In my final year of undergraduate work, I took a class called “systems of psychotherapy”. Taught by what came to be one of my favorite professors, Dr. Badin, the class was not only in depth, but also came from the perspective of an accomplished and well seasoned psychotherapist. At first glance, Dr. Badin himself looked as if to be the very lunatics he would often rave about during his lectures. However the truth is, he was an absolute genius. His genius was exhibited not by his awards, credentials, or some air of prestige that followed his lame trot when he walked, but rather from his ability to cut through bullshit. The man was a walking bullshit detector. He could easily identify students that genuinely gave a crap about the material and those who were merely trying to impress themselves, hoping to stroke their own egos about what insight they imagined themselves to have. Dr. Badin never bought into that crap; unlike other professors who might allow a student to blather on about some rather inane assessment of the material, he would cut them off and say: “ehh no… someone else?” During my time in his class, I derived a great deal of joy from watching egos crash and burn there. Dr. Badin’s lectures were ego graveyards—a point most noticeable by the increasingly sparse attendance that could be seen as the semester dragged on.


On one particular day, I listen as professor Badin went on a tirade about shitty parents. Ever more interesting was the kind of behavior that he highlighted as being typical for such terrible mothers and fathers, as it wasn’t what I had expected: it wasn’t the drunken father who beats his kids; it wasn’t the ruthlessly insane pageant moms that dress their 3-year old daughter up like street walkers; nor was it the promiscuous mother who occasionally hit the crack pipe after returning home from a night of gambling. No. It was none of these. Dr. Badin had specifically identified the elusive behavior of parents with low self-esteem and an acute desperation for love. As the fore-mention characteristics foster a desperate need for love from the child, these tendencies often translate into a fear of the child. To put this more simply: shitty parents fear their children. You’ve seen this before: young men and women that claim that they just want someone to love, and for that someone to love them too. You’ve also seen parents fall apart when their children express resentment, anger, or even disappointment towards them.


But the crazy thing I’ve found is: it doesn’t stop there. In general, everywhere you look in the western world, adults are deathly afraid of children. This notion is even reinforced by popularized horror movie archetypes which use children as satan messengers or some kind of vessel for evil spirits to occupy. You know the rest; the adults spend the rest of the film running around and screaming while this 10 year-old child terrorizes them to death. What’s worse is when no supernatural theme even exists. You get this sometimes too: the kid is born with some crazy violent tendencies and the mother and father notice too late. Before you know it, some 12 year old kid is taking out adults left and right for the next hour—like the best damn mafia hit-man you ever saw. I always laugh at those movies especially. I’d be that awesome uncle that just doesn’t give a damn; I’d commit him to a mental institute while he’s asleep, enroll him in military school without notice, or stop feeding him food to starve him into submission. Hell, what ever happened to a nice hard smack? You always wonder why all these serial killers and child nut-jobs are from upper middle-class white families, too; it’s because all the adults around them are powerless and too shit scared to tell that child “no” once in a while. Minority parents generally don’t think twice about smacking a kid who’s out of line.


I was talking to a friend recently who expressed that she was upset because of her 2-year-old niece. She went on to explain that she often calls her sister on Skype, and that during a particularly rough patch in her life, she had called her sister three times on one particular day. Upon the third call of that day, she described that her 2-year old niece had expressed anger and aversion towards her when the child saw that it was Aunt Lara calling, again. Finally, at the conclusion of telling me this, she expressed genuine anxiety about calling her sister now for fear of her niece’s reaction. Absolutely baffled by this confession, it took all of my energy not to burst out laughing at this. But, of course, being the good friend and student of counseling I am, I helped to put her mind at ease and give her some perspective.

One of the most pointed arguments she used to make a case which might validate her fear that, indeed, she had been calling her sister “too much”, was that: children are honest and don’t censor themselves. This logic, my friend insisted, was valid proof that the child must be “correct” in expressing anger about Aunt Lara calling for a third time that day.

