DON’T ALL MOTHERS LOVE THEIR CHILDREN?

Don’t all mothers love their children?

Dr. Miriam Adahan

Once in a while, I mention in my parenting classes a case of a client who is suffering the effects of a sadistic or neglectful mother. Inevitably, a look of astonishment will appear on the face of one of the group members, and she will ask with incredulity, “That’s not possible! Don’t all mothers love their children? Isn’t it an instinct to love one’s own child?”

The answer is “No! Love is not instinctual!” Love is something which arises

when we give, a bond which is strengthened each time we go beyond ourselves,

especially, according to our sages, when we listen, empathize and try to understand

the other person. The sad reality is that there are many parents who abandon, abuse

and neglect their children, mostly because they themselves were never taught to love.

No child is going to feel loved if he is neglected either physically or

emotionally or is constantly criticized and told that he is bad, stupid, irresponsible or

crazy. A child who was never really loved grows up into an adult who has no idea

how to love. Neglect, abandonment, crushing criticism and sadistic cruelty leave a

core of self-hatred which is passed on to the succeeding generation, unless great

efforts are made to learn how to love, which is a long and arduous process to someone

who has never experienced love. A rejected child assumes, “It is all my fault that I’m

not loved. I am essentially worthless and unlovable.” Telling such a person, “But

your parents really did love you,” is like telling a person who has lost a limb to

pretend that the limb exists. It doesn’t work. It’s much better to acknowledge the

truth and then work on healing the wounded heart to the best of one’s ability.

I have a client who has lived in Israel for over 20 years. In all that time, her

mother has called only twice. Even though she is now in her 60’s and has made

relative peace with this fact, the pain is still deep and the implications profound. As a

child, she went off to school in the morning after being dressed and fed by an

indifferent maid, returned home to an empty house and cried herself to sleep at night.

She has no memory of a conversation, a hug or a kiss. Feeling that she did not deserve

love, she then married a man whose mocking criticism only reinforced her feeling that

her mother had been right, that she was truly unlovable and unworthy. As she asked

me many times in anguish, “If my own mother couldn’t love me, then what can I

possibly be worth?”

Another client was the object of sadistic abuse as a child. His mother would

lock him in the closet for hours for being “bad” from the age of two and beat him for

crying. She told him frequently, “You were evil from the day you were born.” He

struggles with numerous addictions, which are threatening to destroy his marriage, as

if he is impelled to prove that his mother was right, that he is a worthless failure.

I will never forget a sad-faced teenager who came to see me once. Her mother

had often told her, “The minute I laid eyes on you after you were born, I saw that you

were the spitting image of my mother-in-law, whom I dislike intensely.” She was

always compared to her older sister, who looked like her mother’s side of the family.

Mothers often freely admit to me that a certain child was “the unwanted

accident that ruined my life.” However, they often don’t realize the implications of

such rejection. A mother called me recently to say that her twenty-three year old

daughter had written that she no longer wanted to be in touch with her. When I asked

the mother about her feelings about this child, she admitted, “Right from the start, I

didn’t really want her. I had four children in quick succession, and this pregnancy

caught me by surprise. She was difficult. I never really liked her. The child who

came after her was so much easier.” When I asked the mother if she felt this had

anything to do with the daughter’s present feelings, she sounded surprised and said,

“But that was almost 25 years ago! Why is she still angry?” I am amazed at how

many people think that the past should have no influence on the present.

A young man called last week to ask about a shidduch with a client who was

severely abused by both parents. He bombarded me with questions: “Can she

function normally? She’s so shy. She has a weird laugh and I think she gets too

attached to the handicapped children she works with. Can she be a normal, happy

person? Will she be stable?” My heart contorted. On the one hand, it would be nice

for her to marry a normal man from a loving family; on the other hand he didn’t

sound like he a person who could accept such a wounded soul, someone who might be

dysfunctional at times, who needed tremendous maturity and understanding. It

sounded like she was going to repeat a childhood pattern; seeking love from someone

who could not give it to her. At 26, she had been starved of love for so long, that she

told me straight out, “I don’t feel anyone could ever love me. I don’t feel I deserve

love.” So I told this man, “She has a heart of gold and, G-d willing, she’ll fine. But

you must accept her as she is, not for what you think she should be or might become

in the future.” A few days later, she called to say that he did not want to continue.

Day after day, people come to my office suffering from the effects of verbal or

physical abuse or neglect. They are no different from terror victims who have lost

various parts of their bodies, except that the world cannot see their wounds and

expects them to behave normally. No one sees that they are going through life on a

tightrope, struggling to function and maintain a semblance of normalcy and always

fearing that others will see the truth, that they are crazy, unworthy and unlovable. To

grow up without love is like being blinded at birth, to be incapable of seeing the good

in oneself, or like being deaf, incapable of internalizing words of love and praise. It’s

like living in a bubble, alone and isolated. Without a loving mother, they don’t know

how to “mother” themselves. Without a loving father, they don’t know how to protect

themselves. Eating disorders, alcoholism and drug addiction are common, because

they are fake attempts at self-nurturing.

