If I were Rihanna’s mother…

I wrote this post for my parenting blog a couple years ago, right after the news broke that Chris Brown had physically abused his girlfriend Rihanna. That situation affected me deeply and I wanted to share my thoughts on it with other parents. I’m reposting here because it’s a lesson for young women as well…

There is a lot of speculation as to what went down when hip-hop star Chris Brown abused his hip-hop star girlfriend Rihanna. There are rumors about the specific incident itself. (Chris received a text message from another woman, which made Rihanna jealous, which started the brawl…) There are psychoanalytical theories as to why Chris resorted to hitting her. (He himself was beaten as a child.) And then there is a disturbingly large number of people—primarily TEENAGE GIRLS—who think Rihanna “deserved” the beating and that Chris only deserves “better.” Hmmm.

I’m not going to pretend I know the intimate details of Chris and Rihanna’s relationship. No one knows except for Chris and Rihanna. What I DO know is, no matter what the reason, this shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened to them, it shouldn’t happen to you, it shouldn’t happen to me, it shouldn’t happen to anyone.

And yet it does happen. All the time. And as a parent of a beautiful little girl, I want to figure out exactly why and how and what I can do to keep it from happening to her.

I’m no parenting expert, but I think there are some obvious things that we parents CAN do, even (in fact, especially) while our children are young:

1) Never, ever hit, push or grab your child. If you believe in spanking as a form of discipline, do so when you are calm and collected, not out of anger or desperation. And give the child warning ahead of time that you will spank her only if she continues to misbehave. This way the child inherently knows that the spanking is a decision made out of control and composure. This is discipline, not abuse.

2) Never fight with your spouse/significant other in front of your child. Kids learn how to settle conflict by watching the adults in their lives. If your spousal fights include yelling, name-calling or hitting, the child will think this is the normal and appropriate way to handle conflict—and he’ll likely be doing the same thing with his spouse later down the road.

3) If your child is a girl, pour your energy into teaching her self-worth and independence. Easier said than done, I know. But when my daughter is 21 years old, and if her boyfriend gets a suspicious text message from another woman, I don’t want her to feel jealous and worthless. I want her to say confidently, “I’m the best you’re gonna get, but if you want someone else, see ya!” And if—heaven forbid—a man ever hits her, I want her to run as far away from him as she possibly can and never contemplate going back to him (which is what Rihanna is reportedly contemplating right now). I want my daughter to know without a doubt that this kind of treatment is wrong and undeserved—and likely not a one-time thing. The only way she will know that is if I teach her.

4) If your child is a boy, pour your energy into teaching him gentle strength… that he can have power without resorting to domination over other human beings. I’ve never been a victim of physical abuse, but I do know that abuse of any form usually stems from profound insecurity. My own psychoanalytical theory is that Chris Brown was so afraid of losing Rihanna that he wanted her to believe it was HER fault that this happened. Our culture has been trained to believe that it’s okay to hurt people when they’ve hurt you first. Action films only glorify this belief. So in the weird and twisted world of abuse, victims are made to feel deserving of supposed vengeful treatment. But in reality, the abusers are just so scared to be rejected that they use force and manipulation to project fear onto the victim instead. My point is, boys need to feel just as loved and secure as girls do. And that’s our job, folks.

All of this is scary and overwhelming, and it’s easy to believe that it only happens to other people. But it happens to a lot of people, and your child could be one of them. If anything, I think the over-exposure of the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident is good in that it’s a big wake-up call to abusive men, abused women… and parents who can stop the abuse before it even begins.


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