These days, the know-it-all public opinion in Romania rallied to support Bodnariu family, whose children were taken in custody by child protection services in Norway, after alleged physical corrections and religious indoctrination.
Hundreds of people in some of Romania’s big cities took to the streets in an outraged response to the desperate pleas by the mixed couple (Ruth, a native Norwegian and medical nurse, married to Romanian IT engineer Marius Bodnariu), who demand that their children be returned.
While, obviously, it is quite shocking to see a three-month old baby seized from his breast-feeding mother, the only thing that crossed my mind, as i kept reading tons of articles, opinions, and Internet anger outlashing at Norvegian child care Barnevernet, I felt a strange and awkward sensation. One of the ladies even yelled “It is obvious that the social service will not love them as their mother does.”
And I wondered: “Why are all these people so sure? Has any of us spent time in the Bodnariu household? And supposing we have, do we know how they treat their children after visitors leave their home? What do we know of how these children feel at home? How do we know that they genuinely feel loved and cared for?”
The answer is “We do NOT know”.
And if we do not know, why do we act as if we all were there, had eaten dinner at their table and slept in their beds?
The answer lies deep in the Romanian culture of absolutely despotic parenting. We only need to know the parents’ version. We only need to see their tears. We do not know the children’s version. Nor do we care.
Children’s feelings were never a concern for Romanian grown-ups.
I started a cautious post on my Facebook page. A rather neutral post, warning that there are two sides to every coin, and that, perhaps, if we really want to know what truly went on inside that home, we should interview the children.
The overwhelmingly frequent answer is: “They are children, what do they know?”
Without realizing, many of my commenters – who were regular Romanians, educated in the traditional parenting spirit of “I made you and I have the right to kill you” – a traditional Romanian saying, referring to parents’ absolute rights on their own offspring, whom they are allowed to treat or to dispose of as they see fit, considering the genetic contribution to the child’s very existence – many of my commenters, as I was saying – denied that children were sentient being, able to define what causes them harm.
In my commenters’ view, children were mere property. Property you are entitled to treat as you like. As long as you love them – or at least claim to do so – you may yell at them, beat them, humiliate them, punish them, put them in awkward situations in front of strangers, treat them in a condescending and minimizing fashion.
After all, they are yours, right?
Not quite right.
“Those poor children should be taken away from those retards.”
I admit it is a thought that has crossed my mind many times in my wonderful home country.
It has crossed my mind whenever I see beggars in the freezing cold, holding babies dressed in rags, who seem under the influence of strong narcotics, because any normal healthy baby’s reaction to freezing cold would be crying their lungs out.
It has crossed my mind when I saw beggars in the subways and buses, dragging their babies after them, or at street junctions, taking advantage of traffic jams to forcefully wash car windows while dangling innocent babies in their other hand.
All those children are clearly abused. Perhaps their dirt and sweat covered mothers love them. They just have a really lousy way of showing it.
Moreover, their only chance to a normal and decent future would be to be seized from their disfunctional families.
But I must admit this thought has also crossed my mind in stores, parks and restaurants, or even on the sidewalk. Whenever I see a little child making a minor mistake and a rude and angry adult yelling as if the innocent little being has at least murdered half the family. Whenever I see the regular, day-by-day heart-wrenching cruelty Romanians call a “straightforward traditional education”.
Obviously, no two children are born alike, as no two parents are alike. There are more rebellious personalities, there are personalities that adapt slower to adults’ requirements, there are even personalities who seem to love to resist any attempt of education. I have a third-degree cousin who was just like this. Noisy, rebellious, loud mouthed, always eager to do something stupid. And no beating could tame him. Finally, he gave in the the calm, collected authority of one of our grandparents, who patiently explained what he was supposed to do and what he was supposed not to do. Over, and over, and over again. But it finally worked.
Because children are not some form of wild animals – and allegedly, even wild animals respond better to rewards than to punishments. And certainly not some form of property you are allowed to treat as you please. Children are human beings, and as such, they come with built-in intelligence. Working with said intelligence is the only way to raise a healthy, adaptable, balanced human being.
The two little girls of the Bodnariu family have complained at school of physical corrections and constant threats that hell will punish them for any wrongdoings. “Oh, they made it up”, my commenters yelled. Really?
How many times do we see in Romania the following scene: a little child comes crying in the street and says “My father has beat me with his belt”. What is the instant reply we all hear from the grown-up person he or she talks to? “Come on, I am sure it was not a big deal.” Or: “You must have done something to deserve it.”
Does this latter phrase sound familiar?
Yes, it does. It is the most frequently used phrase to justify abuse of any kind. As the guilt for the violent behaviour is moved from the person who had inflicted the abuse on the recipient.
In an interesting turn of minds, the behaviour of violent and abusive parents is sometimes justified by decent parents as well. People who never raised a hand on their child and who always found the proper tone to lecture them after the young one misbehaved suddenly start to fiercely defend other people, who beat their children bloody.
And I always wondered why?
Is it because abusers are really good at justifying themselves in society and finding pretences? Many of them are.
Is it because decent people cannot really believe that others are abusive and they keep minimizing the abuse as if it never happened: “I am sure it was not a big deal.” Why are you so sure? Have you been there?
Is it because even decent people are sometimes on the verge of losing their patience with their own children and transfer their guilt for the impulses they fight so hard to control over abusive people? They try justifying and minimizing the slap they could have given, but fought so hard to resist the impulse?
These are a few questions. If I were a psychologist, perhaps I would have some answers, too. Or perhaps, I would have more questions.
The other questionable fact in the story is: how can you, a responsible adult, scare little children threatening them with hell, instead of merely reasoning why and how a mistake may affect your wellbeing here, on Earth? Because it is easier to control a scared child than a confident one?
Because you don’t truly want to raise your kids as independent and strong human beings, who think with their own minds, but you strain to keep them as your property as long as you can? Because you made them, and according to the old Romanian saying, you are entitled to kill them?
“We do not miss our parents!”, the two older Bodnariu girls were quoted saying, several weeks into being taken in custody.
I do not think anyone can manipulate a child into declaring false feelings for their parents. In at least two out of five cases, the Bodnariu couple did something wrong. Their love failed to get through to the recipients.
Obviously, as I was saying before, the truth is always two-sided. Norway has flourishing child protection services. Some people even say that it leaves parents defenseless to their children’s whims and that children have been seized for allegedly feeding them too much chocolate or letting two children of opposite genders sleep in the same bed.
But then again, these are also parents’ stories.
And we should not give endless credit to one side, without at least granting an honest, considerate, heartfelt thought to the opposite version.