“Our…totally self-centered and demanding baby daughter.” That’s how my dad introduced me to his readership in Chapter 3 of his book. And that’s the kind of bullsh*t my narcissists regularly spewed when they fondly reminisced about that cute, smart, demanding, angry, willful, strong-willed sinner they gave birth to. Their words; not mine. Unfortunately, they’re typical. Narcissists don’t just disapprove of their kids, teenagers and adult children — they’re even critical of their babies! Wow.
Before I begin, just a word of warning to my readers who like to comment that my articles are, and I quote, “a hot mess.” Well, Honey, this one’s very hot and exceedingly messy. So as Bette Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a BUMPY ride.”
My Facebook friends were quick to jump on my parents’ comments about Baby Me. “All babies are self centered,” one lady wrote. “What else are they supposed to be? Volunteers?” I love her sarcasm.
Another friend who was horribly abused by her adoptive narcissistic parents wrote, “Your dad is a complete, self-centered jerk, who hated competing with a helpless baby. He reminds me of my girls’ dad and my adopted dad.” Touché!
It’s strange what mixed messages narcissists send their children. On the one hand, my parents glowed about their smart baby but also made it clear that I didn’t satisfy their desire for a clingy, cuddly offspring who needed them desperately. Yep, from the start I let ’em down.
Let me set the stage. My first few weeks of life were fraught with drama. By the time my parents took Infant Me home, the hospital had already infected me with staph infection. Mom was beside herself; Grandma wept; Dad came out in a crimson rash. Within days, I’d boomeranged straight back to the hospital. Dad later found it interesting to calculate that the cost of my birth and hospitalization made me more expensive per ounce than gold. Does it make me feel special? No! It makes me feel like a burden even though they had insurance.
When my parents visited me in I.C.U., they expected to snuggle a floppy-necked, cuddly infant. Heck no! You see, there was this window in my hospital room. Forget that nonsense about newborns not being able to hold up their necks. Mine was up, stiff, stretched and wrinkled at the back as I gawked back and forth at the people walking by. I was like a bald people-watching bobblehead. When my parents nestled my head gently back down on their shoulders, it popped right up again. They expected, wanted and needed their baby to be a normal, clingy, cuddly baby, even refusing to ween me at the appropriate time. But I never was clingy nor cuddly. Ooops. Sorry about that.
You see where I’m going with this? For personality disordered parents, it’s all about they’re needs. Secretly, their terrified their tiny diapered human will soon become an opinionated, unique, verbal human with (gasp!) free will. For a narcissist, child-rearing is not an exciting journey of exploration to discover, facilitate and guide their child into who they were designed to be and then release them into the Wide World to chase their dreams and enjoy their life. Ppppppffffffttt
Child-rearing to narcissists is an exhausting investment of time and energy into will-breaking, brainwashing, indoctrinating, silencing, mind controlling and intimidating their baby. Creating a silent automaton that is good enough to make them (the parents) look good but not so good as to be better than them (the parents) in any way. After eighteen years of that investment, you ain’t going anywhere, Honey Child. They own you and you owe them — Big Time! (Remind you of the Turpins?)
Which leads me to Dr. James Dobson. Shudder. Like me, many in my generation and particular those from supposedly “Christian homes,” were raised according to the books by pediatric psychologist, Doctor James Dobson. Rather than using their own empathy, good sense and tailoring their parenting to each particular child, Dobson’s admirers considered his books their child-rearing “Bibles.” Growing up, you could feel it. There was no humanity or common sense. You were punished almost because “that’s what good parents do.” Like my brand-new building blocks that were taken away from me on the day they were given to me and put away, unopened, to punish me for being unable to eat a thoroughly disgusting fish sandwich. (The Turpin story triggered that memory!)
This parenting-by-the book reared its ugly head so many times. I particularly remember it when I was twelve and begged my mother to allow me to shave my thighs “just this once” before a doctor visit. I swear I could literally see her gears grinding as she considered not my feelings, but what the books said and if my morality would be somehow comprised if she said “yes.” (She didn’t!)
Thanks to Dobson, my parents labeled me as the strong-willed baby Dobson described as entering the world with a cigar, an attitude and a stop watch. They recalled spanking me daily during a difficult patch of my Terrible Two’s, Dad gloating over the “whip” of the flexible plastic spatula and the “snap” it made hitting my bare backside. “We had to break your will,” he’d say, “but not your spirit.” My psychologist says he doesn’t know what the Hell that means. He also says babies simply mirror their surroundings. And ours was a very uptight, angry home.
I’d say Dad succeeded in breaking me — will and all — until now.
As the Dobson books were “out of bounds” during my childhood, I recently purchased my own second-hand copies to figure out what the heck!?! Now, take into consideration that Franky Schaeffer described Dobson as, “the most power-hungry and ambitious person I have ever met.” In The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson brags about vanquishing his twelve-pound dachshund, Siggie (short for Sigmund Freud):
Siggie [the dachshund] is a member of our family and we love him dearly…despite his anarchistic nature…At eleven o’clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed…he refused to budge…
I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me ‘reason’ with [him].
What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt….I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!”
Stop right there. Why the hell would you take parenting advice from a man who calls a dog an “anarchist” and brags about thrashing and overpowering him. Ding, ding, ding. Red lights flashing! Sirens going off! As a dog mom and the wife of a dog whisperer, I’m horrified and would gladly give the obviously abused Siggie a truly loving home with my PTSD poodle. Heck! I wouldn’t leave Dobson alone with my goldfish! “You’re swimming the wrong direction. You’re making me dizzy. I said, stop! Go around the other way, you anarchist fish!” C’mon!
Oh, it gets better.
In Chapter 4 of Dobson’s Hide or Seek he talks about how beauty affects self-esteem:
Accordingly, the personal worth of a newborn infant is anxiously evaluated by his parents as they examine his body and its accessories. For this reason, it is not uncommon for a mother to be very depressed shortly after the birth of her first baby. She knew that most newborns are rather homely, but she hadn’t expected such a disaster! In fact, she had secretly hoped to give birth to a grinning, winking, blinking, six-week-old Gerber baby, having four front teeth and rosy, pink cheeks. Instead, they hand her a red, toothless, bald, prune-faced, screaming little creature whom she often wants to send back. You see, the personal worth of that one-day-old infant is actually doubted by his parents.
Translation: Babies are possessions. Parents don’t love ugly, imperfect babies. Post-partum depression is caused by ugly “disaster” babies. (Splutter, splutter! I could do a whole article on that one paragraph!)
Again, wow. Just wow!
As I bring this “hot mess” to a conclusion, think back to what your narcissistic parents said about your baby years. Did they call you selfish? Blame you for being, as my Dad put it, “the most hazardous thing in the world to romance.” Did they emphasize what a strong-willed “sinner” you were and gloat over breaking your will? Did they mimic you as a baby by crossing their eyes and doing a pretty fair impression of Larry the Cable Guy mimicking a mentally disabled person?
Frankly, I can see how narcissistic parents would read Dobson’s books and say, “Hmmm. Good stuff. This guy really gets it. Let’s parent our kids according to these books.” Yes, Dobson says some good stuff from time-to-time. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally. Maybe I’m just weird, but I don’t trust a man who thrashes a dog and calls babies “disasters”! As my mom says, “There are just some things that should never be said.” Like that, Dobson.
Or maybe I’m just prejudiced because Dobson formed such a big part of my formative years. To this day, I spit out the name “Dobson” with a snarl. Without him, life would’ve been so much better.