A reader asks:
If parents regret having their sons circumcised, and would like to address it earlier in their life or speak with them openly about it, what should they do? Are there any modalities you’ve seen people try?
First, anything you do as a parent must be centered on the needs of the child.
If parents feel guilty about a decision they made, talking to their kids could become about fixing the parent’s guilt rather than meeting the needs of the child. If you as a parent have feelings about something you did or allowed to happen, make sure you take care of those feelings as an adult, rather than unloading them on your child. Children aren’t responsible for processing their parent’s feelings, and learning about this issue will likely bring up feelings of their own they might need to process. In other words, secure your own healing first before trying to fix someone else.
Second, allow your child to have whatever feelings come up.
This is essential if you want to maintain your relationship with your child. Think about how you would feel if your spouse or partner allowed something similar to happen to you. You might be furious, sad, or even want a divorce. Children feel all the same things when their parents wrong them, but they cannot leave the relationship because of their dependent status. When children aren’t allowed to have certain feelings in relationship with their parents they either bury those feelings in their unconscious to come out in future relationships or break their relationship with their parents around those parts of themselves. Either way, if you want a relationship with your children, you have to make it safe for them to have all their feelings, including feelings of anger or upset directed at you.
What would you do if you wronged your spouse in a similar way? If you wanted to keep that relationship, you’d have to allow them to be mad at you or upset for as long as they need to be. If you allow the people in your life to have their feelings even when those feelings are not convenient or comfortable for you, then your relationships will grow stronger, including with your children. If your children know it is safe to be mad at you, and you are the kind of person who admits when you are in the wrong, then they will feel safe sharing the other things in the relationship that bother them, or coming to you when they have a problem, rather than just cutting off the relationship when they have the freedom to do so.
Third, listen to them, and give them whatever support they need.
This is difficult and might require expansion and growth for both of you. Right now, we do not have a way to fully repair the damage of circumcision. We also have a larger culture that does not recognize the damage that comes from genital cutting or offers resources for men who are harmed by it. However, broadly speaking the principles and healing methods that apply around other healing methods apply here. Non-violent communication and peaceful parenting methods can be useful when talking to your kids. Healing methods that work on physical trauma, sexual abuse, or childhood trauma can all help with the feelings around circumcision.
However, I want to caution parents against pushing these on their children. When a parent offers therapy of any kind for their kids, it can make the child feel like there is something wrong with them and their parents are trying to fix them. There is a danger of making your kids feel broken when they do not see themselves that way. Often, the parents feel like they made a mistake, and are trying to fix themselves through their kids. This is using the child the fulfill the adult’s needs, rather than centering whatever healing takes place on the child’s needs.
Imagine how you would feel if your spouse wronged you, and then tried to push you into therapy when you were mad at them about it. Yes, you might need therapy after being wronged in your relationship, but you wouldn’t want them to try to “fix” you, when they were the one at fault. If you offer support, it has to come with the frame that they are okay, they have the right to feel whatever they are feeling, and it is up to them to decide what they need. You as a parent can offer resources, but you have to respect the child’s response, or else we’d be crossing their boundaries and telling them there is something wrong with them again.
This is why it’s crucial for parents to do their own healing work. If some part of you allowed this to happen, then we need to heal that and process the feelings of guilt and grief that came from that decision. If you think your kids need healing but you don’t, remember who it was that made the mistake. Doing your own healing work will allow you to know what works and frame healing as something people normally do, rather than something they have to do because there is something wrong with them. Kids learn by watching their parents. Asking a child “would you like to talk to someone like mom does?” is a very different frame than “do we need to find someone to fix you because we screwed up so bad?”
In my own life, I’ve found the Completion Process, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), somatic therapy, family constellations, and having a good listener to all be effective healing methods. (My fiance practices the first two, and you can find her here. She is the best healer I know.) If you ask any person who has done healing what works, you’ll get different answers, and almost all of them are valid for someone. However, any effective healing method will begin by validating the feelings of the person being healing, which is why it is so important to allow your kids to feel whatever they are feeling. If a healer invalidates your perspective or downplays this issue, they are not a healer and you should avoid them. Healing might reveal a new perspective, but it will meet you where you are at.
Keep in mind, your child might not feel they need anything. When I did my own healing work, I didn’t go looking for circumcision trauma. I had anger. I stayed with that anger until I found the source. So if your child doesn’t feel like talking about this issue, that’s okay. Support their healing where they decide to do it. That healing might lead to feelings around this issue, or it might not. It would be a mistake to treat this issue as a separate issue you can fix and be done with, rather than part of the relationship as a whole. Circumcision is based in thinking that you can “fix” one “separate” part of the body and it won’t impact the whole. Avoiding the same mistake will require shifting your thinking from trying to “fix” parts of your child to looking holistically at the whole relationship.
Hope that helps.
If this helped you, subscribe here. To learn more about the issue of circumcision, watch my documentary American Circumcision. If you’re interested in making a difference on the issue, read my book The Intactivist Guidebook.