The Power of Prime

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My Kids Don’t Fear Me (But is That a Good Thing?)

My elder daughter’s favorite books are the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can tell you there was no disobedience in the Ingalls household! Not only couldn’t children talk without being spoken to, but, for example, in church, the children couldn’t even move or look around, lest they get a whuppin’. Read More

Fear and intimidation are too

Fear and intimidation are too often used by parents who are zombies of insecurity and deep-seated feelings of worthlessness. If fact, using intimidation on your kids is just further evidence of how "worthless" one really is: if the only people you can get to bend to your will are children, what does that say about you?

"fear" vs "respect"

I'm sorry to say that I feared my mother. I was actually terrified of her; so was my younger Sister. Mother's moods were unpredictable and could change quickly, she tended to be paranoid and to perceive us as being "bad" kids, she was easily triggered into rage, and when enraged she was highly likely to scream verbal abuse at us, smack us around with her hands or even beat us with a belt.

I wanted so desperately to love my mother and for her to love me, but I think that when you're very afraid of someone its not really possible to love them. I grew up badly confused, just really bewildered, and with a broken heart, because although my mother *said* she loved me, and although she did take good physical care of my Sister and me (clean home, regular good meals, medical care, good clothes, and she was nice to us in public, etc.)... in private she treated me as though she couldn't stand me. She even told me when I was about 4, that I was repulsive, ugly, and that nobody would ever love me.

I had only respect for my dad, but no fear. He was the calm, stable parent. He was patient with Sister and me. He never made me afraid of him, he never touched me in anger, never called me ugly names, or accused me of doing or saying bad things I hadn't done or said. I would have tried to bend myself into a pretzel to please him, and would never have dreamed of ignoring something he told me to do or smart-mouthing him, I wanted his approval so badly.

Dad wasn't home that much, though; he worked hard, so our primary (or more accurately, sole) caregiver was our stay-at-home mother until I was 10 and Sister was 6.

(As it turned out, mother was later formally diagnosed with borderline pd, but I think she also had narcissistic pd and obsessive-compulsive pd traits as well; she was high-functioning outside the home. To the outside world, we looked like the "perfect" little nuclear family unit.)

I think that respect based on love is much healthier for kids than respect based on fear.

Fear vs. Respect

As a product of the late 50's I too feared my mother. I grew up walking on egg shells, never knowing when she was going to explode. I was a "no-good lazy kid". Punishment was from a board wedged in the hallway heat duct, whittled down on one end so it fit her hand better when she hit us. I was 3 when my youngest brother was born. For the 2 weeks before my mom gave birth, my 1 year old brother and I were sent to live with her parents. Her mother (my grandmother) had had a nervous breakdown and rarely talked. My grandfather was a gruff old precision machinist who was gone all day. It was essentially a jail sentence. I learned I didn't matter. My father came to visit us once during our time there. I was crushed when I learned we weren't going home with him. Can you say "attachment issues?" When I was in grade school, my mom used to threaten to send us to live with her parents so we would learn some discipline. I don't think she realized I had a full recollection of her doing it to me when I was 3. Saturday was always the scariest day. She was a stay at home mom and never vacuumed when the house was empty. It was always Saturday morning when we were home from school and trying to watch cartoons. Like the witch of the West "just try and stay out of my way, just try! I'm going to guilt trip you while I slave away and you can't escape." I learned not to ask for anything, because asking meant I was selfish. I live a life without connection and am solely responsible for my Spartan needs. Still trying hard to be worthy of love someday. Fear is not the best way.

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Jim Taylor, Ph.D., teaches at the University of San Francisco.

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