ARE YOU ROBBING YOUR CHILDREN OF THEIR CHILDHOOD?
One day while chatting with a group of preteens, Ivanna* asked me what she could do in order for the father to accept and love her. The father who was an alcoholic repeatedly told Ivanna that she was the reason he was suffering, the reason why he turned out to be an alcoholic. The father spoke these words every time she did something he considered wrong.
This father was very bitter because when he was in form three, he got a certain girl pregnant and when she gave birth and breastfed for four months, she brought this child to him at his parents’ house. Ivanna’s paternal grandparents were very disappointed with Ivanna’s father and to punish his action, they decided that Ivanna’s father would stay home and raise the child.
Distraught by his parents’ decision and disappointed with himself, he started raising his daughter at 16 years. Ivanna felt even more unwanted when she learnt that her biological mother had completed secondary education, travelled abroad for her university education, had married another man and together they were expecting another child.
What hurt most and robbed Ivanna of her childhood is having a mother who did not choose her and having a father who made her feel like everything was wrong with her. That has caused her to work very hard at being a better girl. At 8 years, she had learnt to make meals so that when the dad came home late, he would not miss a meal.
Ivanna reasoned more like an adult and started taking care of the father at the age of 8 years by ensuring that the father had warm meals. The mother’s absence and the father’s behavior robbed her of her childhood. How was her childhood robbed you may ask? I will share several ways parents can rob their children of their childhood.
Not letting children play is a major step of robbing children of their childhood
Virginia Axline, a Child Therapist, puts emphasis on child play. She says that play is the children’s universal language. This means that denying children play time is robing them the ability to tell their stories, to express their emotions and to communicate.
Child play helps children in brain development, improving creativity and imagination, it improves social abilities and improves capacity to think. When parents take away play from children, they rob them of their childhood.
Giving duties is okay for children but that is never meant to take the place of their play. Skill training is best done with the parent modelling what they want the child to learn and thereafter children doing what they observe. After this, they need to find time to go back to their play.
I have experienced parents who do not allow their children to play indoors because they will disorganize the house. Others are not allowed outdoor play to avoid dirt. Lack of play not only robs children of their childhood but also denies them an opportunity to develop in a healthy way.
Ignoring children’s needs and making them meet the of their siblings or other people’s needs.
While Ivanna mentioned that she had asked the father severally why he hated her, the father always responded by calling her ungrateful words and reminding her how much sacrifice he had made in his life for her. Slowly by slowly Ivanna was learning that her need to be loved did not count, and that her fathers’ need for her to be grateful is what she needed to focus on.
This was a perfect way of robing her of her childhood because her need of love and affection stopped to matter when with the father. As a result, later in life, Ivanna is likely to attract relationships that will violate her, that will not meet her needs of love and affection because this is all she learnt from her first model, the father.
Making a child carry parental responsibilities
Ivanna is a classic example of a child who became the father’s parent. She continued to work harder to please him by making hot meals so that when he got home drunk, he would be comfortable and find something to eat. The father unknowingly robbed her of her childhood by letting her take such heavy responsibility.
In other cases, some parents overburden children by sharing the contents of their parental conflicts with their children who have no capacity or skills to handle such challenges. Some of these parents, just like Ivanna’s dad, depend on the children to offer comfort and emotional support.
I have heard of parents who constantly shared their emotional burdens with children citing that family is the safest place for them to share their burdens. The work of emotional support and care is that of the parents and when roles are reversed, the child get responsibility overload and as adults they tend to accept responsibility for everyone.
Parents who live their expectations and dreams through their children rob them of their childhood
I have met parents who felt because they wanted to win medals in certain areas and they were not able to, this will be achieved by their children. Others feel the grade that they missed can be attained by their children because their children have what the parents lacked. This is robbing children of an opportunity to be themselves.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary in her book, Conscious Parenting, puts it this way, you are not raising the mini you and for this reason it is important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. She continues to explain how high achieving parents expect their children to be automatically high achievers, artistic ones expecting children to be artistic or Sporty parents pushing their own children into sports. This robs children of the opportunity to experience life for themselves.
In my experience of working with children and their parents, I have found it true that a good number of parents expect their children to get to the level where the parents never got to, or to do things exact same way the parent did. Either of this means that we are raising the child within and not the actual child that we bore. We rob the child we bore of the opportunity to live their lives.
When a child is not allowed to be an authentic self, they get robbed of their God given abilities, potential, ability to make productive decisions for their lives as well as to create initiatives that benefit them. These children are denied the opportunities to experience their individuality and that is robbing them of wonderful experiences.
Lack of love and affection to the child robs them of their childhood
Dr. Hemfelt his his book, Love Is a Choice, gives an example of the parents having love tanks. The two love tanks have a connection to the child’s love tank. The child gets as much love as there is in their parents’ love tank. If the parents are at 50 percent, they can only offer as much as 50 percent or less to the child since they have to remain with some.
These children who were robbed of love and affection have their love tanks more empty than full and they tend to idolize romance. This means the emptier the tank, the more one is likely to prioritize romance. Does this explain why some children get totally absorbed in romance as pre-adolescents and adolescents while other children transit it with a little more ease?
Does it explain why some young adults have exaggerated feelings of romance? Does it help to understand why men and women even in marriage keep secret extra marital affairs? These are pointers to children who were robbed of their childhood. It points to the emptiness of their love tanks.
Comparing a child with a sibling or another robs the child of their childhood
Many parents when comparing a child with another have the intention of challenging the child to do better. Unfortunately, it not only robs the child of the opportunity to be authentic but makes the child feel not good enough.
These children labor to do everything possible to try and win the parents affection. Among siblings, it increases the sibling rivalry and it causes children to grow with low self-esteem. As adolescents, they easily fall into peer pressure as they try to find acceptance.
One thing that parents do not acknowledge is these children who are not compliant have their strengths, they are unique, independent beings. If only this was nurtured with gentle correction instead of robbing children of the same, they would end up being amazing leaders and innovators.
Parents who blame their children for their misery rob them of their childhood
Children have no capacity to filter heavy negative statements that are said by their parents, so they take them to mean that something is wrong with them. A child who grows believing that they have defects is surely robbed of the ability to experience the wonder of life. We see this clearly in the case of Ivanna.
During therapy, I get children to repeat statements they were told by their parents such as; if the parent did not get pregnant with them, they would be a graduate, that the child is the reason why the father abandoned them or that if the parent had no children they would have a better life.
The argument by these children is that the parents do not love them, others feel that they have some deficiency that makes the parents stay away. These kinds of children are robbed of the most important thing, acceptance. They grow up with self-doubt and self-hate. They may grow up to become people who do things that harm them.