The headlines for child abuse are glaring and unbelievable. One story in particular has stayed with me and I haven’t been able to let it go. In February of this year, a Detroit woman was arrested for murdering her two children and putting their bodies in a refrigerator. At her trial, she showed no remorse. Obviously, she is mentally ill. Unfortunately, my search for ‘child murder refrigerator’ brings up too many other similar stories. These are blatant examples of child abuse. They are happening today, in our midst.
For those of us who love our families and children, and live to make a sincere effort to give our families the best, these stories make our stomach churn. This kind of evil is unfathomable. I don’t have a hard time convincing anyone that the above story is a case of child abuse. But, it is very often that I have a hard time convincing the wounded soul in front of me in a counseling session that they suffered from parental abuse, even when all of the evidence is there to prove it.
Abuse is not just the torture and murder of a child. Verbal, mental, and emotional abuse happen along a continuum that can make it hard to discern exactly what abuse is. After all, some people consider spanking to be abuse, others consider it to be a swift and just discipline for poor behavior. A father believes he is doing his best parenting when he offers his children ways to improve and gives them what he believes are healthy critiques to help them succeed, but his children all suffer from deep insecurity and fragile egos. A mother believes that she is loving by giving her ultimate freedoms and no boundaries, but the child suffers from a sense of entitlement and depression. At what point does parenting cross the line over into abuse?
In order to prevent any kind of child abuse within a family system – not just that of torture and murder – we must acknowledge, and have a heart to heart about what exactly it is that constitutes abuse. And we need to have a discussion that acknowledges that abuse happens not just in extreme cases, but also by well- intentioned parents that missed a pivotal piece because they didn’t merit the weight of their actions by this simple truth:
Simply, at the heart of the matter, parenting crosses the line into abuse when it serves the parent’s unmet need or wounding, instead of serving the child’s need. A parent who is acting out of their own wounding or unmet need in the name of either love or discipline may be crossing the line into abuse. This abuse will have consequences to the child as they lose a healthy sense of self. A child who is experiencing abuse will begin to create their own dysfunctional coping strategies to make up for what they are not able to receive from the parent.
As responsible and aware parents, we have to line up the motivation of our hearts as we both love and discipline our children. We can and should both love and discipline our children, but the heart behind it should always be asking, does this form of love and discipline that I’m offering serve to shape and mold my child’s heart for their best? Or is it meeting my need and overlooking theirs? The only way to know whether a child’s need is being met is to be in relationship with the child and in tune with their needs. This is a hard feat which requires time, sacrifice, attention, presence, effort, good counsel, and awareness of ourselves as parents. Our final assessment plays out in whether our children our spiritually, emotionally, and physically responding well to how we parent.
The murder of our children isn’t always a physical murder, and it doesn’t always happen quickly. An emotional death can happen slowly, over time, and be an invisible boundary we cross again and again. Taking time to weigh out and process the motivation behind why we are relating the way that we are as parents to our children can save them from the damage we can cause unknowingly, and also from abusing our role and position with them.
If you or someone you know was the victim of childhood physical or emotional abuse, call us today to start your journey toward Hope, Healing and Healthiness!