We are told, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is not just a commandment.

It is a law of nature! What is the explanation for the terrible hatred and sadism so

many children endure? One way to understand this is to realize that all human beings

are a mixture of positive and negative qualities, of light and dark. Psychologists call

the negative side our “Shadow,” i.e., our lust, sloth, greed, cruelty, jealousy, pride and

anger. As children, we are often told that this shadow part of us is bad; we are hit and

punished for having a Shadow” instead of being taught that it is normal for the

shadow to exist and that our task is to discipline and direct our passions so that they

do not overwhelm us.

Many children grow up with perfectionist thinking, certain that the mere

presence of the Shadow means they are bad. They spent their lives denying and

hiding the truth, not only from those around them, but also from themselves. When

they marry, they hope that their spouse will not discover their “shadow” and, of

course, are sure that the person they are marrying does not have one either!

Then a child comes along. At first, it’s all sweetness and light. But then the

mother may be hit with post partum depression, is hardly able to function and feels

guilty (or is told to feel guilty) for not appreciating the fact that she has a child. Or

the child is colicky and the mother feels like a failure for being unable to calm him

down. Or, the baby is a day sleeper and up all night. Or perhaps the husband feels

left out and is envious of all the attention his wife is giving the baby. Or the baby

turns into a strong-willed toddler who makes a mess, hits other children and refuses to

cooperate. Suddenly, the Shadow comes out full force! All those suppressed Shadow

traits that we didn’t even know we had come raging forth They didn’t know they

could be so cruel until they listen to their child scream and do not pick him up or slap

a two year old for spitting or running in the opposite direction when called.

It’s not that the parents want to hate their children, but that they hate the child

for shattering their imagine of themselves as such wonderful, “shadowless” people.

Those “buttons” which children push so easily are the parts of ourselves that we don’t

like. Instead of working on their own violent reactions, most parents blame their

children for pushing their buttons – as if their rage and other “shadow” emotions

wouldn’t exist if the child would just behave differently! Instead of taking

responsibility for their own reactions, most parents project their defects on to the

children, criticizing them for being so lazy, mean, selfish, sloppy, chutzpadik,

uncooperative, unappreciative, superficial, stupid, demanding, ad infinitum. They

don’t realize that in condemning their children, they are condemning themselves. A

parent who sees his children as disrespectful, doesn’t realize that he is not respecting

the child’s need to be educated with patience and compassion. Or, he will condemn

the child as selfish, not realizing that it is he, himself, who does not want to give.

Children are crying to be accepted as whole people, as darkness and light, as

good and bad. Learning to love them as they are is the only way to learn to love

ourselves, and to love G-d, and the dark-light world which He has created.

One psychologist has estimated that we have 25,000 of “tapes” in our minds

from childhood messages which we head from our parents, siblings, peers and

teachers which keep replaying over and over. These tapes dominate our thinking

unless learn to love ourselves, with our Shadow. Those who do not do this work

inevitably project their self-hatred onto their children, hitting, criticizing and

screaming at them for not being the perfect darlings they think they must be in order

to be deserving of love. They will continue to convey the lie they heard as children,

“You’re not worthy of love unless you are perfect, i.e., obedient, brilliant, calm,

unselfish, cheerful and polite at all times.”

It takes an enormous amount of determination and courage to overcome this

lie, to realize that we are all worthy of love as we are, despite our “shadow”! This is

the only kind of love which is truly genuine. Whatever other kind of “love” children

experience is, to them, love. This is why 80% of the children of abusers, who swear

that they will never be abusive, become abusive. And that 20%, like the 20% who

came out of Mitzrayim, and the 20% who came out of the Holocaust, are truly heroic,

even if they are limping emotionally. After Jacob’s struggle with Esav’s angel, he

was left with a limp, like all those who struggle with their “shadow.” It is not a bad

thing that we struggle to overcome Esav’s angel! It is what Hashem wants. In

struggling to subdue our Shadow, we develop a sense of self-respect, courage and

self-discipline. So, don’t be angry that your children have a Shadow. You do too.

And if your own parents didn’t know how to love you as you are, you can learn how

to love yourself now, to embrace all of you. Doing so will enable you to be

compassionate to those around you and will help you to forgive those who did not

know how to love. They were misinformed. If they could have done any better, they

would have. Your job is to be the most loving person you can be, at any given time,

with your limp, your Shadow, your limitations. Our Sages tell us that generosity

weakens the ego. So be generous in your love for others. And if you were not well

loved as a child, don’t forget to be forgiving and compassionate toward yourself as

well. You are dealing with a level of pain which many others cannot imagine.

