Thursday, June 5, 2014

Toxic Parenting

You can't spell "Smother" without "Mother"

Note:  I wrote this post over a year ago, and decided not to post it.   The article in question was posted to the Huffington Post, and I thought it was one of those baiting articles designed to get you all riled up.  Since then, MSNBC and CNN have picked it up, largely because the opportunistic Mom who wrote it titled it "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" when of course, she clearly isn't.

And it turns out, the lady has a blog called "Anarchist Soccer Mom" which sort of says it all, doesn't it?

No shit, really, Anarchist Soccer Mom.  Doesn't anyone at HuffPo vet this crap?

And as it turns out, if you read her blog, it is a real horror show.

I picked up on this right away, and was one of the few commentators to say, "Gee, this doesn't sound right!"  But others heaped praise on her, and scorn on anyone who dared question her parenting skills!

Because, as we all know, 15 minutes in the back seat of a Camaro makes you an expert parent, right?

Wrong.  All Parents are amateurs, by definition.

Anyway, here is the posting I was not going to post:

* * *

In a recent opinion piece on the Huffington Post, a mother of a mentally ill child, trumpets what a good job she is doing raising the kid, by micro-managing his everyday life.

She recounts, with apparent glee, how she escalates a simple choice of what pants to wear to school (the school has a dress code) into a trip to a mental hospital.

Commentators fell all over themselves congratulating this lady on her tough-love approach to child-rearing.

Myself, I was appalled.

The worst part of this whole deal is that she has posted this online, apparently looking for attention and validation for her brave work.   So now her son's friends at school can all read it and mock him for it.  She has emotionally castrated her son, in the national media.  And we are supposed to say "Job well done, Mom of the Year!"

Sorry, no sale!  What a narcissistic and evil thing to do!

If you read my blog, you may realize that my parents were a little less than perfect.   My Mother was an Alcoholic bi-polar closeted Lesbian.  My Dad was a philandering child-beater with an anger-control problem.  But in retrospect, these faults seem trivial, compared to those of the over-controlling helicopter parents of today.

Mom, Dad, you didn't do too badly, compared to this lady.....

One thing my parents did right was to let me make a lot of my own mistakes in life - which I learned from.  As I have noted before, you learn more from failure than success.  In fact, you learn nothing from success, usually.  But failure is one painful lesson after another - lessons that stick in your mind and actually teach something.

So rather than try to shield her child from failure, she should have let him wear the blue pants to school.   Either he would be right - and no one at the school would care (after all dark blue and black are indistinguishable to some folks, including me) or he would have been called to the Principal's Office and had to deal with the consequences (detention, suspension, whatever).

Making mistakes and dealing with the consequences is a key ingredient in life.  And when you are shielded from making any mistakes at all you really aren't living at all.   No wonder the kid is rebelling.

Sadly, this super-Mom wants to control the situation from the get-go, and part and parcel of this is a series of ultimatums she has enacted, which are triggered by any one of a number of pre-set conditions, behaviors, or even words.  The kid is living in a minefield - and he routinely steps on the mines.

So, on the way to school, a tearful argument ensues (I wonder what they had for breakfast - if any?  Was it cereal?  If so, there is part of your problem right there - blood sugar).  The kid is distraught.  Every little choice in his life - including what clothes to wear - is vetoed by his Mom!  She says "no more video games!" as a result of his petulance.

Really?  Mother of the year lets her mentally unstable kid watch video games?  Preferably first-person-shooter types, I presume!

So the kid makes a stupid suicide threat.   That's it!  He stepped on another mine and broke one of her "rules" and off to the mental hospital he goes for a four day visit!   Not surprisingly, the kid says he hates her.  Wouldn't you?

An argument about blue pants is escalated into a trip to the looney bin.  And Mom writes it all up for HuffPo, further embarrassing her child on a national scale and expects us all to give her accolades and kudos for her excellent parenting.  When does the kid get to write his rebuttal?  Mommy Dearest II?

And most of the commentators on the HuffPo site heaped accolades on her for her "bravery" in "sharing her story" - oblivious to the fact that it is also the son's story, and we are hearing only one side of it.  But it seems today, everyone is jumping on the bad-parenting bandwagon, where kids are treated like disobedient robots, instead of the human beings they are.  Kids today have far stricter rules than I ever had as a kid, that's for sure.  In fact, if I was this lady's kid, I likely would have ended up in the looney bin, as there would be no way I would have been able to live with her ridiculous rules.

Mental illness is no joke - and I have volumes of experience to back up that statement.  And it is heartbreaking to see it happen to family members and loved ones.

