A Disobedience Guide for Children
how to make your parents stop hurting you
This post is not by me. It was made across some comments in a private facebook group, and I’ve collected it here. The authors requested to remain anonymous. I’ve very lightly edited it for readability/post format.
I've thought about rebellion against my parents' violence far too much. (I have intrusive thoughts about it.) When I was 15, I finally hit my mother back, and then she never hit me again. That's a comforting memory, but I wish I'd done it much earlier.
What I didn't realize back then is that sometimes violence can be deterred not because you can outright win a conflict, but because it could be more costly than the victory is worth. I wish I'd fought harder and smarter, earlier. Adults are physically stronger, but they have so much more to lose. Even a 4-year-old can break a window. It would have been miserable in the short term, my parents would have yelled and threatened and punished, but I think it'd have only taken two or three windows before they never hit a child again.
I know this only works when your parents are paper tigers. My parents' violence was relatively limited, they had some internal divisions over it, and they didn't have an ideology or community that supported it.
I hate that I believed the mirage for so long. If I'd solved it sooner, it might have set the family on a much better track. One of my brothers killed himself, another died in a drug-overdose-or-was-it-suicide. I doubt my parents see it this way, but I mostly blame them.
I wasn't strong as a child. It was only as an adult I realized how good it is to be strong, and decided to train in strength and combat. I appreciate my unearned testosterone.
It'd have only taken two or three windows before they never hit a child again
I'm thinking about this with my own dad, who also used violence (and wasn't very committed to it / regretted it later), and man, this still feels pretty dangerous to me from a kid perspective. Like, maybe they stop hitting you but now you are a child with "behavior problems" and they don't trust you anymore and they are "worried about you" so they make sure you're always supervised and you have no privacy and maybe you can escalate again but they can escalate as far as institutionalizing you. I wanted my dad to leave me alone more to do my own thing, and he had complete (legally sanctioned) control over my freedom, so the best way to get more privacy and freedom was to capitulate to him and be thought of as a "good child", I think? (I also think you would hate this framing but I'm actually not sure how to reconcile that with my model of what would have happened if I'd intentionally broken windows as a child)
(I do wish I'd told him not to hit me every time he did, and stayed obviously hurt/mad at him for longer each time, I think that would have helped him feel more like it wasn't an acceptable thing to do, given that he was already somewhat conflicted about it)
(The following is about my situation, maybe some others, but I doubt it applies to all situations)
I was also the "good child", feigning placidity and affection until my sharp left turn. With finesse, I think the "good child" reputation can be complementary to a violent anti-violence strategy.
After I hit my mother back, she was, if anything, a little nicer to me for a few days. Which is odd—you'd think she might at least try being cold. (btw it certainly wasn't fear; she definitely knew that I'd only hit her in self-defense, that I never initiated violence with anyone, and that I was principled in general.)
I think it was a few things, several of them related to me being a "good child":
-She wanted me to like her. Me hitting her back indicated that perhaps I *didn't* like her.
-She wanted me to want her to like me. Me hitting her back indicated that I cared less for her opinion than she thought.
-She wanted me to still be the "good child", who was never in trouble, whose academic and musical accomplishments reflected well on her, who made her look good to her friends. If she behaved consistently with that, perhaps it would still be true.
-She wanted it not to have happened, not to be real, for everything to go back to normal.
One thing I didn't understand when I was young, when parents seemed so powerful, was that parents are overwhelmed like everyone else and would much rather not have more problems. Is your formerly "good child" now a "problem child"? You don't have time for that. Please let it not be true.
(I'm sure there are potential pitfalls. People might ignore some problems when they can, but they'll find time/energy for dominance challenges from those they consider beneath them. Gotta avoid that framing.)
Some things that are on your side (for some, hopefully most, parents):
-Their pride: they want to show you off to their friends. They want to say "my child is top in their class, won the music competition, and look at this cute Father's Day card they made".
-Their shame: they don't want to say "my child dislikes me, breaks windows, tells everyone I assault them, is a problem child".
-They want happy family times, Christmases and birthdays, teaching you to ride a bike or drive a car, building a snowman, playing Monopoly. They're trying (sometimes incompetently) to steer the family situation toward that.
-Punishment is costly: Supervision costs time or money, involving therapists and social workers costs money and pride, it all costs more of your child's goodwill.
So you're 4, or 8, or 12, and you break a window and tell them you'll do it again if they assault you again. They're shocked, this can't happen, the world is awry. They ban you from TV or computer or whatever. Maybe they test it again a month later, and you break another window.
Maybe they call the police to try to scare you (my parents tried this a couple of times against my brother when things got especially violent). Of course the police will do nothing of consequence. If they even turn up, they'll sternly tell you that it's illegal to break windows, maybe bluff or bluster about jail, and leave.
They hit you again, you break another window, and they send their problem child to a psychologist for an oppositional defiant disorder diagnosis. In this case, you tell the psychologist this:
"I know that the law doesn't take child assault seriously, but I will do whatever it takes to be safe in my home. I am not a problem child. Here's my most recent report card, see how my teachers all love me, here's the phone number for the school, call and ask if I'm ever in trouble. This isn't about a personality disorder, this is about child assault. But I'm open to other solutions. If I require safety and my parents require violence, then we aren't compatible. Can you refer me to the foster care system? You don't think it's warranted? Then I'll make my own inquiries."