LOVE THEIR CHILDREN?

Dr. Miriam Adahan

Once in a while, I mention in my parenting classes a case of a client who is suffering

the effects of a sadistic or neglectful mother. Inevitably, a look of astonishment will

appear on the face of one of the group members, and she will ask with incredulity,

“That’s not possible! Don’t all mothers love their children? Isn’t it an instinct to love

one’s own child?”

The answer is “No! Love is not instinctual!” Love is something which arises

when we give, a bond which is strengthened each time we go beyond ourselves,

especially, according to our sages, when we listen, empathize and try to understand

the other person. The sad reality is that there are many parents who abandon, abuse

and neglect their children, mostly because they themselves were never taught to love.

No child is going to feel loved if he is neglected either physically or

emotionally or is constantly criticized and told that he is bad, stupid, irresponsible or

crazy. A child who was never really loved grows up into an adult who has no idea

how to love. Neglect, abandonment, crushing criticism and sadistic cruelty leave a

core of self-hatred which is passed on to the succeeding generation, unless great

efforts are made to learn how to love, which is a long and arduous process to someone

who has never experienced love. A rejected child assumes, “It is all my fault that I’m

not loved. I am essentially worthless and unlovable.” Telling such a person, “But

your parents really did love you,” is like telling a person who has lost a limb to

pretend that the limb exists. It doesn’t work. It’s much better to acknowledge the

truth and then work on healing the wounded heart to the best of one’s ability.

I have a client who has lived in Israel for over 20 years. In all that time, her

mother has called only twice. Even though she is now in her 60’s and has made

relative peace with this fact, the pain is still deep and the implications profound. As a

child, she went off to school in the morning after being dressed and fed by an

indifferent maid, returned home to an empty house and cried herself to sleep at night.

She has no memory of a conversation, a hug or a kiss. Feeling that she did not deserve

love, she then married a man whose mocking criticism only reinforced her feeling that

her mother had been right, that she was truly unlovable and unworthy. As she asked

me many times in anguish, “If my own mother couldn’t love me, then what can I

possibly be worth?”

Another client was the object of sadistic abuse as a child. His mother would

lock him in the closet for hours for being “bad” from the age of two and beat him for

crying. She told him frequently, “You were evil from the day you were born.” He

struggles with numerous addictions, which are threatening to destroy his marriage, as

if he is impelled to prove that his mother was right, that he is a worthless failure.

I will never forget a sad-faced teenager who came to see me once. Her mother

had often told her, “The minute I laid eyes on you after you were born, I saw that you

were the spitting image of my mother-in-law, whom I dislike intensely.” She was

always compared to her older sister, who looked like her mother’s side of the family.

Mothers often freely admit to me that a certain child was “the unwanted

accident that ruined my life.” However, they often don’t realize the implications of

such rejection. A mother called me recently to say that her twenty-three year old

daughter had written that she no longer wanted to be in touch with her. When I asked

the mother about her feelings about this child, she admitted, “Right from the start, I

didn’t really want her. I had four children in quick succession, and this pregnancy

caught me by surprise. She was difficult. I never really liked her. The child who

came after her was so much easier.” When I asked the mother if she felt this had

anything to do with the daughter’s present feelings, she sounded surprised and said,

“But that was almost 25 years ago! Why is she still angry?” I am amazed at how

many people think that the past should have no influence on the present.

A young man called last week to ask about a shidduch with a client who was

severely abused by both parents. He bombarded me with questions: “Can she

function normally? She’s so shy. She has a weird laugh and I think she gets too

attached to the handicapped children she works with. Can she be a normal, happy

person? Will she be stable?” My heart contorted. On the one hand, it would be nice

for her to marry a normal man from a loving family; on the other hand he didn’t

sound like he a person who could accept such a wounded soul, someone who might be

dysfunctional at times, who needed tremendous maturity and understanding. It

sounded like she was going to repeat a childhood pattern; seeking love from someone

who could not give it to her. At 26, she had been starved of love for so long, that she

told me straight out, “I don’t feel anyone could ever love me. I don’t feel I deserve

love.” So I told this man, “She has a heart of gold and, G-d willing, she’ll fine. But

you must accept her as she is, not for what you think she should be or might become

in the future.” A few days later, she called to say that he did not want to continue.

Day after day, people come to my office suffering from the effects of verbal or

physical abuse or neglect. They are no different from terror victims who have lost

various parts of their bodies, except that the world cannot see their wounds and

expects them to behave normally. No one sees that they are going through life on a

tightrope, struggling to function and maintain a semblance of normalcy and always

fearing that others will see the truth, that they are crazy, unworthy and unlovable. To

grow up without love is like being blinded at birth, to be incapable of seeing the good

in oneself, or like being deaf, incapable of internalizing words of love and praise. It’s

like living in a bubble, alone and isolated. Without a loving mother, they don’t know

how to “mother” themselves. Without a loving father, they don’t know how to protect

themselves. Eating disorders, alcoholism and drug addiction are common, because

they are fake attempts at self-nurturing.

