dare to damage

I remember finding Dobson's "The Strong-Willed Child" on my parents' bookshelf when I was, oh, ten or so. I spirited it away to read it to see what it was about.

Once I was done, I was so appalled that I hid it. Granted, they probably bought it in an bid to deal with Dymphna, who was (and still is, despite the book) a self-centered brat. But I think their techniques came to full fruition in their dealing with my brother Ignatius and me.

I had another friend in high school whose parents used the Dobson Method and spanked her and her brother with a paint-stirring stick. She eventually took the stick and hid it under her bed, whereupon her parents would find another spanking implement. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Essentially Dobson describes any child with ANY modicum of self-will (a child who "does not obey orders without question," as an example, is apparently a BAD thing) as a child to be abused "disciplined" and "directed" to realize that might makes right their parents are to be obeyed without question.

Ignatius and I have the trait in common of questioning orders. Neither of us has a problem with obeying, per se, but we do want to know WHY we're doing something. If we're told "Because I said so" or "because your mother asked you to," we're more than likely to resist because an answer like that is an insult to our intelligence-- and if there's one way my siblings and I are all alike, it's that we are far from unintelligent.

Dobson treats any kind of question as a "challenge to authority." This really sucks when you're the kind of kid that questions everything.

I don't know where the hell I got this idea, since it obviously wasn't at home, but I have a sort of personal policy of never giving anyone my respect until they've actually earned it. Not that I actively disrespect someone, but if you want to give me orders, expect to have to back them up until you've proven yourself the kind of person I can trust not to give stupid orders, and expect to lose that privilege the first time you give me a stupid order. In my mind, no one gains authority merely because of their position. (This is likely why I have such a problem with the traditional idea of 'headship.' I don't see how being born with a penis automatically grants you leader status in any relationship, much less one that's supposed to be a partnership.)

I think a lot of parents use this as a defense maneuver. As long as they don't have to answer any questions, they never have to worry about having answers to begin with. They are Right, not by any standard of logic or truth, but by Fiat Parentis. If your kid wants to know why she should clean her room, it's not because messy rooms can be a health hazard (which, honestly, I probably was the kind of kid who would have accepted that kind of reason) but because You Said So. If the kid wants to know why she shouldn't be friends with Megan, it's not because you don't like her skater haircut or vaguely punky fashion, but because You Said So. If she wants you to understand that she does, in fact, like girls instead of boys, you can reject this not because it doesn't match with your worldview or your vicarious plans for her, but because You Said So.

I remember in particular that my parents, particularly my mom, would either laugh at me or accuse me of "playing the victim" if I cried. Given that I cry if I'm frustrated, and trying to reason with parents who wouldn't give me any better reason than "Because I'm the parent and you're the child" was infinitely frustrating, and being laughed at is rather hurtful when you're a sobbing twelve- or eight- or five-year-old, it would just make me sob harder. We would reach a point where they would be ordering me to stop crying and I would be physically unable to either do so or explain that I could not just turn the tears off like a faucet.

I hesitate to label it abuse, though I've had friends I told describe it as such, but it was a fairly traumatic thing for a sensitive kid, and in retrospect, it's definitely a Dobsonesque thing to refer to any non-approved action on the part of the child, no matter how normal and reasonable it is, as a challenge to authority rather than a sign of developing personality.

I suppose I would be skirting Godwin's Law of Debate to mention that we don't exactly laud Nazi soldiers for obeying orders without question.

Unconditional Cruelty: Parents Gone Wild
They Dared to Discipline

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thus saith Liadan at 4:13 PM


Blogger Christine saith at 4/22/2006 6:45 AM...  

Hi Liadan - I definitely think those of us who had the unluckiness of being both sensitive and strong-willed probably got the brunt of this kind of parenting. It's a bad combination when you mix it with the Dobson stuff. I'm sorry you experienced it too.

I love being who I am now, though. I love that I think critically, that I question things, that I am strong-willed, that I'm a survivor who doesn't just take no for an answer.

But I've also had more than my share of demons to work through. I don't think any of these things were helped by this style of parenting. I guess I've mostly just blossomed in spite of it all. Anyway, no matter...I'm glad to be where I am now.

Thanks for posting your thoughts, too. It really helps me not to feel so alone in this...

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