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Thursday, 5 July 2018

Growing Up The Children of Institutionalized Parents


"The Duplessis Orphans were children victimized in a mid-20th century scheme in which approximately 20,000 orphaned children were falsely certified as mentally ill by the government of the province of Quebec, Canada."

While living full time on a West Coast First Nation reserve, I was able to relate with many of the indigenous people. The connection we made was one of mental health and shared experiences because our parents grew up as institutionalized children of a governmental system.

I am an only child of a mother, who raised me as a single parent for the first ten years of my life. My mother was raised from the ages of 2 years to 16 years in the Duplessis Orphanage system in Quebec. She experienced similar traumas as those raised in the “Indian” Residential School system. Wikipedia states that “The Duplessis Orphans were children victimized in a mid-20th century scheme in which approximately 20,000 orphaned children were falsely certified as mentally ill by the government of the province of Quebec, Canada, and confined to psychiatric institutions.” The Montreal orphanage my mother resided in was run by the Catholic Church. She was abused for many of those years. The long-term effects of the mental stress and physical abuse she suffered was immense. Not only did she have a short lifespan, but the mental health issues resulting from this abuse would be life changing for me as well.

Who defines what is right and wrong, what is good behaviour or bad?

My mother would invoke the authority and values of the Roman Catholic Church. The same beliefs were reinforced by the French Catholic schools I attended. At the age of 10 years old, I entered the Roman Catholic ‘Children Aid’ system. These Authorities followed the similar rules/expectations my mother had growing up. At the same time, she had no respect for this authority and would not listen to or adhere to their advice if it differed from her own. For example, as a young child, I would attend my local parish church as much as 4-5 times a week, yet my mother refused to attend at all. Regarding school interactions with teachers and principals, if she didn’t receive the response she wanted from these authorities she would place the blame on me or simply refuse to participate in discussions. Despite reports from my school officials and a Psychologist that alluded to a Mental Health concern for myself, my mother refused to believe my behaviour was caused by anything other than willfulness and my father’s ‘bad’ blood.

Who defines the rules, controls the money, and makes the decisions?

My mother made the rules of the home, enforced the rules of the home, and when she couldn’t control my behaviour, called in the Higher Power - the Catholic Church. My behaviour was so troubling for her growing up due to my own mental health disorder that at one point, she inquired about an exorcism as a solution. We are talking about a mother who was desperate to save her son and conform to society's standards even as a child.

Is it the parents equally, is it just one parent, do the children have any say?

Parenting was not equal in my family. My mother did the majority of the parenting and I did not know of my father for the first five years of my life. I would meet him around the age of 8 years old when I flew out to Vancouver to visit. He had no decision making or influence in my life until I was in my early teens, when I went to live with him.

If there are school-aged children in your family, you may also want to consider how your family intersects with the school authorities. Does your family take responsibility for enforcing school expectations (grades, attendance, behaviour in class) and if so, why and how?

By the time I reached 10 years of age, my mother was ready to disown me. She packed my suitcase and locked me out of the house one cold Ontario night. I was to wait for the social workers to pick me up (unknowing at the time that she had given me up to their care). Rather than find supports and accept I had a neurological disorder, she abandoned me to foster care. On the eve of signing off her parental rights, my father got involved. My mother changed her mind and got me back into her care to spite my father. A few years later, I would find myself passed off to him as my mother once again rejected my behaviour as willfulness and was done with me. However, my father, did not value school, thus I was encouraged to drop out in my first semester of grade 10.

What do you think would happen to your family if the parents refused to educate the children as specified by the government, or if they chose different values and different ways of existing?

The reality is that both my parents have very different values regarding education and parenting than the mainstream population. My mother fought her emotional demons most of her life and choose partners who were “known to law enforcement” for one reason or another. My father skated the law and taught what he knew to me. I literally grew up on the streets of Windsor and Detroit while in my mother’s care; and had a varied education (non-academic) while in my father’s care.

Despite being enrolled in school during my formative years, I suspect the multiple homes I lived in while in foster care, moving from Ontario to British Columbia created chaos in my academic life, to say nothing of my home life - such as it was. The Roman Catholic Church, it’s schools, and Children’s Aid of Ontario could not predict that I would only last less than a couple of years with my father, I was living on my own at the age of 16 years. These and subsequent experiences led me to become cunning, manipulative, a fan of ‘smoke and mirrors’ - as I was in pure survival mode.

Canadian “Indian” residential school.

Compare this to the residential school experience of Natives in Canada.

Like the “Survivors” of the Canadian “Indian” Residential School, my mother was a “Survivor” of the Duplessis Orphanage System. In both institutions, they faced mental, physical and sexual abuse. Once my mother ran away from the school at the age of 16 years old, she was not provided with any supports. If her childhood wasn’t difficult enough, her adult life could be measured equally as difficult as she lacked the parenting skills required to raise me, a child with disabilities. The Indigenous people have coined their own term of the “offspring” of the Canadian “Indian” residential school and therefore in similarities, I was the “offspring” of the Duplessis Orphanage system. With that comparison comes a number of mental health issues that are known today amongst medical professionals. In my own discussion with Indigenous friends, we compare the similar parenting strategies as a result of our parents growing up in institutionalized government systems.





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