Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Questioning the family
Sunday November 12, 2006

Dear Alice,
You prove in your research, that all the evil in the world – sadism, slavery, wars, hypocrisy, deception, injustice – is the outcome of hurting the children. This child abuse happens, more than anywhere else, inside the family. Therefore I would like to ask you a daring question: Is perhaps something wrong with the institution of the family itself?

The traditional family looks like a miniature of the empire: the father corresponds to the king, mother to the first minister, children to subjects and slaves. I know that in the present world we have almost no alternatives to the family; however the school of Summerhill would be an alternative, to some extent.
So what are the differences? In Summerhill the children live together with many peers and with numerous adults, who learn to respect them. In Summerhill the children govern themselves during the school meetings. There is neither corporal punishment nor bullying of children in Summerhill. In Summerhill the child has freedom to decide about her/his activities and life.

In the traditional family the children belong to their parents, who have legal power over them. The children are isolated from the rest of society; they have to respect their parents, regardless of what the parents actually do, they have to obey their parents and to be loyal towards them. And the parents, often with the help of the state, can do almost everything to subdue their children; they can use the whole range of physical and mental tortures against their children (in the Bible even the capital punishment).

I know that there are various families; also A.S. Neill – the first director of Summerhill School – had the family; but I would like to suggest that the family is probably not a natural form of coexistence between people, in contrast to what they teach us. Personally, I have only read about Summerhill, but I do know, from my own experience, the horror of traditional family. To me the family means hell.

Dear Alice, please comment on this.
Wishing you all the best, A.

AM: You write: “In the traditional family the children belong to their parents, who have legal power over them. The children are isolated from the rest of society; they have to respect their parents, regardless of what the parents actually do, they have to obey their parents and to be loyal towards them. And the parents, often with the help of the state, can do almost everything to subdue their children; they can use the whole range of physical and mental tortures against their children.”
You certainly are right but why shouldn't we be able to change the patterns of the family instead of rejecting family altogether? And what do you suggest instead of the institution family? A child needs a mother and a father, but of course they don't need the hypocrisy, the abuse, the exploitation and the terror. We must work on enlightening parents so that families become the place of safety, truth, love and honest communication. We can't do this by writing nice words but by informing parents that they disguise the brutality they endured as children by denying it and repeating it carelessly on their children. In this way they protect their parents and produce violent people, again and again.
I agree with you that families based on this system are the source of violence in our society and I do what I can to make this visible.

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