A Pandemic of Cruelty

(AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

There is a pandemic in the Western world — especially, but not only, in America — that few are talking about, let alone addressing.

This pandemic doesn’t actually kill people. But it does destroy people, ruin lives, crush families and cause permanent, debilitating pain — far more than have the vast majority of cases of COVID-19.

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This pandemic consists of adult children who have decided never again to speak to one or both of their parents. The vast majority of these people were never sexually or physically abused. In fact, nearly all were loved by their parents.

So, then, why have these people decided to hurt their mother, their father or both in one of the worst ways possible?

There are three primary reasons.

The first is the ascent of the therapeutic mentality. Prior to the explosion of psychotherapy, people were governed by “shoulds.” Beginning in the 1960s, however, the therapeutic model replaced the moral model as the guide to one’s behavior. People who lived at that time will recall the phrase, “there are no shoulds.”

I will use a family story to illustrate this point. Despite the fact that his mother was a very difficult woman, my father called her every night, and every night she would yell at him. I heard the yelling because instead of holding it to his ear, my father would place the phone on the kitchen table while she ranted.

Had my father been born a generation later and gone to a therapist where he discussed his mother, if he said how much he dreaded calling his mother, the therapist would likely have led my father to believe there was no reason he should talk to her. And a culture that declared, “there are no shoulds,” would have concurred. The therapist would have declared my grandmother “toxic” and thereby given my father the green light to avoid calling her.

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But my father lived in the age of shoulds, and he was a religious Jew who had been taught the Ten Commandments since childhood — the Fifth of which commands us, “Honor your father and mother.” Moreover, he believed, as did most Americans, that the Ten Commandments were given by God.

In our post-biblical age, there are no Ten Commandments. In fact, there are no commandments, period. That’s what “no shoulds” was all about — no Commandments. Instead, you do what you feel is right. If you don’t feel like talking to your mother or father, you don’t. My father, governed by the Ten Commandments and many other shoulds, called his mother every night despite the fact that he rarely felt like doing so.

Though the Bible commands us to love our neighbor, love the stranger and love God, there is no commandment to love our parents. On the other hand, there is no commandment to honor anyone except our parents.

A second reason for the Ignore-Parents (IP) pandemic is parental alienation. This is usually caused by one parent against the other during and/or after a divorce — frequently, though certainly not always, by the mother against the father. She is so angry at her husband or soon-to-be ex-husband that she has decided to hurt him in one of the worst possible ways — by convincing one or more of their children that their father is a terrible human being, unworthy of their love, respect and time. The children should therefore not only cease to love him but have nothing to do with him.

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A third reason for the IP pandemic is ideological. In these instances, a spouse may be involved, but often it is the decision of the child. This is the newest reason for ignoring parents. I suspect few of us ever encountered parents whose children did not speak to them because of how the parent voted. As much as Democrats and other liberals hated Richard Nixon, it is hard to imagine a grown man or woman in the late ’60s or early ’70s refusing to speak to a parent because the parent voted for Nixon. But there are probably hundreds of thousands of parents who voted for Donald Trump who have a child who will not speak to them because of that vote — or because the parent holds some conservative value such as that marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman.

For the record, I am not speaking about myself. My two sons and two stepsons and I speak regularly, love one another and share values. But I know how lucky I am. I have written this column because I have spoken with an inordinate number of wonderful people who have a child or even children who do not speak with them.

Yes, there are times when a parent is so pathological or evil — or when it is the parent who has chosen to ignore a child — that communication is essentially impossible. But in general, the infliction of such pain on a parent is about as great an act of cruelty as most people will ever inflict on another human being. If there is a God who gave the Ten Commandments, these people will be judged accordingly.

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