way is responsible for the child's behavior and he transgresses the law of ' lifnei ever lo ti'tein michshol '- do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Instead of control and obedience we can promote cooperation and relationship and build trust by meeting children's needs including love and unconditional acceptance.

 Parents complained to the therapist Barbara Colorosa about their teenage son. Until recently he was a good boy who always listened to us. Now he is with his friends and he is listening to them. The therapist replied that nothing has changed – before he was listening to you, now he is listening to his friends. The purpose of parenting and education is to raise children who listen to their inner voices and values and do what is right, do what reflects who they are and what they believe in.

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