Why are parents, especially mothers, saddled with blame and guilt for the actions of their children?
Good parents mold, guide, and direct their children. It’s true that some parents choose to not be engaged or have limitations to their involvement for a variety of reasons, and that this can impact behavior. However, sometimes, children of the best parents STILL do bad things. I’m not talking about elementary bantering, refusal to pick up their room, or making prank phone calls. I’m speaking about actions of adolescent children that affect the lives of others. When this happens, the blame game begins. Surely, there is something or someone who prompted the bad behavior. The child is not the primary culprit. Frequent scapegoats: parents, media, and peers. Do these things play a role? Certainly. However, in spite of the best parenting efforts, some children make bad decisions that forever change the lives of someone else. I am the parent of such a child.
My oldest child appeared to be a model student. She always made the honor roll and frequently had a 4.0 GPA. She was an active member of an after school activity and our church; however, she had few friends and had always been a loaner. Other than seeming to prefer isolation during the adolescent years, her teachers saw nothing unusual. They chalked up her preference to spend time with books, rather than peers, as a sign of maturity and independence. Little did they know the child we lived with at home was quite different.
At home, she frequently exhibited massive mood swings and was continually angry. This wasn’t a new trend to go with the age and stage; it had always been. We constantly struggled to steady the waters. Her anger was explosive, but didn’t result in physical aggression toward us. She often lied about anything or nothing. When caught in a web of lies, she was defiant and accused everyone of being against her. Even when physical evidence was present to prove the lie, she would declare that she didn’t know how the physical evidence got there; she hadn’t done anything wrong.
This became the norm. We walked on eggshells to keep the peace. Unless we had physical evidence she was lying, we had to ignore our gut instincts or pay the price with additional days/ weeks of extreme attitude. I know what you’re thinking…”No child of mine would behave that way! I would take the attitude right out of her! You just need consistent discipline and positive reinforcement.” We thought the same thing, but worked. Grounding, additional chores, loss of technology or other privileges…nothing. Clearly linking the negative behavior with an appropriate consequence didn’t work, after all, someone else was always to blame for her behaviors. Consequences made her mood swings and eccentric behaviors increase, yet we were consistent. That’s what good parents do, right?
Things escalated and we were growing more concerned by her mid teens. At one point, she threatened physical harm to another student at school. As a mother, I knew in my heart something was wrong, this was more than a simple misunderstanding between kids, and so our journey for outside help began. We sought out counseling, but counselors dismissed my concerns. Our daughter claimed she had no idea why she was in counseling. She hadn’t threatened anyone at school; the other students lied and the teachers believed the. She didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t need counseling. After a several months of weekly sessions, her behavior had only worsened at home. Counseling wasn’t worth it. She would say the right things in her session, of course all of her communication was withheld from us. On the rare occasion that the counselor would speak with me, she would indicate that she felt her coping skills were improving. When I would discuss the increased hostility at home because of counseling, that was supposedly normal. Eventually, the counselor felt that our daughter was doing much better and we could discontinue appointments if we wanted. I explained this in the car. Of course, she didn’t want to continue.
After a few moments of silence, she said, “If you ever try to make me go back to a counselor, I’ll make sure the other ‘Brittney’ comes back.” I swear, I felt a chill sweep through the car. She just referred to herself in the third person. I tried to remain calm.
“What do you mean the ‘other’ Brittney?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
Her voice was not the typical voice of my daughter. It was cold, calculated, and threatening. What was happening? What is wrong with my child?
The next school year, she transferred. Maybe a fresh start would help. It did, but only for a short time. It didn’t take long until familiar stories unfolded. The problem wasn’t other children or her teachers; she was the problem. All the while, she maintained good grades and was the model student, according to her teachers. We It’s middle school. All kids are difficult at this age. Right? Yet, at home, we walked on egg shells more often than not to avoid conflict.
The details of these years is too long and complicated to describe here. We ended up having lab work completed to rule out a hormone imbalance. We started weekly counseling again, at what should have been a better facility two hours away from home. We had a complete psych evaluation, as we had reason to believe she had a personality disorder. (Results indicated that she shed herself in an exceedingly positive light; therefore, they could not determine if she had a personality disorder.) Our reports of her behavior were not of concern. Rather, the mental health professionals were only concerned with how the child felt. The only reports of her behavior that mattered were what she provided. Parental input didn’t matter. After many months of two-hour treks to counseling, we were advised that if she didn’t have a certain level of “buy in” into therapy, it was of no use. She seemed to have improved and no longer wanted to continue sessions. She had learned how to work the system. Counseling stopped, again.
Eventually, the truth came out. What had been our worst fears were not bad enough. She had been secretly harming another child. Over time it increased to excessive violence. The other child, fearing for her life, kept the secret for quite some time, resulting in a crushed sense of worth, physical, mental, and emotional trauma, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD. Thankfully, she broke the silence, undoubtedly saving her life.
By now, you expect to hear how the law stepped in, investigated, and brought justice. No. That’s not the way the story unfolds.
You see, the child she hurt was her sister. Yes, I am the mother of a victim and a perpetrator. Because the girls were not six years apart in age, the police didn’t deem an investigation as necessary. CPS claimed to not deal with child on child violence. We were left alone to decide what to do.
We swiftly took action to protect our youngest from further harm and to seek professional help for both children. But the questions and statements from the psychiatrist suggested the victim was lying, that we allowed abuse, or that our parenting was to blame. Children, especially girls, don’t do this sort of thing.
We took many steps to help our children and continue to do so. Our oldest can not live at home.
The professionals did not listen. I was only a ranting mother who I’m sure was seen as overreacting. After all, I should be grateful she wasn’t doing drugs, getting in trouble at school, or sneaking out to be with boys. What would I, an educated professional and the mother of a child, know about anything? I even referenced the DSM to discuss potential issues, yet it all fell on deaf ears.
Our story is a long and winding road we must forever travel, but we are not alone. More importantly, we know that we did everything within our power and resources to get help throughout the years. But most importantly, we understand that we did not cause our oldest to behave in this manner. We are not to blame.
We are the parents of a victim and the perpetrator who chose to exercise her free will to use coercion and force to harm another.
We love both fiercely.
We choose to preserve life and safety over the opinions of others who try to cast blame and shame that our oldest no longer lives in our home.
Unless you have walked this path, you cannot imagine the heartbreak and tears that water every step of the journey.
What will come of our journey?
Tears regularly water the lonesome path. I could allow silence and solitude to cover each step with weeds to hide pain and isolation. But I choose to speak out.
Who decides what horrors must be hidden? Culture? Society?
Who decides if I must hide in the shadows of shame cast by my own child who willfully hurt another?
It’s not you.
Before you decide to throw stones at me or my family, I ask that you remember the victim and the deep loss that you will never comprehend. Instead of casting judgement and throwing stones, quietly lay your stone on the ground in memorial of the violence and devastation that has occurred. We are grieving. We will continue to grieve. Place your stone on the ground in memorial and hug your own children more tightly tonight.
I will raise my voice to bring awareness to sibling violence and abuse. The victims of sibling abuse and their parents need not hide in the shadows of fear and shame.
Speak out for the victim.
Speak out for the perpetrator.
Speak out and get help for your family.
Speak out for yourself.
Speak out for hope.