People who know me will probably tell you that I tend to shy away from conflict. Not quite “peace at all costs”, but nearly so. I’m sure it’s something I’ve carried from my childhood and, as I’m more aware of it, I reflect on when it can be a helpful stance to take – or not!
It’s something I hear of a lot, listening to parents who are living with violence and abuse from their children, as they become more and more restricted in the space they have and the lives they live in an attempt not to trigger ‘an incident’. Something that can seem helpful at the time perhaps, but ultimately this is going in only one direction.
I see the opposite side too when parents tell of the difficulties in accessing help. The positions taken up. The conflict that escalates as parties who should have the same goals, now seem to be on opposing sides of the argument and who stop hearing each other’s voices or perhaps even listening because they feel threatened. Talk of “difficult parents”, of blame and responsiblisation. (Spell checker doesn’t like that – if you can spell it differently please let me know!) And the deeply rooted part of me wants to remind everyone that there are good social workers too, empathetic police officers, understanding teachers and mental health workers who are well-versed in the intricacies of child to parent violence.
But by reacting in that way, I am perhaps myself guilty of not hearing people properly. If I start tone-policing those who speak out about the treatment they have received, I am in danger of infantilising those with real pain, fear and frustration, who feel revictimised by the system when they dare to ask for help.
Perhaps, as a society we have become more confrontational, more accepting of shouting and abusive language as ‘just how things are’. Experiences on social media might support that view. I was interested to hear and read Angela Rayner’s apology last week, for language she had used at the Labour party conference. An interesting acknowledgement of the fine line we tread in speaking out about injustice, while refraining from personal abuse.
And the same week, there was a blog from Suesspiciousminds reflecting on the complexities of understanding the systems around a child and a family, and the way they impact on stress, anxiety, risk and threat for all concerned, highlighting the beneficial outcome from taking a different stance in a situation. (I’m not going to try to precis it – it’s an easy read so I recommend the whole piece.)
From my point of view, we can all benefit from listening more, and judging less. But people can only do that when they feel safe. So, how can we help parents to feel safe in speaking out? In asking for help? In telling their truth? If parents can feel safe, then perhaps that will create an environment in which others feel less threatened too – a positive feedback loop if you like!