One of the toughest, potentially most painful, potentially most rewarding parts of being a parent is sorting through what you experienced yourself as a child. As soon as you start raising a child of your own, you have to figure out which parts of your childhood you want to live out with your own kids, and which parts you want to leave behind forever. Everybody goes through this, whether consciously or not.
The huge, unwieldy question of “How will I discipline my kids?” is especially tough. It strikes at the heart of so many profound issues, and the stakes are so high.
Like most of the really tough things in life, there are perils on both sides. If you’re either too harsh or too lenient in how you discipline your child, it could truly harm them, and that harm can ripple out to affect their relationships with other people and even with God.
So yes, it’s important to get it right. But there’s some comfort in knowing it’s not actually possible to get it completely right. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to be inconsistent, and give mixed messages to your kids. This is just how humans act, and I’ve never seen even really wonderful parents get it exactly right.
But I’m here to tell you this: If you are going to err, it’s far better to err on the side of laxity than on the side of harshness. This is not because being spoiled isn’t bad for kids. It is.
But if your child is going to have to recover from one extreme or the other as an adult, is far easier to recover from spoiling than it is from abuse. And there are all too many parenting philosophies calling themselves “discipline” that are really abuse.
Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.
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11 thoughts on “It’s easier to recover from being spoiled than from being abused”
This is overly simplified. Most abused kids do not struggle to not abuse other people! Portraying abused kids as permanently damaged and dangerous to others is problematic.
On the other side, many children raised with a sense of entitlement do go on to abuse other people because of that entitlement. Research on domestic violence & relationship abuse suggests the core motivation of men who abuse their partners and children is a sense of entitlement, especially if that entitlement is backed up by their family and friends.
Discipline isn’t a spectrum from abuse to spoiling. Many times those two go hand in hand (grooming, cycle of abuse). I am all for encouraging parents to consider the effects of their discipline philosophies on their children, but this isn’t a mean between two extremes sort of situation.
Simcha, I rarely disagree with you on much of your writing. I find much of it comforting and enlightening as it comes from a place of compassion, sense of justice and from someone who likewise struggles with demands of parenting with mental health issues. However, I feel like I must counter the dangerous dismissal of the damage that spoiling a child can cause them and their family as they reach adulthood.
As a person who had an abusive childhood who married someone from the other side- spoiled, I have to say I disagree with you about glossing over the ill effects of spoiling a child. My husband didn’t develop skills with empathy and has a great deal of struggles with his sense of entitlement. This caused me no end of pain in our marriage as he demanded many things I was incapable of giving (hello un-diagnosed ADHD and post-partum). I then would turn it against myself and beat myself up for not being able to provide to him the perfect mother and wife and home that he felt he was entitled to as a spoiled person. Following his criticisms, I would resent him for what I took as his hate and contempt for me stemming from his unrealistic and unjust demands. His criticism was constantly leveled at me and he was supported in it by his mother. His mother constantly criticized me during my children’s infancy and my husband not only agreed with the criticisms, but he did nothing to protect me from them nor did he say or do anything to defend me from them to his parents. He failed to leave them and cleave to me.
Since he was displeased with me and depressed from my lack of mothering skills and conflict management skills, he justified unsustainable house purchases, hobby purchases and vehicle purchases. This lead to us having utilities shut off at least 2 times a year, tax auction notices, foreclosure notices, $50 a week for groceries with 2 little babies at home, and eventually his car being repossessed. I can’t tell you the amount of anguish and suffering this caused me and the rest of the family as I spiraled into mental illness with depression, anxiety and panic over whether our electricity would be on when I got home, or how I would purchase food for our kids. I had to suffer the indignity of him criticizing the unattractive way I dressed when I was wearing clothes 10 years old with holes because I dared not buy new ones for myself. And in all that I had to deal with my husbands complaints over the lack of steak dinners, lack of me putting effort into my appearance and a lack of gratitude from his wife for all he did to “provide” and care for our family.
