Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · parenting · writing

Honoring Yourself, Children (But not Child Abusers)

As usual I am floored by the responses to my writing, especially the responses to my piece on Unfortunately, some more than others.

“David K , August 6, 2009: Easy for me to say but please try to love your mother. Any person with such mental illness needs love.”

Right, uh, what? Why is it that someone can read that my mother held a knife to me and then tell me in the next breath to love her? I’ve been told even that I should “love my mother no matter what.” I’ve even had people sit me down and tell me that mental illness alone cannot explain why a person would treat their children that way. When I got my first restraining order against my mother, a secretary at the police station asked what I had “done to deserve this.”

Can you tell this is a touchy subject for me?

I think there are people who cannot fathom mothers and fathers who do not play nice with their children. They cannot imagine the children who have physically, mentally, emotionally and even sexually abused by their parents. Perhaps, the parents of these children who are suffering from mental illness DO deserve love but to ask the children they have abused to give it to them?

Does anyone realize what cold comfort the words “love your parents” provide to someone who has survived frequent abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents? Would you ask someone to “love” the person who has routinely brutally attacked them? No. Unless that person is their mother, apparently. No one asks me, for instance, to love the father who has only neglected me (but never beat me) my whole life.

Yeah, I guess it’s time to recycle that post on honoring abusive parents.

7 thoughts on “Honoring Yourself, Children (But not Child Abusers)

  1. “War is rational” – Yisrael Aumann, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient.

    i have yet to write about the abuse during my childhood – even in their elderly years, my folks still wound (in that respect, i don't underestimate anyone: someone close may be missing a limb, wheel-chair bound, deaf, or mute, and still be capable of cruelty).

    i wonder, from an east asian standpoint, if honor entails “welcoming” the potential for greater mutual understanding. recognition. for instance, the exchange of rare animals between china and taiwan a few months back was a major symbolic gesture of acceptance to the invitation for transparency. like yaakov and the angel, it's a struggle toward reconciliation.

    i wrote a poem about mutual honor and respect. i'll send to you via twitter.

    it's a challenge in my family for understanding, since there are language barriers; and i can shout to high heaven – with my parents in earshot – about how they've hurt me, but deep down, as our time on earth comes to a close, i know they are realizing how, as their child, they have helped mold my destiny, through fiery trials and error.

    awareness is liberation. mutual awareness, amein?


  2. Eliyahu, I fought my mother for three years in a court battle to take custody of my sister away from here. There is no room for mutual honor and respect when your mother lies in court about how many times she tried to kill you and your sister.

    I note every single day that my parents, no matter how terrible, abusive or neglectful, have helped mold my destiny. And every day, I tell myself that if I ever have children, I will do better. They will never have to ask themselves “How can anyone love me when even my parents won't?”


  3. As a parent, I am of the opinion that if your parents mistreat you, they don't deserve your honor. Period. I mean, one of the most important things that I was put on this earth to do was to raise my kids and love them and care for them. To abuse them would be such a violation of that purpose, such a violation of them, if I did so I wouldn't deserve their love or honor. It isn't an entitlement. We aren't entitled to have our kids honor and respect us. We have to earn it, by loving, honoring and respecting them, by modeling the way they should treat other people. I want my kids to honor and love me, sure, but it is a two way street and if there is an entitlement, it is THEY who are entitled to everything I can give. I am entitled to nothing, I don't think the Commandment means I am.

    My mom took off when I was a very small baby. She says it was because she wanted to break the cycle of abuse when she's trying to justify it. That is a long story and I don't buy it. I lived for 6 years with a really abusive stepmother who would lash out physically, verbally, emotionally. I suffered a lot at her hands in a short time. A few years ago she had cancer. I forgave her, sure. She asked me for my forgiveness and I gave it. But, I didn't forget what she did. How can I? I can never forget any of it. I forgave her, sure, I pity her and I feel sorry that she's so hurt and damaged but forgiveness or not, I will never put myself or my kids in a position to be hurt by her. That wouldn't be honor, that'd be stupidity.

    My mom and my stepmom were both incredibly damaged women who hurt me deeply in my childhood. I try to understand what happened to them. I “honor” them by acknowledging them as hurt, damaged human beings rather than demonizing them. That's all I can give them as “honor”, I give them their humanity and the understanding that someone hurt them so much that at times they acted INhuman to me, because they couldn't do otherwise. But I can't… pretend that they were okay to do what they did or that it was ever worthy of my respect. Or that they should be “honored” for it.

    So that's how I handle that commandment, but mileage and experience vary.


  4. It is easy for that commenter to say that. Some people just have no concept of what it's like to be raised by an abusive parent or set of parents, so to them, forgiveness and giving love might seem easy. Part of me wishes that I too could be ignorant of all the different types of scars that abuse causes, and how damaging they can be.


  5. You know, for a very long time I did strongly believe in the idea that you should always honour your parents.

    That was until I started law school- and in particular volunteering at a legal clinic that is solely for the purpose of protecting the rights of children.

    I've read dozens of cases where parental abuse was so excessive where the children suffered from PTSD, and were literally crippled with psychological problems, completely unable to form any bonds with another individual. Every single story breaks my heart again- and unfortunately many of the stories are worse than what you have suffered Aliza. I will never again tell a person to love their parents regardless of abuse, it would be against their basic human need for self-preservation, and against my belief in what is moral.

    Aliza, you got out lucky- you are honestly a poster child for fighting back, and surviving. I'm not saying you are unscathed, or that I can understand your plight in its entirety, but I am saying that I see where you're coming from, and that I admire your inner strength.


  6. When people speak about honoring parents, they often forget the story about Yaakov (Rachel/Leah) – Lavan:

    In my eyes, this is the example that is nearest do the case of abusive parents:

    – the fact that he is the father (in law) gives him no right to cheat you

    – make a border and don't cross it, i.e. make sure you will not see each other any more…


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