We are told, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is not just a commandment.

It is a law of nature! What is the explanation for the terrible hatred and sadism so

many children endure? One way to understand this is to realize that all human beings

are a mixture of positive and negative qualities, of light and dark. Psychologists call

the negative side our “Shadow,” i.e., our lust, sloth, greed, cruelty, jealousy, pride and

anger. As children, we are often told that this shadow part of us is bad; we are hit and

punished for having a Shadow” instead of being taught that it is normal for the

shadow to exist and that our task is to discipline and direct our passions so that they

do not overwhelm us.

Many children grow up with perfectionist thinking, certain that the mere

presence of the Shadow means they are bad. They spent their lives denying and

hiding the truth, not only from those around them, but also from themselves. When

they marry, they hope that their spouse will not discover their “shadow” and, of

course, are sure that the person they are marrying does not have one either!

Then a child comes along. At first, it’s all sweetness and light. But then the

mother may be hit with post partum depression, is hardly able to function and feels

guilty (or is told to feel guilty) for not appreciating the fact that she has a child. Or

the child is colicky and the mother feels like a failure for being unable to calm him

down. Or, the baby is a day sleeper and up all night. Or perhaps the husband feels

left out and is envious of all the attention his wife is giving the baby. Or the baby

turns into a strong-willed toddler who makes a mess, hits other children and refuses to

cooperate. Suddenly, the Shadow comes out full force! All those suppressed Shadow

traits that we didn’t even know we had come raging forth They didn’t know they

could be so cruel until they listen to their child scream and do not pick him up or slap

a two year old for spitting or running in the opposite direction when called.

It’s not that the parents want to hate their children, but that they hate the child

for shattering their imagine of themselves as such wonderful, “shadowless” people.

Those “buttons” which children push so easily are the parts of ourselves that we don’t

like. Instead of working on their own violent reactions, most parents blame their

children for pushing their buttons – as if their rage and other “shadow” emotions

wouldn’t exist if the child would just behave differently! Instead of taking

responsibility for their own reactions, most parents project their defects on to the

children, criticizing them for being so lazy, mean, selfish, sloppy, chutzpadik,

uncooperative, unappreciative, superficial, stupid, demanding, ad infinitum. They

don’t realize that in condemning their children, they are condemning themselves. A

parent who sees his children as disrespectful, doesn’t realize that he is not respecting

the child’s need to be educated with patience and compassion. Or, he will condemn

the child as selfish, not realizing that it is he, himself, who does not want to give.

Children are crying to be accepted as whole people, as darkness and light, as

good and bad. Learning to love them as they are is the only way to learn to love

ourselves, and to love G-d, and the dark-light world which He has created.

One psychologist has estimated that we have 25,000 of “tapes” in our minds

from childhood messages which we head from our parents, siblings, peers and

teachers which keep replaying over and over. These tapes dominate our thinking

unless learn to love ourselves, with our Shadow. Those who do not do this work

inevitably project their self-hatred onto their children, hitting, criticizing and

screaming at them for not being the perfect darlings they think they must be in order

to be deserving of love. They will continue to convey the lie they heard as children,

“You’re not worthy of love unless you are perfect, i.e., obedient, brilliant, calm,

unselfish, cheerful and polite at all times.”

It takes an enormous amount of determination and courage to overcome this

lie, to realize that we are all worthy of love as we are, despite our “shadow”! This is

the only kind of love which is truly genuine. Whatever other kind of “love” children

experience is, to them, love. This is why 80% of the children of abusers, who swear

that they will never be abusive, become abusive. And that 20%, like the 20% who

came out of Mitzrayim, and the 20% who came out of the Holocaust, are truly heroic,

even if they are limping emotionally. After Jacob’s struggle with Esav’s angel, he

was left with a limp, like all those who struggle with their “shadow.” It is not a bad

thing that we struggle to overcome Esav’s angel! It is what Hashem wants. In

struggling to subdue our Shadow, we develop a sense of self-respect, courage and

self-discipline. So, don’t be angry that your children have a Shadow. You do too.

And if your own parents didn’t know how to love you as you are, you can learn how

to love yourself now, to embrace all of you. Doing so will enable you to be

compassionate to those around you and will help you to forgive those who did not

know how to love. They were misinformed. If they could have done any better, they

would have. Your job is to be the most loving person you can be, at any given time,

with your limp, your Shadow, your limitations. Our Sages tell us that generosity

weakens the ego. So be generous in your love for others. And if you were not well

loved as a child, don’t forget to be forgiving and compassionate toward yourself as

well. You are dealing with a level of pain which many others cannot imagine.

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