When examining a childhood we look at sexual abuse or molestation as devastating actions that have long term effects. We link how the child may have grew to adult with altered behavioral patterns because of the abuse. You know the commonly recognized theory that those who are abused as children will likely carry out the same actions on others as adults. Last week I discussed how I was molested as a child and how it impacted my life from teen through my adult years. Today I would like to discuss another issue that is equally deplorable and can have the same lasting effects on a child as abuse.
I’m going to come right out and say it. I was neglected as a child. You may stop and think to yourself how can that be when he discussed how his stepfather was his coach and how much time they spent together playing catch or at the bar. Neglect takes on many forms other than just failing to spend time with your child. Today I’m going to discuss the 3 areas of neglect I endured when I was a child.
Child neglect is a form of child maltreatment, a deficit in meeting a child’s basic needs including the failure to provide basic physical, health care, supervision, nutrition, emotional, education and/or safe housing needs. Society generally believes there are necessary behaviors a caregiver must provide a child in order for the child to develop physically, socially, and emotionally.
The first area I want to discuss is emotional. Growing up I was separated from my father at the age of 6. It took me 30 years before I saw my biological father again. At a young age I was told stories of how my father cut the break lines on my stepfathers car in an attempt to hurt him. My mom would hide the cards for my birthday and holidays that were sent by my dad so that it would appear that he didn’t care. My mom was the basic reason for my emotional neglect. I am 12 years younger than my sister meaning that when I was born my mom was already past the point of wanting to change diapers and raise another kid. It was evident by the fact that I spent most of my time as a child with my sister. My real father threw my sister out of the house after hearing me call her mom. My older sister and brother were from my moms first marriage. Once my mom divorced my dad and we lived with my stepdad I still never saw any kind of emotional support. In fact my mom went out of her ways at times to make my life a little tougher. Example being that she wanted me to hyphenate my last name to include my real fathers name and my stepdads last name because my father wouldn’t sign away his rights. Imagine being in grade school trying to write your first name, middle name and then 2 last names. Lets just say it led to some teasing. Once I reached high school it became apparent that my mom was more interested in having her own needs met than being concerned about what I needed. She went on to divorce my stepdad and dated and each time I was on the back burner. She was a person that feared being alone. She needed to have someone in her life. She took it to such an extreme that at the age of 16 she moved an hour away to live with a man and left me to live in the house we had been living in. She would drop off money every week so that I could have food but other than that she was non-existent. To make matters worse she eventually let my older brother and his girlfriend move into the house with me. She knew my brother had major drug problems but didn’t do a thing about it. She was ok with me being exposed to drug use at the age of 16. I don’t know how I managed to stay away from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol through high school. During all of this there was never a true loving relationship between my mother and I. Her idea of expressing love was buying me things to keep me quiet. We didn’t do a lot of things together. I was at the age when I needed a relationship with a parent but she was more interested in finding her next relationship. This went on to drive us apart for a few years. We didn’t speak. We didn’t see each other. We had nothing to do with one another. Eventually she came around and wanted to have the relationship that I needed 10 years ago. By that point I had burned by her enough that I said no. I wasn’t interested in trying to build a relationship with her only to be cast aside again when she met the next guy to be in her life. Despite our issues and her lack of love and attention I made sure I was there for my mom when her life was ending. I changed her diapers, I helped get her things she needed. For as much as she pushed me aside I didn’t want her to die thinking she wasn’t loved. To this day I struggle showing emotional support. I’m trying to change. I’m trying to be there to not just buy for my son but also to be there to listen to my son. He’s the only thing that matters in my life and I’m determined not to have history repeat itself.
