Tuesday 19 January 2021

The drama of the gifted child: and the broken society

I used to love Alice Miller. She was big on accepting the whole self within your child. When I had my daughter, Danny, Alice Miller was there, guiding me to accept all of my child's thoughts and feelings. I wanted to embrace a whole relationship with her. To accept all parts of her. I wanted her to know that she didn't have to achieve to make me proud. That she was already everything I needed her to be. That she was her own person.

Alice Miller focuses on the child who is forced to achieve in order to be 'good enough', the child who is compelled to meet his parents' unconscious needs. The child who is unable to share that his parents were not there for him in the way he needed most, except through symptoms. The soul speaks very bad English. It doesn't say "Oh, this is what is wrong...." Alice Miller explains that symptoms tell the truth, helping a person to tell the full story. The past is put together, piece by piece, until the world is right again.

We protect our children but society might not

I used to think that childhood was crucial. I still do. Mistreating children causes all kinds of anxiety. One of my psychology lecturers went so far as to say 'if you mistreat children, you create killers.' But I no longer believe childhood to be everything. Parents can value their children deeply, care about them and nurture them, and still send them out into a hostile world. A world where boys don't cry, where racism is rife, and where school systems are designed for certain children but not others.

As my daughter began to grow up, the child I loved and never wanted to hurt began to fear the dangers she faced. She had just started high school when Reeva Steenkamp died. She came home with frightened eyes. "Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend..." That was how the story had been told. Oscar in the foreground. The anonymous girlfriend in the background. Gender based violence eroding her sense of safety. There would later be stories of how the men women know are the biggest threats.

Danny was sensitive. She began to listen and to learn about the world. She learned the pain of her adopted 'black' friend who was searched at the airport while her 'white' parents were able to walk through the door. She learned of a library in Mali and asked questions about colonialism. She wondered why schools valued cleverness over compassion. Social injustices bothered her and began to threaten her.

There is still a place for cherishing our children

I still understand Alice Miller's need to protect children and to give them the humanity they deserve. I understand the need for the full self to be valued, no matter what. I understand the need to hold our children when they cry and be there for them when they rage. But I think we need to do more. We need to challenge a world which tries to keep our children ignorant of their human rights, which tries to assist them to fit in with dominant cultural beliefs, which upholds inequalities and indignities.

Alice Miller challenges narcissism. She challenges the belief that our children should fit in with parental needs. That the prizes and achievements a child makes are a reflection on their parents. She encourages us, as parents, to embrace the difficulties, the messiness and the neediness of small children. She encourages us to offer love, no matter what. And to be good enough. But every thought or perspective leaves out a different one. It's time to create changes outside of ourselves, to create a world where all children might feel safe, regardless of 'race', 'gender', ability or intelligence. And it's time to do this while embracing our children for who they are.

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