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AnonymousWoman's avatar

"You have to be a parent to understand." Does anyone else find that some (not all) parents use this line or a line like this to justify for their own abusive behaviour?

Asked by AnonymousWoman (6339 points ) August 11th, 2012

Or is it just me who has noticed this? Am I being unfair? Maybe I do have to be a parent to understand some things, but do I really need to be a parent to understand that some parents who say this say this to explain how helpless, powerless, and out of control they feel sometimes? Sometimes to the point where they overreact and make mountains out of molehills? Am I really ignorant? Or do they find it hard to imagine non-parents can understand them? It’s like they view it as impossible at times…

And if you are a parent who says this, what do you really mean when you say it (if you ever do)?

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25 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It ranks right up with “Do it because I said so”. Idiots.

marinelife's avatar

I have never encountered it as an excuse for abusive behavior, but I have encountered it a lot. It sets my teeth on edge. Why shouldn’t people who are not parents have perspective and advice to offer on parental dilemmas?

tom_g's avatar

There are things that most people just don’t understand about being a parent – until they are a parent. That said – if you suspect abuse, you should not let this dismissive line stop you from finding out if there really is abuse occurring. People use all kinds of excuses to to justify their behavior.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @tom_g

It is true in many ways, just as it is also true about anything one does not have actual, hands on, experience with…. but, it is not an excuse for abusive behaviors.

wundayatta's avatar

There are things you don’t know until you learn from experience. Abuse is not one of those things.

digitalimpression's avatar

I don’t think I’ve actually used this line.. but I’ve definitely thought it in my head. Of course, it isn’t an excuse for abusive behavior. However, there simply cannot be an equal understanding between someone who has no kids and someone who has three or four.. especially if one of those children has special needs.

It is very easy to be an armchair parent. It is very easy to be a third party observer and suspect that you have all the answers. I’ve done it myself. I’m pretty sure we all have at some point.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten advice from someone w/out kids and thought sarcastically “jeepers, I never thought of that!”

ucme's avatar

The scumbuckets who use this massively inaccurate cliche, do so in order to validate their atrocious methods of parenting.
They are to be shunned at all costs.

Judi's avatar

It may not excuse behavior, bur it might explain it. It’s like, “Walk a mile in my shoes before you criticize me.”
Now, the person could be completely wrong and off base, but if you understand what they have been through and are going through, you might have more compassion and be a tad less judgmental. It doesn’t make their behavior right, and it might be lucky for you, if you see it objectively so you can plan not to repeat the mistakes. Sometimes it’s hard for people to see their behavior objectively while their in the thick of some sort of turmoil, or even suffering some sort of post traumatic stress.

filmfann's avatar

The line I am used to is “People who don’t have kids have all the answers.”
Sadly, people with no experience raising children think they know exactly what to do. Their preconceptions have never been challenged by their conceptions.

YARNLADY's avatar

Many people believe that we must experience something to fully understand it. I do not believe that.

Coloma's avatar

Well, it’s a good reminder, short of obvious abuse, to never make assumptions, period.
I have a pair of pet geese I have had for 14 years. They can muddy their pools and water dishes within an hour of me scrubbing and filling them with fresh water. If someone who has never owned waterfowl dropped by one day and saw their dirty water they might assume I do not take good care of my geese.

Not true, infact they are the most spoiled of geese ever. lol
They simply muddy the water quickly doing their thing.

flo's avatar

Yes we have to investigate if there is actual abuse before jumping the gun. How about Toddlers and Tiarra? (Here) No need to investigate there if they are being used as paedophile endorsers, no need to see if this show is paedophiles’ favorite show.

Judi's avatar

@flo . HOLY CRAP! I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video. I was almost in tears reading what was happening. A toddler with eyebrow waxing!! That IS abuse!

flo's avatar

Okay, the link above changes after a few minutes. I’ll find another link
@Judi You’re lucky it stayed for you, (Is it luck?) but when I click on it it gives me “I’ve moved….”

Judi's avatar

still working

flo's avatar

They are peddling their childen for money, and the excuse is “they want it” as if parents are supposed to follow their children.

Okay now it is fine. Thanks @Judi

wundayatta's avatar

I think there are things people can’t understand until they experience them. I have found no one who has not experienced depression who can demonstrate a true understanding of it.

