National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Battered Parent Syndrome

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

August 24-30, 2008 Issue | Posted 8/19/08 at 4:00 PM


I’m a grandfather many times over. I’m shocked at how some of my grandkids talk so disrespectfully to their parents. Sometimes the parents don’t even seem to notice.

I call this the “Battered Parent Syndrome.” Mom or dad has allowed verbal misconduct for so long that she or he has become nearly oblivious to it.

Sometimes in my office, before I can offer any suggestions to parents for curtailing a teen’s disrespect, I have to raise their level of awareness of that disrespect. They know something is wrong, but they can’t quite put their finger on what it is. Further, my telling them is a distressing revelation.

Likewise, if you’re tempted to comment to your children or in-laws about what you’re hearing, be careful. They are not just unaware; they may be defensive. After all, you’re pointing out a “flaw” in their parenting. One option is to ask a couple of the same questions I ask clients: “Do you hear how he is talking to you?” Or, “Do you want to be treated that way?”

Such questions may strike the parent like ice water on a sleeping person’s face. Sometimes the reaction is one of embarrassment. Either way, upon recognizing what has been evolving for some time, the parent should at least consider how to reverse the process.

By the way, I can get away with pointing out such dynamics better than you can. After all, I’m not a relative, and I’m getting paid to give feedback. Still, some folks don’t take it well coming from me, either.

An even less threatening way to raise your children’s consciousness is to speak directly to their children. “Do you hear how you’re talking to your father?” Or, “Is that how you speak to your mother?” In reality, these are rhetorical queries meant for your own children’s ears. If your grandchildren were to actually answer you honestly, they might admit, “Yeah, I do,” and “Yes, it is.” Of course, if they were so bold, I think the shock effect on your children and in-laws would do more for opening their eyes and ears than anything you could ever say.

One more suggestion. This is for you parents still raising kids. If you’re wondering how self-aware you are, ask yourself: “How would I react to adults who treated me the way my child does?” If the answer is, “I’d thank them for being so authentic with their feelings” or “I’d feel flattered that they are so comfortable in our relationship,” then at least you’re consistent. You like it when people talk to you disrespectfully.

If your answer is “I wouldn’t like it one bit,” then use this realization to begin taking action. Mistreatment isn’t any less mistreatment when it comes from a kid.

The doctor a father of 10 and

a Catholic psychologist is

always in at