Monday, July 25, 2011

Kids are resilient - a rant

I picked up a book at the library a few weeks ago, upon the suggestion of someone on a message board. The book is called "Free from Lies" by Alice Miller. She outlines, in broad strokes, her theory that childhood trauma must be validated in order for the adult to have a healthy emotional life. She asserts that most people who suffer from adult depression do so because they have denied (and others have ignored or denied) the trauma or abuse that depressed adults suffered as children. Though I don't agree with every premise the author suggests, there are some points that she makes that are very insightful. First and most important, she challenges the idea that "kids are resilient."

I've always felt and understood, as a child of an abusive home myself, that children are NOT resilient. Children have no power in the world. Children do not CHOOSE to "deal" with the situation in which they live. Children have to cope, with the best (read:inadequate) mechanisms they have, with what adults subject them to. Children are not resilient. The definition here tells us that resilient means "recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like." In situations of abuse, there is no "ready recovery." There is suppression and coping. Children do not have the capacity that many adults have, to emotionally process what's happening, to escape the situation that's causing stress, to compare a situation to a frame of reference and understand the abnormality of an event. Children are NOT resilient. They cope because they have no choice.

There are a few situations in which I see this happening - situations in which adults deny the trauma to which children are subjected:

1. Divorce. Do I really need to say this?! How is it that many of us don't understand that divorce emotionally devastates children? The very foundation of a child's life is the dependance he has on his parents. "Oh, they'll be fine. They'll cope. They'll get over it." Really? REALLY?! A child's entire world changes, is turned upside down, and we just expect them to get over it? How do we assume that children don't feel? That because they are young and little that their feelings are less than our own? As adults, we have the choice of whether or not we subject our children to suffer such a monstrous blow.

As a society, we frown on "staying together for the children." Why the hell shouldn't we try, with every, every, every effort that we have to keep marriages intact for our children? Are people really so selfish that they can't work like their own lives depend upon the success of their marriage? How about working on their marriage because their children are worth it? "Oh, I just fell out of love with my husband." Are. You. Serious? This isn't like falling off a ladder- you don't "fall out of love" with someone. The kind of love it takes to hold together a marriage is a love that has to be chosen. Every day. It's work sometimes. (Heck, some years it's even work a lot of the time.) But these are our children we're talking about.

2. Bullying. One of the main arguments I hear against homeschooling is that I'm not teaching my children how to handle bullies. And that's a valid argument, because I'm not teaching them about bullies. In the adult world, if someone at work harasses you, you take it up with HR. If some acquaintance physically assaults you, you call the police and press charges. In the kid world, those aren't options. In the kid world, you keep your mouth shut and your head down and you hope to God that adults don't get involved because then the bullying worsens and becomes more insidious. But as adults, we forget that. Frankly, I think that all the "bullying awareness" that we have now in schools sounds great on the surface (sounds great to adults), but is just another impotent attempt of adults to make an artificial environment (school, where everyone is segregated by age) operate as a cohesive society. Crazy talk, I tell you. Let's put a group of people who don't have a skill (socialization) together to teach each other that skill that they don't know. Blind leading the blind. Brilliant.

3. Alcoholism. As the child of two alcoholics, I became an expert at keeping The Secret. Any ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) knows what I mean. No one outside the family must ever, ever know what goes on behind closed doors. Problem? There's no problem! See? Good student! Involved in school activities! Has a part-time job, boyfriend, friends! Cheerful! Normal, normal, normal! But the problem comes later, when The Secret is out. When the adult (and less often, the child) stops hiding the truth and lets it free, there is a huge, huge tendency of others to deny the reality of what happened. "Oh, you're such a normal person - surely you're exaggerating! I've met your parents. They're great people." Yes, they're great actors. The whole family is. That's why you don't believe!

Back to the book - the author has some things to say about how we, as adults, validate the feelings of children. We should admit our own mistakes. We don't want to put the expectation of forgiveness on our children - that is a child's free will, a gift that they can choose or not choose to give, without coercion. But we must acknowledge the "wrongness" of a situation. "I yelled at you, and that was wrong. I'm sorry, and I'll try to do better." And also, we need to understand, truly internalize, that the feelings of children are just as valid as those of adults. Children are people - they feel, oftentimes more acutely, the same feelings we feel. We adults should keep that in mind when we expect children to be "resilient."

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