This has lead to him to have vasectomies (he needed 2 to finish the job) as I was so mentally ill after my post-partum compounded by anxiety from the financial ABUSE (look it up, it’s real) he wreaked on myself and our kids. I had an affair on my end (out of despair of being lovable), depression and suicidality on my part (after affair was disclosed), and a divorce proceeding when he REFUSED to participate in counseling for his issues which contributed to the wrecked marriage we endured. I have had countless STD tests, counseling sessions, prescriptions and nearly was institutionalized from the level of stress and abuse I suffered in my marriage to him.
Since my affair and divorce paperwork, he has given me the grace of staying in the marriage. He has started counseling and has been struggling mightily to let go of his entitlement. He has actively pursued building his empathy by working to understand my mental illness (major depression, ADHD hypersensitivity, abuse, potential borderline personality, potential Aspbergers). He has stopped lying to his parents about our finances (he lied about the car repo- said it was stolen and demanded I be silent and complicit in the lie). He has worked hard to pay off debt and become accountable to his wife and parents for the dangerous spending practices he participated in. He is beginning to be accountable for the damage he did to our marriage with his unilateral decisions to obtain a vasectomy, physically abandon and emotionally forsake me during my post-partum years.
He is recognizing that he abused me with his unilateral spending and emotional abandonment and physical abandonment. He is recognizing the coercion he used against me to obtain the vasectomy- I was at home with kids with no income to my name and completely dependent on him when he refused me physical touch for 1.5 years until I finally broke and agreed to the vasectomy just so I could be held again. This led to me seeing myself as just a hole he could plug for his own satisfaction and myself as little better than a whore who spread her legs so she could keep her self in a somewhat comfortable home and have some way of participating in raising her children. I can’t tell you the level of degradation I suffered when he broke his sacramental vows of richer, poorer, have and to HOLD, be fruitful and multiply, FORSAKE ALL OTHERS (from his longing after other women), SICKNESS and health.
He is also working on his own shit for the emotional affair he carried on for over a year before my affair with one of our close family friend’s wife. As well as the previous years of me having to endure his endless praises for various female friends of mine, negative comparisons of me to them and repeated requests on his part for breast implants, blonde hair and heavy make up, despite me being a size 4 dress size and in excellent physical shape and being a very attractive brunette. His sense of entitlement led to him feeling resentment when I didn’t fit his mold for a wife he “deserved” and led him to believe that since I was emotionally unstable that he, and I quote, “even if he had to have a bitchy wife, at least he should be able to take solace in her looking good.”
I WAS ABUSED IN MY MARRIAGE FROM A MAN WHO WAS SPOILED BY HIS PARENTS! I have been broken in so many ways and have degraded myself in so many ways from my own lack of boundary setting skills, lack of sense of my own worth and enabling and allowing of myself to be treated in this manner for 13 years.
It is only through the grace of God and the love of our children and the desire to show them an example of reconciliation and redemption and my determination to break the chains our our generational sins that have kept us in it for the past year and a half since my affair and mental breakdown. Without God’s grace, my friends and his decision early on to hang in there and try to work things out that I am even alive today and still in this marriage.
If I had been able to set healthy boundaries in my marriage, a lot of these things would not have happened. Who knows, maybe we would not be married at all. Maybe that’s what attracted him to me- an non-confrontational conflict avoidant woman who would accept his demands for perfection, his demands for living the high life with out the proper funding and put up with his lack of empathy, self introspection and self justifications for continuing to spoil himself at the direct expense of the safety of his family, the provision for his children and the sacrifice of his wife’s mental health. I think the healthier women he dated sensed this and walked away before he could continue to live his fantasy of being the golden boy who was the perfect husband, lover, provider for his family.
So yeah, marrying a spoiled man from my abused background has been a horrible experience. This article is very negligent in it’s approach to brushing off the damage a spoiled entitled child who grows into adult hood can do to their family. I feel you are doing your readers a great disservice in being so blithe to the dangers of raising and entitled and spoiled child.
I don’t think that Simcha’s article in any way insinuates that a spoiled kid grows up to have narcissistic personality disorder. In fact, psychologists say that people with NPD suffer from a lack of self worth and deep shame that they overcompensate for by acting like they are the best and manipulating others.
