13 - Why Do Inadequate Parents Do What They Do?  pp. 388-434

Why Do Inadequate Parents Do What They Do?

By Patricia M. Crittenden

Image View Previous Chapter Previous Chapter


Understanding why threatened parents behave in ways that seem, from the perspective of less threatened people, to exacerbate the risk to their children requires consideration of the process of generating and selecting among dispositional representational (DR) models. This chapter addresses six forms of DRs from a memory systems perspective (Schacter & Tulving, 1994). These are described in a developmental framework in which neurological maturation interacts with experience to generate developmental pathways. The outcome of the pathway, at any given moment, is an emergent, ever-changing set of DRs that both shape individuals' perception of the world and their relation to it and also guide the transformation of mental representations to enacted behavior. It is argued that preconscious memory systems regulate important aspects of parental behavior because they promote safety and that reflective, integrative, and verbal processes may be infrequent, especially among risk parents, because integrative processing itself can expose parents and their children to danger. The chapter points to the paradox that protection and preparation for reproduction, which are essential and universal components of parenting, appear to be precisely the functions that are distorted in cases of risk, that is, cases of child maltreatment and parental mental illness.

Everyone has seen parents treating their children in unacceptable ways and wondered why they did that. Everyone has been horrified at the “inhumanity” of parents whose abuse and neglect of their children has garnered media attention and wondered how they could do those things.

