Children learn to fear their parents. Fear is the fastest way to compliance.
If you want the fastest, the most immediate, the most mind-searing method to compliance with the least amount of mental and emotional effort, fear gets you there.
Children are weak. Fear works immediately to make them do – or stop – something. You don’t need to bother with explaining or reasoning or teaching. Fear will teach boundaries where words cannot.
Children are small. Fear comes naturally when they see towering adults who can inflict pain — real, anticipated, and/or imagined. Fear will shut down questions where patience cannot.
Fear of rejection, fear of physical punishment, fear of abandonment, fear of emotional torture. There are so many types of fear to choose from… parents opting fear to seal their relationships with children can — and do combine these means of fear to achieve their goals.
When you use fear as your weapon of choice, you inflict no visible wounds, so your actions cannot be seen or judged by others. You do not have to beat your children, you can emotionally torture children. Threaten abandonment or throw away their most prized possessions… break it in front of them and make them pick it up with their bare hands and make them throw the pieces in the trash. See if next time they dare to dissent or rebel.
As the children grow older, they learn to inflict fear upon themselves. Parents don’t even have to keep inflicting fear at this point, fear is on cruise control.
Children who have internalized this fear may show severe anxiety or stress or self-harming behaviors. Children who have externalized this fear “act out”, rebel, bully, and otherwise pour their fear outward.
They learn to hide their failures to protect themselves from more fear.
They learn to cheat and lie to keep up the facade in their life of fear.
They learn to cut or medicate themselves, big pain to counter bigger pain.
Some of them return this fear to their parents. Others pick smaller, weaker targets. After all, they have learned this from their parents, bullies whom they can’t help but love and loathe.
Some of them so hate themselves, they feel as if they have no choice but to extinguish themselves from life.
There are some who escape this fear and they become aware of what has happened to them. Maybe they spend the rest of their lives healing and learning how to be healthy again.
There are some who have not known this kind of fear but came to love a person who survived this fear. Maybe they get to taste this fear as adults.
Maybe new children are brought into this world and maybe the cycle continues.
I won’t argue why children “should” or “shouldn’t” fear their parents. Living things fear what is physically bigger and appear more powerful than them. Fear comes with us as a survival mechanism, to keep us alive.
If you stuck through this imaginary horror show, you may see that I took a different approach to this question: possible outcomes when fear seals the fate between a parent and a child.
Parents decide whether these outcomes are worth the quickness of compliance or silence from rebellion that fear guarantees.
The alternative is so much more work.
Constant self-doubt and questioning. “Could I have handled this a different way?”
And a parent’s intense “self-work” and in many cases, healing from past harms of fear, facing our personal demons, all in order to become a good steward of the physical and emotional well-being of small humans we have brought through life.