It seems quite fitting that we celebrate Mother’s Day in the month of May. After all, it’s the month where the grandest mother of them all (Nature that is) shows us just how beautiful and amazing giving life to another is. Just below the surface of her earth, seeds take root in nutrient rich soils; much like an embryo implants itself into its mother uterine wall. As the seedlings take up the goodness from the surrounding soil, the human fetus dines at the placenta café. Don’t forget those midnight “womb service” calls forcing your partner out of bed and straight to the fridge. And just as the first leaf reaches up and breaks through into the warm spring sun, a woman is giving life to her child as he swims into existence. Now, while I haven’t experienced it firsthand, I am still in awe of what it means to be a mother. From the Nature’s flowers that spring up, to my cousin’s baby that spits up, I see that it means giving from deep within, so that another may have life. I could go on and on drawing beautiful parallels between Mother Nature and the mothers we call sister, friend or wife. However, when I think of the ways that these powerful forces differ, there is one unique aspect to that of the species homo sapien; the capability of expressing emotion to the persons who gave us life.
The flowers and trees can only but wave in the wind, but when I think of all that our mothers mean to us, immediately, gratitude, reverence and dedication are sentiments that come to mind when we take into account the sacrifices made for our chance at life. From the hand painted macaroni covered picture frames, to the roses that say I love, the children of the world celebrate their mothers. However, there are mother’s out there that don’t look forward this day of pampering and affection, for they don’t expect any of that. Instead, they live in fear of the child they birthed into this world. These mothers suffer from ‘Parent Abuse’, a relatively obscure form of abusive relationship that many suffer in silence. Although some projections state that the prevalence is just as high, ‘Parent Abuse’ does not receive the exposure, analysis, criminal investigation nor national awareness campaigns as does it’s child nor sex abuse counterparts.
Parent abuse is defined “any act of a child that is intended to cause physical, psychological or financial damage to gain power and control over a parent” (Cottrell, 2001). No your rambunctious, rebellious child is not being abusive, they are simply growing up. This is a calculated, manipulative form of abuse seeded solely in the quest for power and control; not of their own lives, but that of the parent. The American Association of Behavioral Social Science online Journal published a comprehensive article in 2004 summarizing the findings of the very few studies conducted on the matter. While up to date empirical evidence is few and far between, some of the trends found in early studies may surprise you. The most frequent form of Parent Abuse is physical in nature (57%), verbally (22%) followed by the use of a weapon or the throwing of objects following at 17% and 5% respectively. 82% of reported cases were perpetrated against mothers, particularly those of a single mother family. One study found that Caucasian male children (and higher socio-economic status) were more likely than their African American counterparts to be abusive towards their parents.
Physical abuse of a parent can range from hitting, biting and scratching, to the use of weapons including thrown objects. Verbal abuse can range from derogatory language to threats of violence and coercion. Much like the title of this article, it’s hard to imagine a child of any age speaking their parents like that. While physical bruises can heal over time, the harsh words from your own flesh and blood are a hard pill to swallow.
Elderly parents may also suffer from neglect if they are not cared for in their deteriorating state. Financial abuse is especially prevalent amongst elderly parents, many who may have entrusted their estates to their children and are being robbed blind.
Why is this form of abuse is so under reported? What parent WANTS to get their child intro trouble? When the manipulative and abusive young man on ‘Scandal’ was discovered to be a liar, Olivia Pope confronted his mother letting her know that only she could stop him. Her internal struggle was clear. Imagine you are the star witness and complainant in a case against your child? Could you turn them in? Why is it more prevalent in more homes than others?
Disciplinary styles are an idea to consider. The more permissive or uninvolved the parent, the more likely the child is to disrespect the role of the parent. Setting clear boundaries and appropriate disciplinary actions for disruptive behavior are keys to raising well mannered, respectful and responsible children. Being that the root of all abuse is power and control, if these are balanced between parent and child, the less likely it is that the child is going to be abusive, and vice versa. The level of attachment is crucial as well; households in which secure attachments have been succeeded and family time is valued, tend to have lower prevalence of parent abuse. They also tend to have healthier ways of resolving issues when they do arise.
What about the race disparity? African American and Hispanic families tend to use the “Because I said so”, “I don’t have to explain myself to you” approach with their children. Taught early to “respect your elders” and a “child should be seen and not heard” are age old mantras used to teach discipline. Would a soldier dare talk back to his Drill Sergeant? Point made. Other cultures tend to use more permissive methods that may leave room for children to believe they can dictate or eventually dominate the parent/child relationship. I could go on, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. As a mother, sister or friend, what are your thoughts?
If y you know someone in this situation, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call (800) 799-SAFE (7233) to be connected to your local FamilyViolenceCenter. You can also contact me directly for more information.