Another area of neglect I’d like to touch on is education. I can’t remember a time in my life where my mom sat down with me to do my homework. I can’t remember a time in my life when my mom took an interest in what subjects I was studying. I cant remember a time in my life when my mom asked me how I did on my test. I can’t remember a time in my life where my mom changed her behavior after seeing I wasn’t performing well in school. She never took steps to be there to help me improve in school. My school work and attention to school work was a direct reflection of her interest in me and my school work. I developed poor study habits, failed classes, and graduated by the skin of my teeth. Parents think that school work is just school work. But its not. Its teaching your child the importance of an education as well as the importance of being a hard worker. If you allow your child to skate by on their school work now chances are they are going to look to skate by their entire life. I did manage to get into college, fortunately for me I went to bible college and they were more interested in the recommendations of your pastor and other members of the church than your actual GPA. I crapped out of college. I think I was just happy to be away from home. I didn’t have any work ethic, dropped classes, skipped classes and only attended ones my friends were attending because I knew I could have a study group with them. I was suspended academically at one point and eventually gave up on college. Fortunately what I lacked in book smarts I made up for in survival skills. When you are forced to live on your own you figure out how to survive. I found jobs. I found jobs that I didn’t want but I worked hard and eventually began to move up. I started out as the overnight clerk at a convenience store and within a year I was a store manager running a 24 hour a day location. I can remember making $12.50 an hour thinking I was big stuff at the age of 21. I accepted the fact that if I was going to make something of myself I had to work harder than anyone else because I didn’t have that college degree to help me get ahead. I often wonder what might have been of my life had I actually applied myself or guided to good study habits.
The last area of neglect I’d like to discuss is health care. At a very young age I can remember needing oral surgery to remove several of my baby teeth but beyond that going to the doctors wasn’t a priority. My real dad made me drink my milk and wouldn’t allow me to leave the table till I ate my vegetables. Until a few years ago I refused to eat brussels sprouts because of flash back of me choking on one at the dinner table because I had to eat all my veggies! Once my father was out of the picture I couldn’t tell you when if ever I was forced to drink milk or taken to the dentist or even forced to brush my teeth. I developed poor eating habits. I was as thin as a rail in high school. 6’4 and skinny make you stand out in a world you want to disappear in. The hardest thing I had to endure though was my teeth. The front right lateral incisor had grown in pointing toward the back of my throat. I had cavities in most of my teeth. Perhaps the most egregious and shameful display of neglect was knowing my mom saw my front teeth but did nothing about it. Imagine being a senior in high school. Imagine having a hole in each of your front teeth covering roughly 1/3rd of the tooth. Imagine the embarrassment that went along with this. Imagine every morning before going to school grabbing a piece of bread and tearing out chunks and rolling them into a ball and using that bread to cover the cavities as best you could. I was called nasty teeth among other things. These are the most important years of your life in developing social skills and self-esteem. To this day I don’t know why my mom refused to take me to the dentist other than fear of being turned in for neglect. Not until a month before I graduated from high school did someone step up and help. A family in the church I attended paid to get my cavities filled. I still went to college with a tooth facing the wrong direction but at least I was able to talk without covering my mouth. To this day its hard for me to smile in pictures. To this day I struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence. I struggled with this so badly that I can’t approach women in bars. Might not seem like a big deal but when you have been divorced for 4 years and haven’t dated since it is a big deal. My son just turned 9 and he has braces. His teeth will be taken care of. He will be pumped full of self-esteem and self-confidence.
I know when you are battling with depression and other mental illnesses its hard to muster up the energy to provide your child the vital things they need as they grow. When you leave this world your legacy isn’t going to be defined by the material things you leave behind. Your legacy will be determined by the decisions and actions of your children as they continue to grow once you are gone. Never take for granted that your child knows you love them or that they know that you want the best for them. Habits form one day at a time and I implore you to get into the habit of building up your children. Never ever put them in a position to be ridiculed because you’ve put your needs first. If we as parents set out to have our children be a little better than us, and their children be a little better than them just imagine the world in a few generations. There is no place or excuse for neglect and abuse in this world. Putting an end to it starts with us.
REMEMBER… YOU MATTER!!!