it comes to disciplining children, I was never the biggest fan of the
aggressive methods. Whoopings were a rare occurrence for me, but I saw how it
would keep myself, my siblings and my cousins in line and a part of me always
wanted to have the option of talking to my parents instead of having them yell
at me or beat me breathless. However, I still figured that aggressive
punishment was okay because it was almost all I everr saw and, in my family, it never seemed to cross the line
from whoopings and beefed-up threats every once in a while to what I considered to be abuse.
as I've gotten older and seen more examples of parenting, both in real life and
in the media, I've come to realize that disciplining children is not something
that all parents handle with love and care in their hearts and that many
children end up suffering mental and physical abuse under what some would
consider tough black love.
I came across a young black couple, both in their 30s, with two kids and after
spending some time with them, I was hurt and shocked to hear some of the things
that they would say to their children when they were upset with them. When the
parents became frustrated, whether over behavior that would upset any parent,
like lying or fighting, or small acts like bugging their parents for attention
or an extra snack, they would regularly ignore their kids or curse and yell at
them or hurl painful insults at them like "idiot,"
"dumbass," "ugly" or "fat ass."
I never witnessed any physical abuse, but the feeling I felt when I heard them fire
off those belligerent words from their mouths shook me to my core. Suddenly, words that I've heard
many black parents say, like “stop that crying before I really give you
something to cry about" or "I put you in this world and I'll take yo
ass out of it," took on a darker meaning than I'd ever known. They were no
longer just jokes or phrases of tough love; they were words of mental and
verbal abuse. And if I felt that disturbed and uncomfortable hearing it, I can
only imagine how awful it felt for their children to be demeaned and berated with
those kinds of hostile words.
a child, I remember the sting I felt whenever my own parents would make the
rare mistake of calling me out of my own name. As I recall, the first time it
happened was when I was a small child and my father calmly scolded me about
something that I did wrong. I thought all was well until I walked to the door
of our den later that night and overheard him telling his friends about the
incident and how stupid I was for doing it. After he said it, he looked up and
found my face staring back at his and I remember feeling hurt, embarrassed and
ashamed because my father thought so little of me. Evidently, that pain read on
my face because my father immediately dropped what he was doing, came and
scooped me up, and told me how smart I was and how he was always happy with me
and proud of me.
it seemed small at the time, that moment has stuck with me since then, as did the
times when my mother also claimed I was being stupid or unconsciously said
something negative about my looks (joking about a kid's puberty pimples is NOT
a good idea).
my father and I spoke with each other about the verbal and emotional abuse I
saw those kids endure and he explained how it's important for parents to
understand the power of their words because "kids internalize
everything." According to him, if you recklessly talk down to your kids at
home and call them names then, "you're killing 'em before they even get a
chance to really live."
my father and I both agreed upon is that parents ultimately pass on to their
kids whatever they have inside. If it's love, concern and wisdom, then that's
what a parent will give to their child through both actions and words. If, like
most parents, it’s a balance of good and bad, then that is what will be passed
on. But if all you know is aggression, chaos, shame and dysfunction, then that
is what you will imprint onto them and their spirit and they will ultimately
pass that on to their kids as well when they have some of their own. Whatever
we give to our kids creates a cycle, a pattern of behavior that is passed on
from generation to generation to generation.
as Keenan, Marlon and their famous Wayans siblings explained while
chatting with Oprah Winfrey about parenting, none of us have to be bound to the
trauma and teachings of our past, even those that have been passed down from
our parents. In fact, we have the power to change ourselves and every
generation coming behind us just by making a choice to change the way we see
ourselves and communicate to our children.