When I was a kid, we were “well-behaved” in public (in other words, we didn’t behave like kids in public, we behaved like mini-adults). We didn’t go to children’s church or anything like that, we were expected to sit still and quiet (no drawing like the other kids, either!) during church services. It was all chalked up to my dad’s super-awesome powers of teaching us self-control. Of course, that’s never what he said in public though.
The reality was, however, we were never taught self-control.
We thought we were, we were told we were, but we weren’t.
We were taught dad-control.
Ben, the brother right after me, is constantly moving. Even when he’s sitting, he is never still…something is tapping or wiggling. When he was young, he was very hyper. My dad’s solution was to teach us all “self-control”. He told us to wrap our arms around ourselves to demonstrate what self-control meant. Whenever he would say “Self-control!” we all were supposed to do that — wrap our arms around ourselves to show we were controlling ourselves.
The reality was, he was the one doing the controlling. He was the one who told us when to control ourselves. He was the one who set all the limits, he was the one who controlled our actions by severe, immediate consequences if we didn’t behave. If we wiggled too much in church, we either got a thumping from his finger (which was very painful), or we got pulled out for a spanking. We were afraid to tell him if we needed to use the bathroom during church. If anybody had a meltdown in the store, everyone went right back out to the van (without checking out) and that child was given a spanking. If we didn’t eat all our food, unless dad was feeling generous and let us save it for later, we got a spanking. There were very few, if any, things we were allowed to control ourselves.
The result of this is that not only did I turn to self-injury as a way of controlling something (among the other reasons), but after I left, I’ve had to learn self-control and how to set limits for myself on my own. When there’s something yummy, I have a hard time not eating it all in one sitting. I have a hard time policing myself with other things as well. My whole life was controlled by someone else, and it’s hard adjusting to controlling your own life.
We were never told the reasons behind all the rules…only that they were there. There was no learning experience, there was only rules and consequences. It’s a great environment to raise robots in. It also sounds like the start of a cult. That’s no way to raise a child.
My dad always said he hoped his kids would raise their children better than he did. It’s definitely happening here, as I’m teaching Ari to pace herself. I don’t want to control her for the rest of her life, that’s exhausting and stupid. I want her to learn actual self-control so she doesn’t have those same problems I do as an adult.
She will have control over her body and her mind and her life…because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.