Rarely do I have such a strong reaction to a movie, but I went to see August: Osage County with a friend and was again reminded what a nightmare abuse is. Watching the movie was like two hours of staring into the abyss. Portraying the realities of addiction and abuse, the film represented everything a family is NOT supposed to be–the exact opposite of God’s design–but what is heartbreakingly common today. Despite spectacular performances by many actors, it was painful to watch.
Everything a Family Shouldn’t Be
The matriarch, suffering with cancer and a prescription drug addiction, has three broken daughters. One daughter is angry and controlling. Her own marriage is in ruins and she has an odd, cold relationship with her daughter. Why wouldn’t she? A healthy mother daughter-relationship was never modeled for her.
The other two daughters are a combination of checked out, ignoring reality, and drawn to unhealthy relationships. As the story unfolds, we learn that her mother before her was mean and spiteful. The hateful cycle flows seamlessly from one generation to the other. The matriarch’s illness is just a metaphor for the cancer of bitterness and abuse eating away at the whole family.
What troubled me most was the lack of redemption in the movie. No one changed. No one learned. Nothing offered hope that all their pain could be turned toward something good.
Breaking the Cycle of Abuse
Abuse starts a cycle that flows from generation to generation unless someone has the humility, insight, and courage to stop it. Unchecked, abuse virtually guarantees broken relationships, regret, and loneliness.
None of us had perfect families but many of us had what psychologists call “good-enough parents.” The idea, according to research, is that kids will likely turn out alright if they have parents who provide a stable, safe, loving environment, even if they occasionally get mixed messages, irritable parents, inadequate respect, or invalidation for their thoughts and feelings.
Good Enough Parents
If you are going to have kids, NO ABUSE! You don’t have to provide enrichments such as summer camps, trips to Europe, or snazzy toys. You don’t need to be a constant source of praise and adoration.
Just be a good enough parent who doesn’t verbally, emotionally, mentally, physically, or sexually abuse your kid OR allow them to be subjected to it! Maybe those of you reading this don’t understand why that needs to be said. Shouldn’t it be obvious?! Sadly, abuse is all too common.
Children enter this world without a clear sense of who they are and what they should think about the world. Certainly temperament influences where we end up, but childhood experiences largely shape our sense of our own value and what we think of others. Some have said children have borrowed esteem. They become, for the most part, who significant others, i.e. parents, tell them they are. One of the most important roles of a parent is to mirror value and worth to their children.
Here are some basic but critical tips for raising reasonably healthy children:
- Respect your child’s individuality. His job isn’t to make you look good or to make you feel good about yourself.
- Never humiliate or ridicule your child.
- Don’t discipline out of spite. Discipline is to correct, teach, and encourage growth. If you are furious, calm yourself down until you can find a consequence that is appropriate.
- Model for your children what you want to see in them. Practice what you preach.
- Let your children know their thoughts and feelings matter. Make it safe for them to have their own point of view, even as you calmly present yours and hold them accountable for their behavior.
- Honor healthy boundaries. Kids need to be allowed privacy, and have a right to their own thoughts and feelings even as they are accountable for their behavior.
- Don’t try to control them with shame and guilt.
- Never terrorize your child with violence, threats of abandonment, name-calling, or screaming.
- Never treat your child like a sexual object. This includes suggestive, intrusive comments or exposure to pornography.
- Don’t ignore or neglect your child. Try to build some sort of connection. Relationship buys you influence. Try to have a real relationship with your child.
- Don’t do everything for your child or overprotect him. Convey confidence in your child’s abilities as he attempts to grow to be self-reliant.
- Catch your child doing things right but don’t praise her for everything all the time. Make the praise meaningful.
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Absorbed
I’ve heard well-meaning Christians speak scornfully about “self-esteem.” I think what they are reacting to is the self-absorbed narcissism that is so common in our culture. Nobody wants to raise a selfish, entitled child.
The thing we want to instill in our children, the antithesis of abuse, is this: I am valuable and confident that I can handle the challenges I face in life, with God’s help. I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, as do others.
Blessings for Future Generations
The good news is the cycle of abuse can be broken. Breaking long-standing patterns of negative thinking and unhealthy behavior is hard work. People who dare to get help and follow through are making changes that will pay dividends for generations to come.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living. I am also a less-than-perfect but “good-enough” mother of five children.