(Foster care can be a bluff if you want. Your parent/s would be ashamed if anyone even heard you were seeking foster care, and they'd fear that their long-term relationship with you is in doubt.)
So you're theoretically a problem child. They still don't want their windows broken. Next time they want to hit you, they hesitate.
And eventually it's six or twelve months later, they haven't hit you and you haven't broken any windows, you got an A in math or something, maybe you're back to good child, can it be true? They never need to find out it's not, if they never hit you again.
Other strategies might work.
Go to their workplace, tap a glass until you have everyone's attention, and tell them all that your parent assaulted you last night, and could everyone please tell them not to attack children. A lot of people would want to avoid the shame of that occurring again.
Run away for a couple of days. I've heard of parents saying that their child being missing is the most scared they've ever been. Depending on the parent, that might be a cost they don't want to pay again.
Call the police, even if the assault didn't cause a visible injury. The police might not take an assault that leaves no marks seriously, might tell you not to call again about normal parental assault (call again anyway), but it'll be very embarrassing and memorable for the assaulter. And maybe it did cause a visible injury. (The police will probably not press charges the first time if you change your mind and stop cooperating. Or if your parent does get charged, well, it's dangerous to assault people.) The police report may help protect you from any institutionalized problem child stuff your parents try later.
An unarmed 4-year-old can't fight back usefully, but even a 10-year-old can bite and can try to eye-gouge, if they can withstand the pain of the fight. The adult will surely win, but if the child always fights back with extreme viciousness, it may deter the next attack. (You don't have to actually gouge out their eye, you just have to make it look like you're trying to. And if your parent does get injured, well, it's dangerous to assault people.) I suspect you can still keep the "good child" reputation even if you do this. "My child is gentle and good in general, except they go fucking crazy when physically attacked, strong primal instinct I guess" is a plausible thing to think imo.
he had complete (legally sanctioned) control over my freedom
While I agree that a parent can cause a lot of trouble for you and it's much easier to be regarded as the good child, I think you still overestimate their power, especially compared to yours. If they devoted their life to ruining yours, they'd probably succeed. If you devoted your life to ruining theirs, you'd probably succeed. You both have horrific options, and you're both afraid of the other's escalation. (Or maybe they're not afraid, but you can make them afraid.) You worry about how they'd feel if you did something unimaginable, some trauma they'd never forget, like you embarrassed them so badly at work that they switched jobs, or you called the police and there was some protracted CPS investigation, or they have a scar from a fight. Fine! The stakes are no lower for you. It's decades later and we're still talking about what they did, maybe still having the nightmares. And in some sense, your victory is inevitable. Who's the more needy in your relationship now?
Of course parents differ, but I think in many cases you can do unthinkable things and your parents still end up wanting you to like them and wanting to think well of you. I skimmed the book by the mother of one of the Columbine shooters (not recommended, at least not at face value) and she's desperately clinging to the idea of her "sweet, beloved child" led astray by the other shooter, recalling the time he cared for her when she was sick, and the way he made the family laugh at dinner.
I don't think the legal sanction aspect is very powerful. Police hate domestic violence calls, social workers are overworked and underpaid, and the justice system has very few options for punishing children. They won't imprison you for breaking your parent's window, and they can't sue you. As in so many things, rules aren't really rules, they're just risks and costs, if even that.
And it's all unbearably embarrassing, calling the police or whoever after assaulting you. They don't want to do it. They'd rather threaten to do it, bluffing that you'll not call them on it and demonstrate that authorities will do nothing that matters. (Unless you did actually do something the police might care about. Maybe you go as far as juvenile court. Super embarrassing for the parent to have a child go to juvenile court though! They'd probably rather threaten it than do it. Especially if they're in the witness stand explaining that yes, technically they did hit you first but what you did was worse.)
(Aella’s note: I think adults could pretty successfully explain that no, it was a ‘spanking’ or whatever, and your kid is being dramatic, in a way that would not be embarrassing for them. I’ve known adults who were very careful to ensure that their physical punishments caused the maximum possible pain without any visible injuries, so they wouldn’t risk legal trouble. I generally don’t endorse lying, but giving yourself a physical injury to blame on your parents at as evidence might be a viable strategy here, might embarrass your parents more, and is something that’s hard for them to physically prevent you doing to yourself.)
So much authority over children is smoke and mirrors. Schools make threats about your "permanent record". Parents count to 3 without saying what happens at 3.
Of course there's a few things they can actually do, like withhold money or computer access or internet or transport, and that'll hurt (maybe immensely) in the short term. (Though, they're afraid to use all of their real options, because then they'd have no more leverage at all.) But eventually it'll be months since they last hit you, and they want to be a happy family again.
From another angle: what is the limit of what is possible for a child? Joan of Arc led an army at 17. Fred Burnham became a scout in the Apache Wars at age 14. John King became a pirate at age 10. In this fantasy of going back in time with the knowledge and skills I have now, one can probably find a way to apply cunning and charisma to stop parental assault.
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