Friday, 2 January 2015

Broken heart

Parents who refuse to accept their children for what they are, who want their children to have certain beliefs or interests, or worse still want them to be a carbon copy of themselves, are a menace. It's a shame they can't be prevented from having children in the first place, such is the distress and misery they cause.

Seventeen year old Leelah Alcorn of Kings Mill, Ohio, was a tragic victim of such parental dogmatism. Born a boy but having told her devoutly Christian parents she wanted to be a girl, they forced her to undergo conversion therapy to cure her transgender feelings.

Last Sunday she walked in front of a truck on Highway I-71 and was crushed to death. She left a suicide note saying her parents had broken her heart and made her hate herself.

This is hardly a unique case. So many parents won't accept their children's personal identity and try to push them in some direction they're not comfortable with, which simply screws them up. They find their children's independence deeply alarming and hard to adapt to.

Fathers want their sons to join the family business. They want them to be tough, unemotional high-fliers. Or they want them to be sporty outdoor types. Mothers want their daughters to go into traditional female jobs, or to be pretty and submissive, or to have lots of children. Religious parents want their children to share their beliefs. Socialist parents are terrified their children will become gung-ho capitalists.

There are children who are pushed to become champion swimmers or concert pianists or mathematical geniuses, but who eventually crack up under the strain and give it all up to become civil servants or baristas.

My own parents sent me to a school completely unsuited to my personality - emphasising sport and religion and regarding anything artistic or cultural as unimportant. Clearly I was unhappy but I wasn't allowed to switch to a more suitable school. The emotional fall-out still lingers.

Children need to be nurtured, not moulded.

Pic: Leelah Alcorn

32 comments:

Ms Scarlet said...

I don't have children, so I can't comment on that aspect - I'm sure I would have been a vile pushy parent sending my offspring to queue for hours to humiliate themselves on X Factor, or some such... But, I don't blame my parents for anything. I did what I wanted to do whether they liked it or not.
Sx

Mike said...

I'm sure that our response to a challenging situation like the Alcorns would have been far different than theirs. I would like to think we would have been been able to completely accept something like that, but I don't know that for sure. I've evolved personally since our daughters were Leelah's age over 20 years ago.

Nick said...

Scarlet: You'd be a vile pushy parent? That seems most unlikely to me - an unsuspected personality trait there! But then if you had been a pushy parent, maybe your child would have been as rebellious as you and you'd have got nowhere....

Mike: We always like to think we'd be loving and accommodating but when the shit hits the fan, maybe we wouldn't be quite so perfect....

Ms Scarlet said...

Well, that's the thing, Nick, I've never been a parent, so I've no way of knowing how it would've affected my personality. I can't judge from that perspective.
As for my parents... if there is any blame to be laid, then I blame the culture they were exposed to and possibly their inability to question it.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet: That's a very charitable view of your parents' deficiencies! I must say I'm not so forgiving of my own parents. It wasn't the culture to blame but just their total insensitivity to their child's needs and preferences.

susie said...

It seems like kids are accepting of other kids who are "different." It's the parents who are problematic...at least in my neck of the would.

Nick said...

Susie: I think you're absolutely right. Most kids will just accept regendering as no big deal. It's the parents who get their nappies in a knot over all the hypothetical problems.

Ursula said...

The exchange between you and the dazzling Ms Scarlet most illuminating. You are both childless. Yet, whilst she acknowledges that that makes any speculation on how she'd parent rather academic, you look at parenting still from the (disappointed) child's viewpoint.

On the other hand the exchange between you and Susie (where DOES she live?) shows that you, Nick, probably have no contact with kids at all. Children want to fit in - and other children expect you to fit in unless you compensate by being so AWESOME and COOL (leader of the pack) that everyone wants to be part of your circle. To say that "most kids will accept regendering as NO BIG deal" is as far away from playground reality as you can get.

U

Nick said...

Ursula: Indeed, I'm limited to seeing parenting from the child's viewpoint. Which may be one-sided but it's still valid as far as it goes.

Re other children's reactions to regendering, you're right that I have very little contact with kids. I can only go by what I've heard and read, and that does suggest that kids aren't as hung-up about it as adults. After all, it was the Daily Mail and other newspapers that hounded Lucy Meadows so relentlessly that she killed herself.

