It’s not so complicated for the Mouse, he said, when I asked Nonney if he had any thoughts on parenting or whatever they might call it. He said, “We just keep telling them that they are wonderful, that we love them, and we hug and kiss them, and tell them to stay clean, don’t make messes, keep a low profile, eat in the middle, avoid machinery and things that make funny noises or sparks, and watch out for predators on the ground, in the water, or in the air. And keep looking up, as things that eat us are usually bigger than us.”

I said, ‘OK, but what is this “eat in the middle” thing?’ And he said it’s “basically don’t eat or drink things that look, smell or taste bad, and stay away from things that look, smell or taste wonderfully yummy.”

That’s where some of life’s irreversible pain, anguish and remorse lie in wait for the unsuspecting mouse. We tell them to eat and drink in the middle, that is, halfway between the awful and the wonderful. We call it the rule of the healthy middle. And half way between too little and too much, I asked? And Nonney said, “Yes, we call that ‘enough,’ which is in the middle between too little and too much.”

I told him in my opinion, human parents either make or break their offspring, and none of us is immune to criticism on this point. It’s not always an either/or situation, I said, but in general outline, I think that parents make their children by giving them unremitting love and support enclosed in rational and reasonable suggestions applied with great gentleness and consistency, or they give the child only criticism and corrective punishment while withholding any gesture of love, no matter how small or slight. The former approach makes the child grow into a well-formed adult and the latter approach produces a broken adult.

Withholding love from a child is worse than murder, for it destroys a life before it has a chance to thrive, yet keeps the child alive while increasing the likelihood that the broken child will grow into parent who, by example, knows only how to break its own progeny. While the children’s actions may sometimes severely anger their parents, it is never, under any circumstance, acceptable to withhold love from the child. Doing so, without fail, causes irreparable damage.

Beyond that, withholding the love that a growing child wants and needs has the effect of dismissing, demeaning and disparaging the child, and this is a process that leads, in some cases, to self destruction, violence toward others, suspicion, fear and hatred.

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Nonney said he thought I was overstating the case, but that I probably was at least partially right. So, parents have a choice between good parenting and whatever, and if they choose the whatever, the world will be a worse place for everyone. And I had to agree with him, but sometimes you have to overstate your case to be heard in a world of shoot’em ups, sadism, torture, fake news and the never ending noise of the electronic market place. Nonney said it was a very sad story I was telling.

Cheer up, I said, there is at least one route that leads to a partial survival for the child, and that is through codependence and a resultant dose of obsessive compulsion. The child who is deprived of the loving and unconditional physical and emotional support it needs while growing up, may turn from its parents to others and try to get that loving sense of worth and approval from whoever comes along.

If the child succeeds and grows into an adult, conditioned to getting its physical and emotional support for a positive self image from friends, strangers, and the accidental acquaintance, or even the stray dog that comes walking down the street, he may prove to be what we call a codependent person. That is, someone who will judge their own worth simply based on how they think other people (or the stray dog) value them.

That’s a scary scenario, said Nonney, and I agreed. It allows the codependent to be easily manipulated, used and abused by the criminal and the unscrupulous. I have seen some very lovely young men and women coaxed and led beyond their best judgment by others who could sense in them their endless need for approval and some version of what might be mistaken for love and approval, and who were willing to take advantage of them for their own profit and pleasure.

However, if the codependency is combined with a steady persistence, hard work, unflagging effort to achieve approval, high marks, love and appreciation from others and an endless and obsessive devotion to details, that is, a relentless striving to earn, as an adult, the emotional support and approval they so missed out on in their childhood, the result can produce an individual who brings forth good works far beyond his natural abilities, and is what we call an overachiever. It may also result in a codependent, obsessive-compulsive overachiever.

Footnote required here: Surviving bad parenting, or whatever, by becoming a codependent, obsessive-compulsive overachiever does not necessarily lead to happiness for anyone.

Successful codependent, obsessive-compulsive overachievers are not good models for any child. They will simply pass this disability on down to their own children and they, in their own turn, will start the disease along on one more cycle for the next generation. No end in sight to the cycle of producing unhappy, successful, codependent obsessive compulsive overachievers, one generation after the next.

I said, “Love the child,” and Nonney said, “We always do.”

Orrin Frink is a Kennebunkport resident. He can be reached at [email protected]

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