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Sociopathic Parenting

by James Kimmel, Ph.D.

 
"The societies for the prevention of cruelty to babies and children concern themselves
only with the grossest sort of abuse. Our society must be helped to see the
gravity of the crime against infants that is today considered normal treatment."

- Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept1

Definitions: (From Webster's Dictionary)

Antisocial:

  1. not sociable
  2. harmful to the welfare of people 

Asocial:

  1. avoiding contact with others
  2. selfish 

Psychopathic personality:

  • a person characterized by emotional instability, lack of social judgment, perverse and impulsive (often criminal) behavior, inability to learn from experience; amoral and asocial feelings; and other personality defects. 

Sociopath:

  • A psychopathic personality whose behavior is aggressively anti-social. 

We live in a society that is rapidly becoming a nation of sociopaths. The root cause of this is not the loss of family values. Neither is it the consequence of parents who are in themselves sociopaths or emotionally disturbed individuals. The cause, instead, is the conventional, but abnormal, ways in which we rear our children. From the moment of birth, children are deprived of that which humans evolved to have the prolonged nurturing natural to our species. We - parents, community and government - are unwilling to make the commitment to our children that is their birthright. We bring children into the world - but do not accept our responsibility to be there to care for them. 

In our lack of commitment to our children they are deprived of the human attachment that is their biological and genetic "expectation" at birth. We deny them the biological mothering experience that is the basis for human sociability and often, parcel their care off to strangers, who usually have even less of a commitment to them than we do. Because our children are not our first priority, the best some of us can give them is "quality time". In a nation of individuals whose major priority is "me," we perceive caring for another, including our own children, as self-sacrifice and loss of self. We seek more and better day-care centers but not the types of help that could enable us to stay at home to care for our children. Nor does our government offer financial help, as other nations do, that allows at least one parent to be at home to care for their infant. 

The fact that new human life is not our first and foremost priority indicates that individual human life is not our primary value. The ways in which we respond to infants, even when we do value them, suggests that we do not know how to convey to them that they are valuable. We are simply not friendly to the life we create. 

Our ways of caring for infants and children are actually sociopathic in that they are aggressively antisocial and asocial. It is common practice to force infants to spend long periods of time alone in their cribs, to sleep alone, and to ignore their crying, so that they will leave us alone and learn to accept being alone. Spanking, hitting and punishing children are widely accepted methods for teaching children to behave. If we treated another adult the way we commonly treat our children, we would be subject to criminal and/or civil action. Imposing one's will on another person is considered a crime in our society. Yet with children, it is actively encouraged. The only conclusion is that children are not seen as persons. 

In our efforts to get children to behave in the ways we want, we utilize methods of control which are culturally condoned forms of violence. Based on our long-standing traditional belief that children are a form of property, we treat them as objects to be manipulated and molded in directions that will be comfortable for us.  

Peter and Judith Decourcy have expressed our societal perception of children in the following passage: 

In many ways we do not think of children as people with the rights and privileges of adults. Physical punishment and psychological harassment are considered acceptable methods of controlling a child. Children are often punished in a variety of unusual and ingenious ways that would not be tolerated in the most backward adult prison, and the parents are not subjected to social censure or legal interference. It is as if children were objects, bits of property belonging to the parents, to be used in any way the parents see fit.2

The strangest and most unrealistic part of our child-rearing beliefs is that our antisocial behavior toward them is supposed to make them become caring social beings. We are blind to the fact that the parent-child relationship is the first and most formative social relationship and the model for the child's interaction with others. Our children are chiefly influenced in their development by who we are in relation to them, not by who we think we are or pretend to be. As Theodore Schwartz put it, "what is important in cultural transmission is not so much what children are taught or not taught, but the ways in which things happen to them and the attitudes of the people around them with whom they are interacting."3 

We act in relation to our children in ways that are similar to the psychopathic personality. In our behavior toward them, we are frequently emotionally unstable, perverse and impulsive. By depriving them of our love and affection, and by punishing them to get them to behave, we behave in amoral and asocial ways (sometimes criminal). We lack social judgement in our belief that the way we behave toward them will make them become social individuals. Our reluctance to change the ways we relate to our children, even though we are continually confronted by our failure to change their behavior, indicates that we (community and nation, as well as parents) are unable to learn from experience. By following our conventional infant care and child-rearing practices, we are unwittingly training our children to become sociopaths. 

We may not in the totality of our individual lives behave like sociopaths. Most of us are not criminals. But many of us are sociopathic in the way we relate to our children. This is not because we are as individuals deviants from the norm. We are the norm. We are sociopathic parents because our child-rearing traditions, our own life experiences as children, our culture, our government, and many of our experts on infant and child care encourage us to be so.
 

 
1
Liedloff, Jean. Continuum Concept. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1986. 

2 Decourcy, Peter and Judith. A Silent Tragedy: Child Abuse in the Community. New York: Alfred Publishing.  

3 Schwartz, Theodore, "Socialization as Cultural Transmission." Berkeley: University of California Press. As quoted in: Nanda, Serena, Cultural Anthropology, Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1987, p.131.
 

James Kimmel Library
 
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