Helen Devries said...

My husband's father thwarted him at every turn....he had to be what his father wanted.Do what his father wanted.
And having achieved that his father then treated him like dirt.
A sheer waste of talent.

Nick said...

Helen: That sounds dreadful. I imagine your husband must still have some deep emotional scars from the way he was treated.

keith said...

I was reared, that's the operative word, by orthodox Quaker grandparents. When I was little I was dragged along to the meeting house every Sunday to be turned into a God fearing Christian, but it didn't take. When I was a teenager I reiterated for the umpteenth time that I didn't believe in God and the Bible, and I wasn't going there ever again. She looked long and hard at me and said "Fine!", or words to that effect, and the pressure was off. The subject was never mentioned again.

Nick said...

Keith: That's shocking that they kept dragging you to the Meeting House when you told them quite plainly you weren't interested. At least they finally got the message and accepted your indifference to all things religious.

CheerfulMonk said...

Yep, nurture rather than try to mold. I always tried to do that with Kaitlin, but we did do a lot of projects as a family, so we did a lot of modeling too.

Nick said...

Jean: Modelling is good too. Kids are such imitators, and if you can give them something intelligent and creative to imitate, they'll be going in the right direction.

Jsy said...

Yes, yes, yes. My parents loved me, and wanted the best for me, but they also, unfortunately for both of us, wanted me to be a dainty little girly-girl. Since I was brought up pretty much confined to a small flat which I shared with two older brothers and never let out on my own, I'm not sure how they thought that was going to be achieved, but they did their best.

It was a frills and dresses and long hair in ribbons and 'girls don't do that sort of thing' and 'boys don't cry' environment. No surprise that I turned out to be a tomboy, disliked all girly girls and refused to wear lace. I didn't even own anything pink until I was nearly 50 years old. I also dreaded having a girl of my own, being convinced that if I didn't know how to be a girly-girl, how the heck was I to bring up a daughter?

Screwed up? You bet, and what I've told you is only the surface damage. But thankfully not as thoroughly screwed up as that poor sad young person in your story. Those parents will have to live with that.

Eryl said...

I expect the Alcorns are utterly devastated, and don't understand what happened. They are victims of that brand of Christianity as much as their child.

My mother was a devout catholic who beat us to rid us of sin, she really believed this was necessary for our own good, and did it out of love. I'd be a nun if she'd had her way, but at the age of sixteen I put my foot down and told her I would no longer attend church, the contradictions and lack of answers had become untenable. She was upset enough to slap me, so I slapped her back. I never did set foot in church again, except to go to weddings. She never slapped me again either. Both my sister and I made conscious decisions to not raise our kids the way she raised us. And in that way she did them a huge amount of good because we thought through everything. I never raised a hand against my son, and on the odd occasion my temper flared reminding myself of my mother soon calmed me down.

People want the best for their children. They want them to be able to fit into the world and live comfortable adult lives. The problem is that some believe there's only one way to do that. So that's what they push for. I'm pretty sure it's not because they want their kids to be miserable, or dependent on them forever. There will be the odd exception, of course.

I have to say I have never met a mother who wanted her daughter to do a traditional female job, be pretty and submissive, or to have lots of children, though I'm sure such women must exist. Even my bonkers catholic mother, once she got over the fact I wasn't going to be a nun, would have been delighted if I'd become a chartered surveyor or a judge. She probably would have liked more grandchildren, it's true, but that goes for all parents. I'm hoping for at least ten!

I think I've rambled a bit, so apologies, blame it on the cold that's turned my mind to churned butter.

And happy new year!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I think I'm reasonably accepting of my children. I'd have been absolutely fine if they'd been gay or whatever. And they are definitely not carbon copies of me or their father. I guess, though, I'd have struggled a bit if they'd become, say, right wing teabagger types.

I'm interested in Keith's comment. Orthodox Quakers sound as far removed from liberal Quakers as to be virtually unrecognizable to me. Many of the members of my Meeting aren't even theists and the Bible is never mentioned. And it would be unheard of for anyone to force their kid to attend Meting, since kids are seen as equals who are able to make their own decisions about their spirituality.

