Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gentle Discipline Wisdom from Endnotes

I found this in the endnotes of a section of Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born in a book of essays on motherhood (bolding mine):

1986: the work of the Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller has made me reflect further on the material in this chapter.... Miller identifies the "hidden cruelty" in child-rearing as the repetition of "poisonous pedagogy" inflicted by the parents of the generation before and as providing the soil in which obedience to authoritarianism and fascism take root. She notes that "there is one taboo that has withstood all the recent efforts at demystification: the idealization of mother love. (The Drama of the Gifted Child: How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of Their Talented Children [New York: Harper & Row, 1981], p. 4). Her work traces the damages of that idealization (of both parents, but especially the mother) upon children forbidden to name or protest their suffering, who side with their parents against themselves. Miller notes, "I cannot listen to my child with empathy if I am inwardly preoccupied with being a good mother; I cannot be open to what she is telling me." (For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence [New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983], p. 258). Miller explores the sources of what has been defined as child abuse - i.e., physical violation and sadistic punishment - but she is equally concerned with the "gentle violence" of child-rearing, including that of "antiauthoritarian" or "alternative" prescriptions, based on the denial and suppression of the child's own vitality and feelings. Miller does not consider the predominance of women as primary care-givers, the investment of authoritarian or fascist systems in perpetuating male control of women's sexuality and reproductivity, or the structural differences between father-as-parent and mother-as-parent. She does acknowledge that in America, women especially "have discovered the power of their knowledge. They do not shrink from pointing out the poisonous nature of false information, even though it has been well-concealed for millenia behind sacrosanct and well-meaning labels" (For Your Own Good, p. xii).

I included the whole endnote here so that I could provide some of the context, but the bolded parts are what really struck me. It's something I've thought about often, I suppose: that how I parent has this subtle effect of either upholding/sustaining or denying/defying the dominant paradigm. We provide the seeds for authoritarianism and fascism to continue by growing in our children. Parenting is a political act.

The other part of this, of course, is that if I'm focused on providing our life for my children, I often lose compassion for them in my goal to accomplish certain things and thereby fail to listen to them and to honor them. This contributes to a cycle of authoritarianism and upholds the racist/sexist/capitalist structures that we all live in.


Melissa said...

The last bolded quote has really had me thinking this morning. It makes me uncomfortable, but only because it's causing me to re-evaluate some of my own thoughts and feelings about how I parent. Sometimes I think the grind of simply living and working and raising my girls leaves little room to examine the process, but I need to get back to it somehow... (Ceinwen - from MDC)

anna kiss said...

You wrote a long time ago now, but I wanted to say this parenting shit is tough and not for the faint-hearted. It will challenge everything you assumed whether you want it to or not. The only choices are whether to invite that or fight it. I think generally we end up doing a mix of both, though it's gonna be a spectrum on the exact percentages. I do more examining, I think, then fighting, but who knows really...