I’ve been blogging for over a year now, and it has been cathartic to me to write about some very personal topics. I’ve realized that I’m very much not alone in my struggles, and I’ve also realized that my stories are touching the lives of people all over the world. I have an opportunity here, to engage an audience about issues I feel are important. One such issue is that of peaceful parenting. It’s my belief that authoritarian parenting and corporal punishment are highly detrimental. I believe they cause problems during childhood, and long into adulthood. I have started a group on Facebook for people who feel they are recovering from an authoritarian upbringing and/or are attempting to transform their own style of parenting. (Recovering From Authoritarian Parenting) It is for that group, and for you here, that I share my story now…
I was raised in a very strict authoritarian household. My mother is a narcissist and my parents are both very religious. My mother demanded immediate obedience without question. It was the “without question” part that upset me most. I wanted to know the “why” behind every answer, and it frustrated me to no end that my mother’s response was “because I’m the mom” for most everything. When I was young, I was punished with spanking (with a hand or an implement) or soap on the tongue. As I got older, it transitioned to taking my things away or extra chores. As a teenager, it was being grounded. The year I was 17, I was literally grounded half the year overall. The worst part was that these punishments were accompanied by constant psychological abuse. I was made to believe that I was bad, always wrong, at fault and to blame for everything, a troublemaker, stubborn, defiant. The punishments served to create distrust toward my parents, and the mental abuse served to make me hate them, hate myself, and want to die.
I began thinking about suicide at just 11 years old. By 17, I had amassed a collection of pills that I believed would kill me. I had done my research. I sat in the bathroom one night, staring at these pills, bawling my eyes out, and thinking that I couldn’t take one more second of this abuse. It was then that I realized something critical: I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to end. I decided then that if I could wait just a little longer, I’d be 18 and I could take my life into my own hands finally. Unfortunately, life with authoritarian parents, especially when one is a narcissist, does not improve with the magical age of adulthood. “My house, my rules!” So I left as quickly as I could.
Even though I got out at 19, the damage had already been done. My relationship with my husband was tumultuous. We had our first child within a year of marriage, just days before my 21st birthday. At that point, I had yet to identify my mother as a narcissist, and was blinded to the extent of the abuse I had endured. I battled depression and anxiety, and I soon found my thoughts drifting once again toward suicide. I knew I couldn’t do that to my daughter, so I sought help for the first time. Over the next several years, I was pushed various drugs by various doctors. I tried a couple therapists and was sorely disappointed. And as much as I wanted to raise my kids differently than I was raised, I bought into the belief that kids need to be obedient. We began smacking our baby’s hand whenever she touched something she shouldn’t as soon as she could crawl. That soon turned into swats on the butt. By the time our 2nd child was born, we were in full swing as authoritarian parents, hitting, using time outs, setting arbitrary limits, demanding our 2 year old stay in bed when we said goodnight. And the effects of that method of parenting are apparent to me now, but I was ignorant of them at the time. Tantrums, screaming, outright defiance over the simplest instructions.
Things continued to spiral downward until I hit my rock bottom. I had to get help, I had to change, because I was faced with losing my kids and subsequently, my husband. If that happened, I knew I could not resist the urge to kill myself any longer. I had been seeing a therapist again, and I finally opened up to her. I allowed her to see all of me, all the dark, hidden things. I opened my mind to change. I embraced it. And so, my transformation began.
It has been a long road since then. Many tears, a few years, and a lot of hard work. I still struggle with many things: yelling is a big one, showing affection to my 2 older kids is another. My oldest is now 11 and struggles with self-confidence, my 2nd child is 9 and we clash often, over many things. I see a lot of traits in her that I had, and it scares me. I’m afraid I’m repeating the past, that she’s paying for the mistakes I made when she was younger. I now also have a 2 and 1 year old. It was when I was pregnant with them that I extended my transformation from myself to my parenting. It was when I began to research that I knew I had to parent very differently.
And that leads us to the present. I have been sorely disappointed that, while there are groups and pages and websites devoted to peaceful parenting, there is seemingly nothing for someone like me, who had been authoritarian and is striving to be peaceful. I can’t believe these people don’t exist, so that must mean they are just too afraid to speak up. Too ashamed and guilt-ridden over their past to seek help and guidance. Maybe they have felt they tried and failed to become peaceful parents and have since given up. Personally, I refuse to believe that it can’t be done; that the damage I’ve caused my children can’t at least be lessened. At any rate, I have to try. They deserve nothing less. And perhaps I can encourage others to do the same. Maybe together, we can turn the tide. We don’t have to wait and hope our children do better than we did, we can do better now. Every second is a chance for a choice, a new beginning.