I warn you now. This article ain’t pretty. But how can it be, examining parental disdain for children that encompasses child hatred from gross sexual and physical abuse to cruel and even subtle mental and emotional abuse? The only way depths of sin can be extracted and discarded is if we identify and search for it, looking externally and internally. The ugliness of this wicked world and, sometimes and in some ways, in our homes, challenges us to look at the ugliness in our own hearts.
I cried like a baby when I heard the news: a 10-year-old girl weighed just 32 pounds, emaciated and malnourished, starved by the hands of her mother who locked the child in a closet where the child slept and relieved herself. Undoubtedly, the child experienced more than physical starvation, longing for her mother’s love, hoping someone would relieve her from pain and shame and confusion and wondering why this someone wasn’t her mother, why her mother was the one to do this to her. Even as I write I cry when I think of her; the 3 and 4 year old whose mother left them home alone so she could go party; the 4-year-old stepson of gospel singer James Fortune who Fortune scalded in a bathtub; and the victims of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach found guilty on 43 of 45 counts of sodomy and rape of young men entrusted to his care. All this, and the thought that Sandusky is apparently guilty of many more abuses, including sexually molesting his own son, has had me sad and contemplative for days.
The gross neglect and abuse in these and other extreme cases of child hatred had me hugging and kissing and otherwise gushing over my children, not understanding how anyone can violate precious little ones, gifts from God himself. These horrendous cases of abuse had me being so grateful for my gifts from God and pledging to love and cherish them even more. For me, “more” means working to eradicate my own disdain for my children, however subtle and barely comparable to newsflash incidents. However "small," I know I need to immediately cast down thoughts against my children; watch how I look at them; be careful of what and how I say it to them; and not entertain others' negative views of children.
I can't think 'That's so dumb' when my 9 year old espouses his juvenile logic because when I think what he said was dumb then I'm going to look at him like he's dumb and talk to him like he's dumb and agree with the little girl (and her mother) who said to me about my boys, "I know you can't wait for them to go to school." She, at 12, had obviously heard her mother on various school breaks tell her she couldn’t wait for her to go back to school, making it clear that she was tired of the girl’s presence. How does this make children feel when we communicate in word and deed that we don’t want to be bothered with them, their presence is a nuisance, and we long for any time that will give us a break from them? The physical scars may be absent from what we do, but our words and actions can still mentally and emotionally scar our children. Our culture teaches us to prey on the vulnerable, use and abuse them, treat them as less than people and get rid of them if they get in our way.
But this is not the Kingdom culture. The Kingdom of God teaches us that children are gifts from God, that we are blessed when we have a houseful of them, that we are not to provoke them to anger, that it's doom for those who harm them, that Jesus welcomes children in his presence, and that we should come to Jesus in the manner children do, with humility (Psalm 127:1-5; Colossians 3:21; Luke 17:1-2; Matthew 19:13-15; Matthew 18:2-5). With these, and our mandate to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, there is no room for disdain for our children.
In order to combat parental disdain, we must:
Act when we witness it. Pray for those involved; prayerfully confront those involved to inquire if they need help, offer counsel or even rebuke; and, if need be, report them to the proper authorities (Galatians 6:1).
Assess our actions. Determine if our thoughts, words and deeds about and toward our children serve to build them up or tear them down (Ephesians 4:29). If we can’t say that our words or deeds serve to edify then we need to ask ourselves why they don’t. We would do well to pray this prayer. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). The Holy Spirit can reveal the motives of our hearts if we really want to see the truth.
Parental disdain may be the way of the world, but we are called to be countercultural, change agents in this wicked world. We may not physically or sexually abuse or neglect our children, but disdain for them in any way opposes our role as parents charged with raising our children while keeping the Kingdom first.
In what ways do you think you are guilty of disdain toward your children? What have you done or plan to do to change your disdain?