Saturday, February 4, 2023

When Parenting Goes Wrong

 We all start out as a tiny bundle of genes and then it's off to the races! Within nine months we have developed into a tiny person, ready or not, about to enter into the wonderful world of human interaction. During that nine months, we have been provided with fingers and toes, etc., and, more importantly, the genetic blessings and curses that we will be forced to live with for the rest of our lives. Intelligent or stupid, weak or strong, fumbling or coordinated, we have been dealt our cards. We try to blink, but fail, with no idea where we are or what is going on. We have been born. Now the fun starts!

During that nine months we have already developed the temperament that will control our emotions until the day that we die. Some babies in identical circumstances are born rather casually, as though they were just interested to know what just happened. Other babies are born angry, because they've never been cold before, nor been forced to breathe, nor been held upside down, nor hit on the soles of their tiny feet. Some are born afraid, and immediately become inconsolable. Mixed temperaments are frequent.

The real wild-card in this game is the parents.

Babies grow quickly, and they learn by experience as they go. These experiences are initially beyond their control, but as they add muscle, mobility, and brain power, they take a certain amount of the initiative for themselves. By this process, they develop what is called a “personality.”

The parents may have loved the baby almost beyond measure when it was helpless, when it was always easy to know what the baby needed. It is, however, very common for the parents to find the growing personality of a four-year-old totally annoying. Parents may also discover that the process of raising children is a much greater intrusion on their own time than they had expected. Some realize for the first time that the process will take another twenty years. In the meantime, things can go radically wrong.

There may be hitting and screaming, abandonment, expressions of disgust, general neglect, unreasonable demands. This is a situation that can go sideways quickly in a myriad of ways. From what I have seen, people can get away with a lot of negative behavior before family, friends, or the state will step in to assist the child or children.

All fifty states have departments devoted to providing social services to various categories of people, families, and children. The level and the tone of the assistance varies wildly from state to state.

I can tell you that in California, if an eight-year-old so much as tells her teacher that she is regularly beaten at home, and God forbid she shows the teacher marks on her back, that child will be in foster care before her parents get home from work. The parents will be notified as fast as it is reasonably possible, by phone, or a notice on the door, or even a police visit. Whatever it takes. There will be a hearing in the Dependency Court within forty-eight hours, where the child's personal interests will be looked after by the social worker on the case, and the child's legal interests will be represented by lawyers from the California Department of Social Services. The parents can hire a lawyer, or the judge will select a lawyer from the panel who will be appointed to represent them. The social worker will already have started her file, including her first report to the court, and copies of any relevant photos. The child will probably not be in attendance. Cal DSS gets involved at the drop of a hat.

This process, often lasting years, is guaranteed to traumatize the entire family.

As I mentioned, there is a broad spectrum of possible responses available in different states. Ranging from overkill to almost nothing. Many families hide the abuse. Many states have very limited budgets that are already stressed by taking care of the children of single mothers who have been incarcerated for whatever reason.

This leaves many children to live their entire young lives in serious distress.

Is there a moral here? None that would not require money. None that wouldn't require a great deal of preparation for the parents-to-be, more education, more assistance, and maybe even counseling for the lost and failing parents.

Maybe the take-away is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood. People should put more thought into it at the front end. There is no shame in avoiding the great demands of child rearing.

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