A Tale of Dysfunctional Child-rearing

Frank G. Sterle, Jr.

Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(2), p. 24

stock photoI always say: too many people who make dysfunctional parents have the most children; meanwhile, many people who might make the best parents decide to live their life childless. The irony is there, and it’s bitter.

Take the example of my late father and my mother, who bore four of us children and then saw these children grow into adults with anywhere from minor to severe forms of mental illness: one has schizophrenia and severe anxiety; another has clinical depression and chronic anxiety; a third, me, has a schizo-affective disorder that also manifests itself in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), chronic anxiety and clinical depression. The fourth seems to be the most functional, who experiences manageable depression along with some also-manageable paranoia.

My mother, a sweet soul, always wanted children – in fact, she divorced her first husband because he wished to remain childless. I believe that my mother, with a functional mate, would have reared functional children. However Dad was basically a dysfunctional mess – albeit, he didn’t drink, except for the very rare cup of wine, and he didn’t take drugs. But that’s just it: he should have been taking drugs – psychiatric drugs, that is.

Instead, he chose to use his family as his relief mechanism for his mental dysfunctions. And his dysfunctions were indeed acquired, at least to some extent, by us children. Two of us, including me as but a five-year-old boy, acquired dad’s obsessive-ness when it came to turning things off and/or making sure doors were locked. I would tighten the tap faucet knob until it required repair, while other times I’d continually press down on the light switches just to make sure they weren’t caught in the central position and thus could pop on some time during the night.

Dad also suffered from chronic anxiety; he worried about everything. And he shared – or forced – that worry onto Mom and me and would have on the other children if they had allowed it (though for the most part, they didn’t). Thus I grew up with the same dysfunctional characteristics as those of Dad. Simply put, I worried about matters that were inappropriate for a child to worry about.

Mom ended up in Riverview Hospital a few times, receiving electro-convulsive therapy, the old way, to treat her nervous breakdowns (for the record, Mom says the electroshocks worked wonders for her). Today I, once that five-year-old boy, am a man who is a dysfunctional mess, suffering from OCD, chronic depression and severe anxiety.

To summarize, Dad, who was too proud to do so, should have acquired psychiatric help – including psychiatric medications – years before he produced offspring. He should have done so for his family’s sake and for himself, too.

 
About the author

Frank lives in White Rock, BC

 

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