I said to her, “just because a child is uncensored in their expression of emotions, doesn’t mean their emotions are valid, or even rational. It doesn’t even mean that you have to assign them significant value. A child would opt to eat ice cream all day long if you allowed them to; that doesn’t mean its a valid desire worthy of consideration.”

A child learns about how to behave and how their behavior has an effect on others through the reaction of adults. If a child sees that they can control the fear of an adult to get ice cream or a toy, that’s exactly what they’ll do. All they know is their own desires; it’s not their fault—their kids. However, if you convey to a child that they are more powerful than you, you’re finished; that child has no reason to respect you, or believe that they are any less important than other people. Let me use this very simple, yet far too common example:


Child: Can we have pizza for lunch mommy?
Mother: Not today sweetie. Mommy just went shopping. How about if I make you a sandwich instead?
Child: But I want pizza!
Mother: I already told you…
Child: Fine! I hate you mommy! I don’t love you anymore!
Mother: You hate me? Why!? Just because you can’t have pizza?…
Child: Yes. I’m never speaking to you again.
Mother: Come on…(sigh) okay okay… we can order pizza. Just don’t say you hate me okay?
Child: Yes! You’re the best mommy ever. I love you.


You can see in this dialogue, the mother is afraid that the child won’t love her, so she gives into the child’s demands. This teaches the child that it can hurt mommy, and that if you say mean things and act mean to mommy, you get pizza and groveling. The child unconsciously learns that it is more powerful than its own mother—and perhaps, all adults. In the end, the mother gets the approval and love she so desperately seeks, but at a serious price. You can imagine where it goes from here as the child carries this ridiculous ego and manipulating selfishness into adulthood. Yet, all of this is the mother’s fault.


Child: Can we have pizza for lunch mommy?
Mother: Not today sweetie. Mommy just went shopping. How about if I make you a sandwich instead?
Child: But I want pizza!
Mother: Sorry. All mommy can do is make you a sandwich today.
Child: Fine! I hate you mommy! I don’t love you anymore!
Mother: Well, that’s okay. Do you still want mommy to make you a sandwich?
Child: No! I don’t want anything. I’m never speaking to you again!
Mother: Okay then. Mommy’s going to do some work on the computer. If you want a sandwich you let me know and I’ll make one for you.


Being a good parent isn’t about keeping a child happy all the time; it’s about preserving clear roles for children and adults. In this case, you can see that the mother isn’t phased by the child’s outlandish reaction. She doesn’t show fear or submission to the child’s threatening remarks about cutting her off from its love. In this way, the mother holds onto power and the child ceases to take control of her for such arbitrary demands. She takes confidence in knowing that the child depends on her for food and clothing and love, and so, the child’s anger will only hold out until it needs something from her. Hunger will soon bring the child to submission and to the realization that mommy can’t be controlled by threats, and that such remarks don’t get the child what it wants. Through continuing this cycle, the child will learn that cooperation and tolerance of its mothers decisions achieves better results than resistance. This complex dance of power also helps to lay the foundations of the child’s ability to understand that relationships require compromise and submission on their part, and that anger can’t destroy mommy or her love.


Because of a high mortality rate, up until about the 20th century, children weren’t even considered to be complete members of the family until they reached the age of 5—until such time that the family could be sure they had a good chance of surviving into adulthood. I think modern parents need to consider their fear of children’s emotions in a similar light; you can’t take the emotions of a child so seriously—especially over something like pizza. People need to grow a backbone. In a time when people report feeling that they have fewer close friends, and even less people to confide in, it’s no wonder people idealize the love of a child. But I’ll say it again: get a damn backbone. A young child is not going to move out of the house and start hitchhiking down by the highway. Anger subsides. Children need strong role models, not immature adults whose bruised egos cause them to buckle at the knees and cater to the whims of a human being who can barely feed themselves…



Also published on Medium.