But sometimes, a relationship can be so toxic that it can take a bad situation and make it worse.   This lady is gasoline to her son's fire.  He may have mental health issues, but she exacerbates them by trying to set arbitrary rules and by shielding him from actual failure in life.   He is not experiencing life at all - with its real ups and downs, successes and failures.  He is shielded from that - but not from his Parents.  A poor sartorial choice does not result in a trip to the Principal's office, but rather a trip to a Psychiatric ward, where he is locked up for days on "suicide watch" based on an offhand comment.  "Call the Police!" she dramatically says, as they drive up to the hospital.

Can you say, attention-whore?  Posting this all on the Internet so she can be lauded as hero-Mom?  What a narcissistic bitch!  I like how she conveniently slips in her new job at the local university.   I am surprised she didn't mention what model Lexus they drive!  The entire article is an exercise in ego-stroking, making her the "hero" at the center of this story, with her young son as some sort of male devil to be dealt with, tranquilized, and institutionalized.

And let's not forget, she did all of this by invoking the name of a mentally ill young man who had just shot a number of students in Connecticut.   Sort of ugly, to say the least.

Did the Apple fall far from the tree in this family?  I think not.   Schizophrenia runs in families.  I wonder which side it came from - hers?   UPDATE:  Apparently so, according to this link.   Children learn what they are taught.

I had a friend in school who had a Control Freak Mother like that.  She monitored his every move, and constantly harped on him for doing things "wrong".  She also had a set of rules that had "triggers" like that - if you say or do such-and-such, then some horrific consequence would be brought down on you like an avalanche.

Once he left home, he struggled, as he had never really experienced failure or success - just rules and punishments under the dictatorial rule of his Mother (who went through three husbands, the same way).   He joined the Navy, and muddled through 20 years - retiring at the same rank at which he joined.

He is happier today, I think.  He is a talented guy, who likes to write songs and plays guitar in local bars.  Is he a genius?  No.  And he never was going to be one.   But that was one of the contentious issues with his uber-Mom - his grades.  And indeed, this is a real problem for a lot of parents - who cannot accept that their kids are not Einsteins and not going to Harvard.  And instead of figuring this out and figuring out how the child could succeed in other ways, they just pile on the guilt and angst for every perceived "failure" in life (and yet at the same time - failure is not permitted!).     Every report card period was another shouting match and another dose of self-loathing for my friend.  And of course, he would end up being "grounded" for another month as a result.

And that was the nature of the relationship with his Mom (his Dad, or step-Dads were usually vetoed by this harridan).   She would set arbitrary and unworkable rules that, when violated, would trigger avalanche consequences.   So for example, on a Saturday night, they gave him an 11 PM curfew.  Since he had to hitch a ride home, he often ended up being late - which would then trigger a month of being "grounded".   As a 17-year-old, he chafed at be treated like a child - which in turn lead to more "rules violations" and eventually ridiculous "groundings" that would have extended well into his 30's.

While I had my first car at 15, he wasn't allowed to register or drive a car he bought with his own money because of these continual "rules violations" which had accumulated "groundings" that were now measured in years, not weeks or months.   As he got older, his Mother got more and more paranoid about controlling him, to the point where he was on the verge of exploding.

Fortunately, he did not explode.   But it was touch and go there, for a while.  The military was probably his salvation.   At least there, the rules were clear and enforced in a uniform, non-emotional manner.

I am not sure why his Mother did this.  To be sure, she was a man-hating castrating bitch.   As I noted, she went through three husbands, taking each one to the cleaners - as a woman could do back then - and profiting handsomely from process.   Perhaps the budding pubescence of her son was a threat to her - this unbounded maleness that needed to be reined in and tightly controlled.  He needed to be figuratively castrated and kept eunuch, lest the testosterone run wild.

The lady in the article cited above mentions that her 13-year-old son (the age of puberty, if not beyond, today) is growing so large that she can barely restrain him any more (restraining a person is the utter humiliation, and something that should only be a last resort.   One of my brothers tried to do that to me when I was a kid - and I never forgave him for that.  Bear in mind that "little boys" grow up into big men, and before you use force, you should think about the possible payback, down the road).  I wonder if his pubescence is part of the problem - for her, not him.

It was not surprising that my friend struggled with life.   He was never allowed to make mistakes or deal with the consequences of his actions.   And he was a very nervous boy - convinced even as an adult, that something he would do would invoke the ire of his controlling Mother.  He would make a mistake - and she would blow it all out of proportion.

It was, a toxic relationship.

