Q We are trying for a baby, and as a lesbian couple that brings its own challenges. As the one who’ll be carrying and giving birth to the baby, my biggest dread and fear is that I might smack him or her – like I was smacked (and much more) as a kid.
I went to strict catholic boarding school (with the nuns wearing the full scary gear), because my parents were travelling abroad a lot for my father’s business. I left there after a couple of years when my parents finally realised how harsh the school was with ‘discipline’ and corporal punishment. I hate to think that this might somehow have been programmed into me. I haven’t spoken about this with my partner as I don’t want to freak her out. (She isn’t physically able to be the birth-mother). I’m really scared. Do you think I’ll lose it one day and smack my child?
A The fact that you are already aware of this fear and actively want to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself is a huge step in the right direction – and makes it much more unlikely that you would ever smack your child. You have the all important ‘self awareness’ – which abusive parents lack.
No child should have to endure the physical, emotional and psychological abuse of being smacked by anyone – let alone someone as big and strong as an adult… and particularly one dressed in a scary religion-based costume/habit!
Smacking, like shouting at a child, leaves an emotional bruise. It’s a shock to the brain, mind and body and it creates a mixture of fear, withdrawal, anger and resentment.
When it’s repeated in childhood this sets up the emotional part of the brain to become too highly aroused. This then interferes with self-esteem, self-concept, emotional balance, the ability to learn and to form good relationships.
I very much hope that the experiences you briefly describe were balanced out by more appropriate and caring ones, both before and after your awful time at that boarding school.
Smacking is a big mistake that can and should be actively avoided by anyone having care of a vulnerable child.
Before all the pro-smackers get up in arms… there is a big difference between an out-of-control (or downright abusive) smack/swipe/punch, and a slight tap to a hand or arm (that doesn’t hurt) to ‘divert’ and shift a child’s attention – such as when they’re doing something that could be dangerous or even life-threatening.
It’s all about self-control and taking responsibility for our actions, and ensuring these are in the best interests of – and cause no harm to – our children and their natural healthy development.
It is vitally important that you do share your fears with your partner – becoming a parent is too big a deal to avoid having that conversation just because you fear your partner’s (imagined) response.
It shows care and love for your as yet unborn child that you are willing to work through your own childhood trauma and discuss ways in which both you and your partner can share the stress and challenges of becoming parents – as well as all the good stuff too of course!
If you’re interested I have a free e-booklet called ‘OPTI-MUM PARENTING’ © which you can download straight from my website home page www.maxineharley.com. It also has a series of nine e-mails that follow to offer you additional tips, guidance and help.
I think my inexpensive self-help courses would also be useful to you. They are called 3 Steps To Sort Yourself Out – without therapy! and ‘How To Sort Out Your Children – without child therapy!
They focus upon awareness, understanding and learning; and upon ‘re-parenting’ yourself and healing your own emotional wounds, so that you can become a more sensitive and emotionally available parent and partner. See www.maxineharley.com
You might then choose to have a few sessions together with a psychotherapist/parenting coach when your baby arrives. Please choose someone who has plenty of experience working with parents, and who knows the specific challenges this brings and the emotional triggers that can be pulled! (I personally believe they’d need to be a parent themselves to really know this.)
You must have developed some emotional resilience having been through such a tough time yourself as a child – and I feel sure that this will mean that you never abandon your own child to a strict boarding school or to put them in any danger of abuse. In that respect you will be doing things in a better way than your own parents did – although they weren’t aware of what they’d exposed you to at the time.
So please feel proud of yourself for getting to where you are now and keep up that resilience and courage – you’re going to need it when you have a little person around who is totally dependant upon you.:-)
(Please see an earlier blog posting here on a similar subject – as some of my comments there might also be of help to you too.)
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)