Nick said...

Jay: Expecting you to be a girly-girl when that felt completely alien to you must have been awful. And as you say, it must have made you scared that as a parent you would do all the wrong things. Screwed up? You and me both, I can assure you. Parents wield so much power to seriously damage their children, it's frightening.

Nick said...

Eryl: Good for you finally telling your mother you'd had it with religion and returning her slap. But what a blessing in disguise that she prompted you to think carefully about your own parenting techniques and bring up your own son with more sensitivity.

Hopefully there aren't many mothers left who want their daughters to follow those debilitating female stereotypes, and hopefully most girls today are encouraged to be exactly what they want to be.

A Happy New Year to you too!

Nick said...

Agent: I wasn't aware there could be such variations among Quakers. Clearly the Quakers you meet up with are much more open-minded.

Given your occupation, it doesn't surprise me that you have such a positive attitude to your sons. I would be shocked if you didn't!

Jay said...

Yes, looking back it was awful. It just felt normal at the time, of course, and I felt it was me that was all wrong .. as you do. I've been much more liberal with my sons, and yes, that's what thinking people do; change the things they didn't like about their own upbringing when it comes to bringing up their own.

I'm interested in Keith's comment too. As a Quaker myself, that kind of strictness is alien to me. In England we are much more liberal all round. If my children didn't want to go to Meeting, they didn't go. They did for a while, but then stopped and neither are religious in the slightest as adults. I'm OK with that, everyone's spiritual journey is highly personal. We take our own route to wherever we are going and that's as it should be.

Bijoux said...

I would imagine having a transgender child could be rather devastating if you think about it. The loss of the identity you in fact formed, named and raised, only to have all of that changed to the core must feel like rejection or the death of your child. I'm just being completely honest here.

I do find it interesting how often rigid parenting and/or dysfunctional families is brought up by those in extreme or alternative lifestyles. It will be interesting what science finds, although I doubt it will happen in our lifetime.

Nick said...

Jay: You're right about it all seeming normal at the time because you're too young to know any better. It was only in hindsight that I realised just how authoritarian and repressive my childhood and schooling actually was.

I was surprised by Keith's comment as well, because judging by the Quakers I've known, the Quaker philosophy is very much an open-minded and inclusive one.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Please be as honest as you like! I'm sure you're right that some parents find their child's transgender feelings devastating for the reasons you give. But ironically, I think the parent's sense that it's like the death of their child is mirrored by the child's sense that their given gender is a kind of living death and they desperately want to be "reborn" as the correct gender.

It seems logical to me that people who develop "alternative" lifestyles see their parenting as having been rather rigid. And likewise, those with more conventional lifestyles would see their parenting as quite normal.

Liz Hinds said...

We all want what we see as the best for our children but we have to accept that they have to make their own decisions and live their own lives, even if it hurts us.
I have always told my children - and I hope I could have stood by it if necessary - that no matter what they did or were, I would still love them.

Nick said...

Liz: That's such a wise attitude. How often have I heard parents (including my own) accusing their children of having done something to hurt them, as if the hurt is more important than the child's deepest needs.

Rummuser said...

I could not agree more Nick. I have seen too many such cases here too and it is heart breaking to see unahppy adults doing what they loath doing and causing misery all around too. I never tried to mould our son and he is now a happy freelancer, not quite what his classmates became but a much happier person.

Sol said...

I dont have any children. I am that awful Aunt who covers everyone in hugs and kisses. That doesnt mean that I wouldnt be a pushy parent. I know I would be a Tiger Mum. Expectations need to be high. Low expectations give mediocre results.

Education should not be left to chance.

Nick said...

Ramana: Glad to hear your son is happy with what he's doing although he isn't going with the mainstream. As you say, there are too many unhappy adults doing what doesn't suit them.

Sol: I can really imagine you being a Tiger Mum! I agree parents should have high expectations, just as long as they're in a direction the child is happy with.

Megan Cahalan said...

It's tragic that she thought there was no other way out. I've read the note and it's heartbreaking.

Nick said...

Megan: I've read the note too and as you say - heartbreaking. What she needed was a safe community she could run away to, where there were people to support her as she regendered. But I don't think such communities exist - yet.