Thursday, April 09, 2009

'Please tell me what is love'

In Kerala the parent-child relationship is fraught with rebellion, misunderstandings and anger. Counsellor V.J. Antony provides solutions, but the primary one is simple: always show physical love to your child

Photo: Counsellor V.J. Antony

By Shevlin Sebastian

Radhika and Soman have a sixteen-year-old daughter, Shalini. Till Class 10, Shalini was a good student. In Class 11, she stopped going to school for a fortnight and said she did not want to continue her studies.

She lay on the bed for hours together and did not eat food or watch television. Worried, Radhika, who is a bank officer, took her to V.J. Antony, a counsellor with 28 years of experience. She says, "I don't know what the problem is with Shalini. I am afraid she might commit suicide."

Antony asks her point-blank: "Do you love your daughter?"

Tears well up in Radhika's eyes. "Can I bring up my daughter without loving her?" she says.

Antony speaks to Shalini in private. This is her story: her father works on a ship and is away for months together. Her mother goes to work at 8.30 a.m. and comes back at 6.30 p.m.

"When my mother returns home, she does not even look at me and goes straight to the kitchen," she says.

Sometimes, Shalini follows her mother into the kitchen. But Radhika would get angry and shout, "Go and study. Why are you bothering me like this?"

After a while, Shalini stopped going to the kitchen. "She is not a mother to me," she says. "She is just a lady who provides food and sends me to school. That is all. Now people say I have a father. But is this true?"

When Soman returns, after eight months at sea, the first thing he does before he greets his family is to check the bank passbook. If the cash balance is not to his liking he shouts at Radhika for spending so lavishly.

"This shouting match lasts for half an hour," said Shalini. Throughout the two months Soman is at home he is always quarrelling with Radhika. “My father never speaks to me,” says Shalini. “My parents don't like each other and they don’t love me."

At this moment in her narration Shalini raises her left arm to Antony and shows a thin red line across her wrist. "I tried to kill myself with a blade, but lacked the courage to press deeper," she said. "But I am sure there will come a time when I will be able to do it."

Later, when Antony tells Radhika about the suicide attempt she breaks down. "I am living for Shalini," she says. "I get up at 5 a.m. and work non-stop till 11 p.m., 365 days a year. After all this, if she says I don't love her, please tell me what is love?"

Like Shalini, Rajan is a brilliant student, but in Class ten he failed in five subjects. “I did it deliberately,” he says. “I wanted to spite my parents.” His father, a doctor goes to work at 8 a.m. and comes back at 11 p.m. His mother is a teacher.

“My father has never taken me out anywhere,” he says. “As for my mother, the only thing she has ever told me, from the time I have been in kindergarten, is to ‘Study, Study, Study’. They don’t love me.”

Antony says that parents have the mistaken notion that if they worry about their children or plan for their future that is love.

"That is liking and it remains in the parents' mind," he says. "Children must get physical affection to know that they are loved."

He compares this love to a plant in the garden. "If you look through the window and say that is a good plant, it is of no use," he says. "You need to water it and provide manure. When you do this, the plant will grow well."

The same, he says, is the case with children. Parents have to show affection and praise the child as often as they can. This will produce positive feelings.

"It is only then that children can understand that their parents love them," he says. "Otherwise, no matter how many gifts parents buy their children, and despite love in the parents’ hearts, there will be no emotional connection."

When there is no emotional connection, by the time they are in class eight the children begin to go astray. "Either, they begin to do poorly in school or they fall into bad company and indulge in drugs, drinks, and criminal activities," says Antony. The girls have love affairs with men of dubious character.

He cites the case of a family which received a Rs. 15,000 telephone bill. Investigations revealed that their 16-year-old daughter had been making hundreds of calls to one particular number. It turned out that she was having an affair with a hoodlum.

And, of course, there is the powerful negative impact of watching pornography on the Internet. “The boys assume erroneously that all girls are crazy for sex,” he says.

What has exacerbated the problem is the impact of the mass media. "Youngsters see these love stories on TV and don't realise it does not work in real life," he says. "In the films, the hero is abusive and violent. Drinking is shown as a fun thing.” Children are confused and are unable to distinguish between right and wrong.

Today, for most children, it is their friends, and not the parents, who are the centre of their lives. “Parents don’t realise this until their child falls into trouble,” says Antony. “But by then it is too late.”

He says that about 70 percent of children are emotionally troubled these days.

The solution, Antony suggests, is to maintain communication links with the children all the time. "Children should feel that the home is a happy place," says Antony. "They don't mind if they are scolded once in a while, provided there are positive vibrations the rest of the time."

(Some names have been changed)

Childhood abuse leads to adult violence

At his trial in Sankt Pölten, Austria, over incest and murder, retired electrician Josef Fritzl talked about the physical beatings he had received from his mother when he was a child. "My mother did not want me,” said Fritzl to the judge. “She was 42 when I was born.”

Fritzl’s father, according to him, was a scoundrel whom his mother threw out of the house when he was five. It was this unhappy childhood that sowed the seeds of his 24-year long incestuous relationship with his imprisoned daughter, Elisabeth, in a cellar of his home at Amstetten.

Traumatised childhoods have been part and parcel of the lives of many men, especially despotic dictators and leaders. Take the case of Joseph Stalin. Born to a cobbler, Vissarion Jughashvili, and Ekaterina Geladze, his father, who was often drunk, beat Stalin and his mother regularly.

One of Stalin's friends said, "Those fearful beatings made the boy as heartless as his father."

Adolf Hitler’s father, Alois Schickelgruber, also beat his mother and him often. Hitler once told his secretary that during one of the beatings, he was able to stop crying, and count the thirty-two blows he received.

Says psychologist Alice Miller: “Humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, betrayal and sexual exploitation injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if their consequences are not visible right away. However, as adults, most abused children will make others suffer.”

Talking about Hitler, she said, “By denying his pain, powerlessness, and despair, Hitler made himself into a master of violence. He was incapable of empathy for others.”

Hitler, Stalin and Saddam went on to reach positions of absolute power where they killed lakhs of people, either through war, or concentration camps. “These cases show that the mistreatment of children is an immeasurable danger to society,” says Miller.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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