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What separates the good parents from the bad?

January 30, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
What separates the abusive parents from the non-abusive ones?
This question has surfaced a lot in my head lately, reading about Baby Grace's trial and other national and local news stories that involve child victims.
Of course, intentionally killing your child automatically puts you in the "Abusive Parent" column and there is no way you had good intentions.
But how do you get to that point? How do you bring a child into the world and then mistreat him or her to the point of death? How does it start? Is it something that sneaks up on you, like the proverbial boiled frog? (The frog doesn't know to jump from a pot of water if it is put into cool water that is slowly heated to boiling.)
Or does something just snap one day? Like, the parent reaches his or her threshold the 4,000th time the child screams "NO I WON"T EAT MY PEAS!"?
I'm serious here. I want to know. Because deep down, I fear there are sooooo many of us apparently abusing our children, that it makes me wonder who's next? Will I find out my high school friend is a perpetrator? Will I be faced with a relative who has been hurting one of our family's precious next generation? Will I, God forbid, find myself one day doing the unspeakable?
I'd like to believe that in doing the work that I do with this magazine and  newspaper, I am helping some parents become informed about the warning signs of abuse and the programs and services available to them from a variety of local agencies.
Family Comes First is the OV Parent motto, and it's truly a motto I believe in.
I do think education is key. The more you know about child development and the warning signs of abuse and addiction, it is hoped, the better you'll be able to get the help you need before it's too late. I'm not saying only formally under- or uneducated people commit abuse. You can have a high school or college degree and never have to take child development courses, after all. You also can be a grown-up victim of abuse with a college degree who doesn't have the tools to stop the cycle of abuse with your own children.
But there's only so much a person can do to get the word out. Sometimes it doesn't matter how many local programs are offered to help parents, people fall through the cracks, and sometimes, they jump through them.
How is it that Baby Grace's (a.k.a. Riley Ann Sawyer's) mother and stepfather, who are on trial for murdering her and stuffing her beaten body inside a plastic container half-filled with cement, didn't know they shouldn't expect a 2-year-old to ALWAYS say "please" and "thank you" and to ALWAYS keep her toys in her room?
And even if you do expect, as a parent, to be obeyed, what makes you think you can beat a child to a pulp if they disobey? As the mother of a 2-year-old, I honestly can say I've had the desire a few times to strike her in anger and frustration, but I don't do it. I want to know what makes me different?
I'm going 'round in circles, I know. God help me. Help us all.

 
 

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