I’m hesitant to say whether my husband is full blown narcissist or whether he has the tendencies. I am emotionally hyper sensitive both from my ADHD and from years of watching my father abuse my mother by demeaning her and carrying on a long term affair in her face with a family friend. I snapped and had mine when I saw my husband carrying on the same way with my own friend. They hadn’t got physical and he said they were just friends and that he respected her too much to go that route. However, listening to even other Christians tell their stories, I’ve heard of ministers and pastors getting into affairs under similar circumstances and never intending them to go physical. They do anyway though because eventually the body follows where the heart leads. Either way, husband is in therapy now and full blown narcissists (NPD) don’t see the need for therapy. Neither did he, but he realized that he had to or I was divorcing him. I filled out paperwork after he read me the riot act for purchasing a $20 swim suit for my daughter at Target without consulting him first. (more financial abuse) He still doesn’t see anything wrong with his wants and desires, but understands more now that he can’t just go and snap at everyone and criticize people every time they fail to live up to his standards.
I’m going to stop commenting here as I don’t want to work out my life’s story, but I thought that it was important that Simcha and her readers understand the very real devastation and pain that spoiled children wreak as adults.
Especially since, as they tend to become abusers, the gravitate towards the abused. As an abused person, I had no boundaries and no sense of what was right, normal and due to me in a relationship.
My family was of the spoiling type; my husband’s was very much NOT, and the effects from his childhood linger in horrible ways. The worst thing about being indulged is that you have to learn that people are not always generous. Life teaches that quickly enough. Abused kids, including emotionally abused ones, have to UNLEARN that people don’t hate them or hold them in contempt and most never manage.
When my kids were small, they had 3 hard rules: the only thing we draw on is paper. It’s ok to make a mess but you have to clean it up. And not too loud if you’re in the same room as mommy. That was it. Oh I redirected them from undesirable activities. And they learned that sharing and being nice makes Jesus and Mommy happy. And if someone did throw a lego at his brother, the victim would came running and mommy would get to the bottom of the incident and the offender(s) would be made to apologize, but really the house ran pretty well on the three rules and our high expectation that they’d all be nice to each other.
Now that they’re older we have a few more rules. 1)work hard in school 2)joining an aerobic sport is mandatory in high school 3)earn money over the summer. 4)no drugs and no drinking and driving. Ever. That’s it. We of course have expectations for our teens. We keep Covenant Eyes on their phones and converse constantly about respect toward others and themselves and try to keep up with what’s going on in their lives.
But we don’t think of parenting in terms of discipline and punishment. Particularly with teens. Our kids have a lot of freedom so long as they can keep our trust. So far it’s worked out for us. Our youngest will be in high school soon. We’ll see if our luck holds. And we’re not kidding ourselves. We know a lot of how well our kids have done is due to luck. And prayer. Lots of prayer.
I should have adopted the ‘we only draw on paper’ rule. We had: 1. You may not hit your brother no matter what he did or how bad you want to; 2. You must wear underwear to the dinner table; 3. You may not call anyone stupid.
I added ‘TV is boring,’ but my late MIL gave the boys their cousins’s discarded Gameboys and that was the end of the world.
Thanks for this, Simcha. I realize now that I was raised with childhood emotional neglect. My mentally ill father abandoned us after creating chaos and left us to grow up in poverty. My Mom, who had a horrible childhood being raised by a mentally ill mother, kept us alive and fed, but didn’t herself have the emotional resources to raise us as kids who were seen, safe, soothed and secure.
I still deal with the effects of this and it’s the reason I couldn’t trust myself to have kids of my own. I literally can’t fathom why people would look on having children as something positive.
The Bible is right, the sins of the father are visited on the children.
I think you sell yourself short. I’ll say a prayer for you. God bless.
Philly area—thanks for the prayer. When you read about attachment theory you know that there are some things you don’t compensate for later in life if you didn’t get it early. I see where people are harsh in kids because they have their own deficits. I know that would be me. I would not want me for a parent.
I live attachment theory. 😉 Some of the kids we parent are not biologically ours. No question healing after abuse and abandonment is a long, painful process. But healing does happen. Anon for This, you are a beautiful child made in the image and likeness of God. I will pray a Novena to St Jerome Emiliani for you.