I had a relationship like this - with a mentally ill person - and got out of it on the advice of a counselor.  Dealing with mentally ill people is not easy.  And you can't "fix" them by making rules or ultimatums.  In fact, such actions would tend to just make things worse.  And often the best thing to do is not to try to micro-manage someone's life like that, but rather to let the reins go slack.

When I was 13 years old, I had a paper route and made $20 a week.  I also was smoking pot and drinking beer with my older brother and his friends.  They let me hang around with them because I had money, and knew how to hot-wire Dad's Jeep.  We were pretty wild kids, doing what we wanted to do - most of the time.  And while we got into arguments with my Dad on occasion, my parents gave up on trying to impose their will on us, over time.

And that turned out to be the best-case scenario.   You see, just as you can't force someone to succeed by prodding them with a hot iron, you can't force your kid to do well in school or behave by using ultimatums and trigger-events.   The will to do better has to come from within.  The best you can do is often just stay out of the way.

Because, in life, that is what eventually happens - children grow up, leave the nest, and have to learn to take care of themselves and fend for themselves.   That is, unless of course you want to have a "Stay at home" son who is well into his 20's.   And surprisingly, a lot of parents secretly "get off" on this - which is what I call The Parent Trap - people who keep adult children as pets, living in their basement.  It is a sick tango to dance to.

And it seems that increasingly, we are imposing more and more rules like this on our kids, and then wondering why they never show any initiative and never leave home.   In Texas, they are putting RFID chips on the student's "ID BADGES" so they can track them electronically throughout the school.  The time-honored tradition of cutting classes, it seems, is no more.

And we rationalize this on the grounds that our schools are now charnel-houses and battlefields - where people are buzzed in and out, much like a prison.   We have to tightly control the behavior of our students more and more, which in turn causes them to bottle up more anger and angst until they explode.

I can honestly say that if my school had such rules when I went to it, I likely would have ended up in jail or in a mental hospital.   One of the best things I learned from school was that the petty rules and fiefdoms were really a bunch of nonsense.   As a kid, you may live in fear of being called to the Assistant Principal's Office, but as a teen, the threat seems less dramatic.  And the day after graduation, well, you realize what sorts of losers end up as Assistant Principals or even Teachers.

Ahhh!  But that is not showing "proper respect for authority!" right?   Exactly.   You see, in America - or at least the country I grew up in - disrespect for authority was part and parcel of being a true American.  That was how our country was founded - and how it continues to operate today.  We disagree and we chafe at the yoke.   And this is a good thing.

But others disagree.  There are people on both sides of the political spectrum who believe that what we need in this country are more rules of behavior and more draconian punishments.  Like the narcissistic Mom, we set up draconian rules such as three strikes you're out, or our onerous drug laws.   And these "triggers" set off horrendous prison sentences - often longer than those for murder.  We imprison more people, as a percentage of our population, than any other country on Earth.  So much for "Land of the Free."

"The more you tighten your grip...." the less likely you are to accomplish anything.  Trying to browbeat children - or adults - into doing something often backfires in a big way.  And this is not some weird outlier, but rather a predictable event.

The human brain, as I have noted time and time again, is a Neural Network - a powerful learning machine.  If you train it properly, with positive feedback, it can accomplish much.  Train it poorly, it learns lessons you didn't want it to learn.

So, for example, when my Dad used to whip my brother with his belt, the only thing my brother (and I) learned, was to hate my Dad.   Whatever "lesson" he was trying to impart, it backfired.  All we learned was to fear and loathe him.   And when we got old enough and large enough to beat him up, well then we no longer feared him.  And I wonder if my Dad's idea of parenting wasn't in fact gasoline to the fire of my brother's mental illnesses - if not the cause of them.

All parents are amateurs - even those with multiple children.   Most only get one shot at it - maybe two or three at most.   Being born last is the best, as the parents either give up trying, or realize their efforts to micro-manage their elder siblings backfired in a big way.

The danger, as I see it, is that many parents, by dint of being parents alone, assume they are experts in the field.   After all, they've read books on the subject, and have to change little Johnny's diapers.  So they must know, right?   I think that is dangerous thinking, as you really don't know if your parenting is any good until the kids leave home and strike out on their own.  And even then, the jury may still be out.

And I guess that is what appalls me about this opinion piece in the HuffPo.  This lady just assumes that what she is doing is right, and that her son is a monster and is always wrong.   If she really feels that the child is dangerous and out of control, maybe he needs to go to a private school for kids with such problems - like a Military School.   At the very least, it would get him away from her and put him in an environment where the rules are not so strict.