Sunday, December 18, 2022

The America "Dream" of Children Needing Saving and Parents Deserving Blame

On of my trauma discussion forums a member posted this question recently...

Why is there so much emphasis on healing from the effects of unsupportive and harmful parenting and so little emphasis on the prevention of unsupportive and harmful parenting?

My response is below, and was a great direct application of themes discussed often on this blog.


One theory and observation I can offer is that, systemically (at least in the US), the dominant paradigm is that we offer child protection services. In America, a dominant world view these services are built upon thinks that...

1) We should infantilize children. They are seen as helpless and immature beings who are incapable of knowing what's right or best for them. We, the adult authority, do, and so it is our duty to save them.

2) We should place enormous and unjust personal responsibility on adults. Adults are viewed as self-empowered. They are seen as, themselves, to blame for any actions they've taken. They are not allowed to call themselves victims or be in need of care.

Given those two world views, it justifies building support and protection for children but little to none for adult parents. The script is to save the child from the parent until the parent, themselves, puts in the work to "deserve" the child again. Don't ask the child what they want. And don't ask the parent how they got where they are.

Also note that much of the "support" built to help adults in fact is still ultimately a self-responsibility ask. Job skills asks you to develop skills. They often don't just give you a job. Therapy asks you to develop skills. They don't just support you. They demand self-growth.

This is not to say that the answer is zero percent personal responsibility. But it is, to my mind, through gross injustice and objectively impossible demands placed almost 100% of the blame and responsibility for adult life outcomes on the individual alone.

I believe both views have a kernel of truth while being brutally and devastatingly wrong. We need to work with kids and treat them as co-collaborators and as intelligent, capable, and insightful autonomous human individuals. And we need to understand the principle of interdependence. No human is 100% self-responsible for their outcomes in life. Social factors matter, and are often root causes of failure or struggle.

As the commenter suggests, if parents are struggling to parent, we can ask not just what their personal issues are, but what their social issues are. We could ask they themselves their opinions about it versus assuming that we perfectly know exactly what's best. And we work to co-create adjustments to social factors if we want to decrease child abuse and neglect. Versus always asking the individual alone to somehow heal. 

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