Aber, L. & Zigler, E. (1981). Developmental considerations in the definition of child maltreatment. New Directions for Child Development: Developmental Perspectives on Maltreatment, 11, 1–30.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1979). Infant-mother attachment. American Psychologist, 34, 932–7.
Barbaree, H. E. (1991). Denial and minimizations among sex offenders: Assessment and treatment outcome. Forum on Corrections Research, 3, 30–3.
Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology Monographs, 4, 72.
Beck-Sander, A. (1995). Childhood abuse in adult offenders: The role of control in perpetuating cycles of abuse. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 6, 486–98.
Benjamin, J., Müller, C., Hamer, D., & Murphy, D. (1996). Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region. Science, 274, 1527–30.
Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? America Psychologist, 59, 20–8.
Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and Loss: Volume I. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss: Volume II. Separation. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and Loss: Volume III. Loss. New York: Basic Books.
Bumpy, K. & Hansen, J. D. (1997). Intimacy deficits, fear of intimacy, and loneliness among sex offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 24, 315–31.
Burke, L. (2003). The impact of maternal depression on familial relationships. International Review of Psychiatry, 15, 243–55.
Chronis, A. M., Lahey, B. B., Pelman, W. E., Kipp, H. L., Baumann, B. L., & Lee, S. (2003). Psychopathology and substance abuse in parents of young children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 1424–32.
Crittenden, P. M. & Claussen, A. H. (1993). Severity of maltreatment: Assessment and policy implications. In C. J. Hobbes & J. M. Wynne (Eds.), Bailliere's Clinical Paediatrics: International Practice and Research. London: Bailliere Tindall, pp. 87–100.
Crittenden, P. M. & Craig, S. (1990). Developmental trends in child homicide. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5, 202–16.
Crittenden, P. M. (1992). Quality of attachment in the preschool years. Development and Psychopathology, 4, 209–41.
Crittenden, P. M. (1995). Attachment and psychopathology. In S. Goldberg, R. Muir, & J. Kerr (Eds.), John Bowlby's Attachment Theory: Historical, Clinical, and Social Significance. New York: The Analytic Press, pp. 367–406.
Crittenden, P. M. (1996). Research on maltreating families: Implications for intervention. In J. Briere, L. Berliner, J. Bulkey, C. Jenny, & T. Reid (Eds.), APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 158–74.
Crittenden, P. M. (1997a). Patterns of attachment and sexuality: Risk of dysfunction versus opportunity for creative integration. In L. Atkinson & K. J. Zuckerman (Eds.) Attachment and Psychopathology. New York: Guilford Press, pp. 47–93.
Crittenden, P. M. (1997b). Toward an integrative theory of trauma: A dynamic-maturational approach. In D. Cicchetti & S. Toth (Eds.), The Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology, Vol. 10. Risk, Trauma, and Mental Processes. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, pp. 34–84.
Crittenden, P. M. (1998). Dangerous behavior and dangerous contexts: A thirty-five year perspective on research on the developmental effects of child physical abuse. In P. Trickett (Ed.). Violence to Children. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, pp. 11–38.
Crittenden, P. M. (2000). A dynamic-maturational exploration of the meaning of security and adaptation: Empirical, cultural, and theoretical considerations. In P. M. Crittenden & A. H. Claussen (Eds.), The Organization of Attachment Relationships: Maturation, Culture, and Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 358–84.
Crittenden, P. M. (2002). Attachment theory, information processing, and psychiatric disorder. World Journal of Psychiatry, 1, 72–5.
Crittenden, P. M. (2005). The origins of physical punishment: An ethological/attachment perspective on the use of punishment by human parents. In M. Donnelly & M. A. Strauss (Eds.), Corporal Punishment of Children in Theoretical Perspective. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 73–90.
Crittenden, P. M., Lang, C., Claussen, A. H., & Partridge, M. F. (2000). Relations among mothers' procedural, semantic, and episodic internal representational models of parenting. In P. M. Crittenden & A. H. Claussen (Eds.), The Organization of Attachment Relationships: Maturation, Culture, and Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 214–33.
Damascio, A. R. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens; Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Fort Worth, TX; Harcourt College Publishers.
Damasio, A. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. New York: Harcourt Inc.
Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Avon Books.
Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford Press.
Dobash, R. P., Dobash, R. E., Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1992). The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Social Problems, 39, 71–91.
Duane, Y., Carr, A., Cherry, J., MacGrath, K., & O' Shea, D. (2003). Profiles of the parents of adolescent CSA perpetrators attending a voluntary outpatient treatment program in Ireland. Child Abuse Review, 12, 5–24.
Fisher, D., Beech, A., & Brown, K. (1998). Locus of control and its relationship to treatment change and abuse history in child sexual abuse. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 42, 141–8.
Fivush, R. & Hamond, N. R. (1990). Autobiographical memory across the preschool years: Toward reconceptualizing childhood amnesia. In R. Fivush & J. A. Hudson (Eds.), Knowing and Remembering in Young Children. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 223–48.
Garlick, Y., Marshall, W. L., & Thornton, D. (1996). Intimacy deficits and attribution of blame among sexual offenders. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 1, 251–8.
Gelles, R. J. (1991). Physical violence, child abuse, and child homicide: A continuum of violence, or distinct behaviors? Human Nature, 2, 1991, 59–72.
George, C. & Solomon, J. (1999). Attachment and caregiving: The caregiving behavioral system. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. New York: Guildford Press, pp. 649–70.
Gigerenzer, G., Todd, P. M., & the ABC Research Group (1999). Simple Hurestics That Make Us Smart. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gregory, R. (1998). Snapshots from a decade of the brain: Brainy mind. British Medical Journal, 317, 1693–5.
Haapasalo, J., Puupponen, M., & Crittenden, P. M. (1999). Victim to victimizer: The psychology of isomorphism in a case of a recidivist pedophile. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 7, 97–115.
Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books.