Parenting isn’t the same as depression in terms of accessibility. You can parent kids without being their biological parents. But there are things you won’t know about unless you are a parent. Not all the experiences get into books. Some are too dull. Some are too complicated. Some are too spiritual. And there are emotions that you only feel if you have a relationship to a child. If you’ve never felt it, you can’t imagine it, because no matter what I say about it, it’s not going to convey what it’s like.

There are many experiences in life like that. You just have to experience it to know what it’s like. Parenting contains a lot of those experiences. But it also contains experiences that are universally accessible.

Bellatrix's avatar

There is no excuse for child abuse and in the case you cite the idea that you can’t understand because you aren’t a parent sounds like an attempt to justify their behaviour. Not acceptable in any way.

As to whether non-parents have anything of value to share with parents. It depends on how they proffer the advice as much as how the parents receive the advice. Children are small human beings. People without children are also human beings and so, as outsiders, can sometimes provide a perspective that we parents, who are very close to our children, may not have considered. There are also teachers and people who work with children who don’t have children themselves who can provide a highly informed perspective.

In saying all that, I support what others have said about those non-parents who think they are experts. Who think they have all the answers even though they have never had the experience. Yet they offer advice in a way that suggests they have all the answers. “You should do this…” “If it was my child I would never have…”. “My child would never… and you should…”. I have people like that in my family. It is exceedingly frustrating. So if you want to impart some advice, consider how to do this in such a way as it isn’t perceived as a judgement on the parent’s parenting skills (or lack of).

Aethelflaed's avatar

I haven’t found an abusive parent yet who didn’t use this line; it’s rather convenient for them. It’s also a fair bit crap – on almost every issue, you can find a substantial amount of parents who totally don’t understand, and who disagree, and who have done differently. That’s not to say that experience doesn’t count for anything, because it obviously does, but there’s almost no parenting issues that can accurately be described as parents vs non-parents. I also think it’s used as a way to get out of explaining, which is sometimes fair and sometimes not. There’s no universal parenting experience, as it tends to vary rather greatly between cultures and subcultures, so either it’s actually possible to communicate things rather greatly if you put in the time and energy, or people really need to start being much more specific as to which type of parent they have to be in order to “get it”.

rooeytoo's avatar

Abuse is never acceptable in any situation, end of story.

If you have to experience something in order to be well versed on the subject, then there should be no male obstetricians, etc. etc. etc.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Can you describe some of the abusive behavior you’re referring to?

AnonymousWoman's avatar

^ @Dutchess_III Yes, I can. I didn’t go into much detail behind what inspired this question on this thread because I felt it was too awkward and much too personal. I prefer to describe things on a public thread like this when it feels natural, so I may or may not end up opening up more. I’ve sent you a couple of PMs to explain myself. It is important to note that I said ‘some (not all)’. I know that just because a parent says this, it doesn’t mean he or she is abusive. It depends on the person. I was interested in knowing what parents on here mean when they say it. This thread has been very interesting to me.

To everyone, thanks so much for being respectful! I was afraid to ask this because I didn’t want to be ripped to pieces, but instead I’ve received very helpful and fascinating responses. I really appreciate it.

jca's avatar

I have not heard that to justify abuse, but I can tell you that before I was a parent, I had a whole bunch of “he should’s” and “she should’s” and “that child shouldn’t” and “that child should,” until I had a child of my own, Then my perception changed – my perception of a well behaved child, my perception of an attentive parent, and so on.

I have friends and coworkers who are not parents who love to discuss what parents should do in the morning, in order to get to work on time, for example. Until you’re dealing with actually trying to guide and motivate a toddler so you can all get out of the house on time, however, it’s a totally different story.

I used to go to restaurants, and when a child was a little restless, I would think “they shouldn’t let him do that” and stuff like that. Once I had a kid, however, I learned that even with a child who is well behaved (like, thankfully, mine is) they’re still not going to sit totally still through a one hour meal in a restaurant. So I definitely learned about parenting through experience.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@jca Hear hear. The only parenting experts are those who’ve never had children. How the expectations change. Before we had kids my girlfriend and I discussed discipline. I said I would have no problem with spankings. She got huffy and said that was abusive and she’d NEVER spank her kids. Well….when her kids were born, not only did she become a proponent of spanking but when her son was 4 I saw her flat-out slap the shit out of him once. It was shocking and horrifying to me. I don’t think I had unreasonable expectations and she did. I’ve NEVER slapped my kids.

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