Parenting and the Emotional Needs of Children by Angela Dye, PhD was originally posted on February 26, 2016 .
Part IV of Room Series.
Recently, I was stunned when I read about the relationship between emotional trauma in childhood and physical ailments in adulthood. As noted by Nadine Burke Harris, we tend to think about reactions to abuse in terms of decisions to engage in high-risk behaviors (such as drugs, self-mutilation, and irresponsible sexual behaviors). But, Dr. Harris argued that the neurological response to childhood trauma is also impactful (shortening lifespan by up to 20 years).
According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), long term changes in the brain and the body don’t only occur in children who experience physical and sexual trauma. These changes also occur when there is emotional abuse/neglect as well.
As educators, we understand the notion of emotional health and wellbeing but we don’t (in my humble opinion) spend much time considering its context. I guess the tendency to stay far removed from the conditions that cause us to be emotionally healthy or not stems from our training (or lack thereof). But, being certified to teach the social sciences (including sociology and psychology), I feel compelled to test the waters… to consider what causes emotional imbalances.
Through Room, the opportunity to talk about the context of a child’s emotional health was compelling. When I woke up the morning after seeing it, I could not help but to think about the emotional burden placed on Jack (the son in the movie) all centered on being his mother’s savior. As I discussed in yesterday’s reflection, Jack’s birth gave his mother value, love, and purpose. In one way, these conditions are not emotionally burdensome; however, when satisfied exclusively by children, they create a dynamic that blinds the parent of the emotional care that the child needs. As a result, direction of care becomes child to parent (as opposed to parent to child) and in its advent, the child experiences abuse (emotionally speaking) or neglect to say the least.
In Room, we see Jack repeatedly taking on an identity of being his mother’s savior. First, he (unknowingly) risked his life to escape and rescue his mother from captivity. Second, he saved his mother from an attempted suicide after he awakened to find her chocking and drowning in her own vomit on the bathroom floor. Third, he saved his mother (as he believed) by cutting and giving his hair (which he had come to understand and champion as his “strong”) to his mother so she could fight her way out of rehab.
In the movie, you can see that he not only sees himself as saving his mother. He was publically acknowledged and celebrated by others as being her savior. This saving mentality while celebrated is ultimately problematic because it has the potential to threaten a child’s self-worth and individuality. According to Beverly Engel, in Healing Your Emotional Self, children who have their identity and worth suffocated at the hands of their primary caregivers are prone to depression, low self-esteem, and high risk behaviors. Couple this with what was said earlier about the long term physiology of emotional abuse, a child’s emotional self should be held in high regard right alongside of his physical self.
According to Engel, perfectionism as a pursuit is another form of abuse. She frames it as self-abuse, further calling it abuse of the “worst kind.” It is for this reason that I am closing this piece by challenging the notion of the perfect-parent. In short, perfect-parenting is impossible!
I am sure that for some readers in this series, I generated some uncomfortable considerations about parenting decisions and the state of an individual’s emotional readiness to parent. Please know that I don’t offer this post to suggest that there is a perfect-type of parenting because there really is no such thing. To set it as a goal can truly be emotionally damaging to the self. Instead of striving to be a perfect parent, I hope parents who read this post make a commitment to be conscious and courageous instead.
By the end of Room, Joy did what I think every good parent does. She acknowledged her short-comings (demonstrating consciousness) and she got help (demonstrating courage). It is this consciousness, courage and commitment that is the real message of Room. It is the theme that warrants much consideration from parents and children alike.
To learn more about Dr. Angela Dye click here!