Holden, G. W. & Zambarano, R. J. (1992). Passing the rod: Similarities between parents and their children in orientations toward physical punishment. In I. E. Sigel, A. V. McGillicuddy-DeLisi, & J. J. Goognow (Eds.), Parental Belief Systems: The Psychological Consequences for Children. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 143– 72.
Howard, L. M. & Hannam, S. (2003). Sudden infant death syndrome and psychiatric disorders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 379–80.
Hunter, J. A., Figueredo, A. J., Malamuth, N. M., & Becker, J. V. (2003). Juvenile sex offenders: Toward the development of a typology. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 15, 27–48.
Jean-Gilles, M. & Crittenden, P. M. (1990). Maltreating families: A look at siblings. Family Relations, 39, 323–9.
Kelley, S. J. (1996). Ritualistic abuse of children. In J. Briere, L. Berliner, J. Bulkey, C. Jenny, & T. Reid (Eds.), APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 90–9.
Kolko, D. J. (1996). Child physical abuse. In J. Briere, L. Berliner, J. Bulkey, C. Jenny, & T. Reid (Eds.), APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 21–50.
Laming, Lord. (2003). The Victoria Climbié inquiry: Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for the Home Department by Command of Her Majesty. London: Crown Copyright.
Le Doux, J. E. (1994). Emotion, memory, and the brain: Neural routes underlying the formation of memories about primitive emotional experiences, such as fear, have been traced. Scientific American, June, 50–7.
Levant, M. & Bass, B. (1991). Parental identification of rapists and pedophiles. Psychological Reports, 69, 463–6.
Maletzky, B. M. (1991). Treating the Sexual Offender. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Marsa, F., O' Reilly, G., Carr, A., Murphy, P., O' Sullivan, M., Cotter, A., & Hevey, D. (2004). Attachment styles and psychological profiles of child sex offenders in Ireland. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19, 228–51.
Meyer, C. & Oberman, M. (2001). Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of Moms from Susan Smith to the “Prom Mom.” New York: New York University Press.
Milgrom, J. & Beatrice, G. (2003). Coping with the stress of motherhood: Cognitive and defense style of women with post-natal depression. Stress & Health, 19, 281–7.
Murphy, W. D. & Smith, T. A. (1996). Sex offenders against children: Empirical and clinical issues. In J. Briere, L. Berliner, J. Bulkey, C. Jenny, & T. Reid (Eds.), APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 175–92.
Noll, J. G., Horowitz, L. A., Bonanno, G., Trickett, P. K., & Putnam, F. W. (2003b). Revictimization and self-harm in adolescent and young adult females who experienced childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(12), 1452–71.
Noll, J. G., Trickett, P. K., & Putnam, F. W. (2003a). A prospective investigation of the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the development of sexuality. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(3), 575–86.
O'Halloran, M., Carr, A., O'Reilly, G., Sherrin, D., Cherry, J., Turner, R., et al. (2002). Psychological profiles of sexually abusive adolescents in Ireland. Child Abuse and Neglect, 26, 349–70.
Pavlov, I. P. (1928). Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes: The Higher Nervous Activity of Animals. (Vol. 1, H. Ganett, Trans.) London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Russell, D. E. H. (1986). The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women. New York: Basic Books.
Salmon, M., Abel, K., Cordingley, L., Friedman, T., & Appleby, L. (2003). Clinical and parenting skills outcomes following joint mother-baby psychiatric admission. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 37, 556–62.
Salter, D., McMillan, D., Richards, M., Talbot, T., Hodges, J. Bentovim, A., Hastings, R., Stevenson, J., & Skuse, D. (2003). Development of sexually abusive behavior in sexually victimized males: A longitudinal study. Lancet, 361, 471–6.
Schacter, D. L. & Tulving, E. (1994). What are the memory systems of 1994? In D. L. Schacter & E. Tulving (Eds.), Memory Systems 1994. Cambridge, MA: Bradford, pp. 1–38.
Schacter, D. L. (1996). Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. New York: Basic Books.
Schmahmann, J. D. (Ed.) (1997). The Cerebellum and Cognition. New York: Academic Press.
Schultz, D. & Shaw, D. S. (2003). Boys' maladaptive social information processing, family emotional climate, and pathways to early conduct problems. Social Development, 12, 440–60.
Selye, H. (1976). The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Shine, J., McClosky, H., & Newton, M. (2002). Self-esteem and sex offending. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 8, 51–61.
Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms. New York: Appelton-Century-Crofts.
Smallbone, S. & Dadds, M. (1998). Childhood attachment and adult attacment in incarcerated adult male sex offenders. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13, 555–73.
Smallbone, S. & Dadds, M. (2000). Attachment and coercive sexual behavior. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 12, 3–15.
Starzyk, K. B. & Marshall, W. L. (2003). Childhood family and personological risk factors for sexual offending. Aggression & Violent Behavior, 8, 93–105.
Trickett, P. K., Noll, J. G., Reiffman, A., & Putnam, F. W. (2001). Variants of intrafamilial sexual abuse experience: Implications for long term development. Journal of Development and Psychopathology, 13(4), 1001–19.
Tulving, E. (1979). Memory research: What kind of progress? In L. G. Nilsson (Ed.), Perspectives on Memory Research: Essays in Honor of Uppsala University's 500th Anniversary. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 19–34.
Tulving, E. (1987). Multiple memory systems and consciousness. Human Neurobiology, 6, 67–80.
van IJzendoorn, M. (1995). Adult attachment representations, parental responsiveness, and infant attachment: A meta-analysis on the predictive validity of the Adult Attachment Interview. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 387–403.
Veneziano, C. & Veneziano, L. (2002). Adolescent sex offenders: A review of the literature. Trauma Violence and Abuse, 3, 246–60.
Waterman, J., Kelley, R. J., McCord, J., & Oliveri, M. K. (Eds.). (1993). Behind Playground Walls: Sexual Abuse in Day Care. New York: Guilford.
Wente, M. (2004). The Blackstock secret: Anger greets sentence for couple who caged two boys. The Globe and Mail, Toronto, July 6, 2004.
Wilson, M. & Daly, M. (1992). The man who mistook his wife for a chattel. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby, (Eds.), The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 289–322.
Wilson, M. & Daly, M. (1996). Violence against step-children. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5, 77–81.
Young, W. C., Sachs, R. G., Braun, B. G., & Watkins, R. T. (1991). Patients reporting ritual abuse in childhood: A clinical syndrome: Report of 37 cases. Child Abuse & Neglect, 15, 181–9.