This is hard to write, and while I am a regular contributor here at RootedFamily.com, and you have read many other blog posts by me, I have asked the editors to post this anonymously as it contains some very sensitive and raw emotions and material I don’t normally share here or on my own blog. Or anywhere outside my therapist’s office.
I remember clearly a terrifying night when my dad had my older sister in a headlock, and they were struggling around the kitchen. It is one of my clearest memories of my young life. I don’t know what year it happened, and I don’t know what the weather was like outside. I don’t know what was happening just before, and I don’t know what happened after. I don’t know what the fight was about. I just remember my sister screaming with her hands clawing at his arm as my dad dragged her through the house by her head.
This is an extreme example, and while my childhood did have a few shining bright moments of goodness and even love, for the most part, my family of origin’s home was not one of love, acceptance, or tolerance. It was a home of anger, screaming, and violence. I was constantly belittled and made to feel stupid, fat, and ugly. My dad beat us with a 2×4 board when we were “bad,” right up until my younger sister and I stuck it down through the hole in our septic tank so that it would never make contact again. We were little and didn’t foresee that our older sister would bear the brunt of its disappearance. I don’t know what he beat her with, but she told me once that she was beaten severely for its going missing.
When I was a kid, no one ever said kind words to me. No one soothed my tears when I cried or pet my hair when I was sick. No one hugged me or patted my back. No one touched me at all, except to beat me, and even then, it was usually an object like the board or my mom’s trusty “won’t leave a mark” Tupperware spoon.
As I grew up, I took care of myself and so did my sisters. Our family was not united as a team; it was every man for himself. We remain distant to this day. I’m sad about that, but the treatment we endured was isolating and confusing. It’s easier to avoid each other rather than having to face our shared trauma.
The story is that most kids who were abused grow up to be abusers. I have seen this pattern play out in person and on tv. People who grow up being belittled and beaten do what they know when they have their own children.
And yet, somehow, I grew up to be a good parent myself. No, not a good parent. A great parent. I am an example that my blog readers and friends and family look up to as a model mom. I am, as an adult, all the things my own parents weren’t and couldn’t figure out how to be.
That’s the power of Jesus.
I came to the church as an adult. I had attended a Vacation Bible School here and a Sunday School lesson there growing up, but my parents never darkened the door of a church that I ever knew of. They talked about the church as a place of scorn and rejection, a place of hypocrites and holier-than-thous. It was not a place I ever wanted to be. The only mention of God in our home was when he damned something or someone.
And then I grew up and something drew me to the church. I don’t remember why exactly, but I started going regularly when my first daughter was small, and we have never looked back. I was saved and baptized in the church, and I have volunteered for the church in various capacities over the years. I tithe regularly. I study the Bible on my own, and I help others to study it.
Just like my own parents were a model of never-ending anger, I am a model of never-ending love.
That’s the power of Jesus.
I hope you didn’t have a childhood like mine. I wish no one did. But whether you did or you did not, I know for a fact that you can show your own children the same never-ending, unconditional love that I do. We have to if we want them to know, accept, and love the Lord, the ultimate loving and gracious Father.
How to Show Your Kids God’s Never-Ending, Unconditional Love
Speak kindly to them.
This is my #1 tip. I hear so many people speaking sharply to their children, and every word breaks my heart a little. Speak to your children as kindly as you’d speak to your boss. Don’t yell at them. Be gentle. Be aware of your tone of voice.
Touch them lovingly.
Pat their backs. Hug them, even now in the days of the quarantine. Kiss them. (I kiss my kids on the lips, but if that makes you uncomfortable, kiss their squishy round cheeks or the tops of their heads or their foreheads.) Squeeze an arm or a shoulder gently. Human beings thrive on touch, and your gentle, loving touch will be a balm to your kids.
Catch them doing good.
You can punish your kids all you want, but you are unlikely to change their behaviors. It’s a fact. If punishment worked, no one would ever go to jail twice. But the fact is that being in jail once is a huge predictor of future incarcerations, so we know that punishment DOESN’T work. Watch your kids and thank them for doing things right. When they remember to do their chores, praise them. When they share something with a sibling, praise them. When they are kind to your pets, praise them. Listen, I’m not saying that you have to be overly gushy or Pollyanna about your kids. I’m not saying that at all. But what we pay attention to is what sticks, so make sure you’re paying attention to what your kids are doing right instead of what they are doing wrong.
Listen to them.
I am guilty of this as much as anybody because sometimes, there are just so. many. words. and they never ever stop. I get it. But your kids have important things to say, and if you listen to all the words (or as many as you can manage), they will continue to tell you things that are important to them as tweens and then as teens. Many teen moms wish their kids would talk to them, and the reason that they aren’t talking now is because the moms weren’t listening ten years ago and the kids knew it.
Talk to them about God.
It’s all well and good to be nice to your kids. You could be “mother of the year” and still not score any points in an eternal sense. You have to talk to them about Jesus. They have to see and hear you talking to Him and about Him. They have to see you doing good in the world, being the hands and feet of Jesus. They will learn what they see you do, and they will know that He is good and trustworthy because you love and trust Him.
It’s not easy to be a good mom. It’s not easy to be kind and gentle with your kids. It’s not easy to do the right thing when the wrong path is well worn and requires less effort. I get that.
But the well-worn, easy path is the road my own parents took, day in and day out. They never stepped back to question if there was a better way.
I will not make the same mistake they did.
That’s the power of Jesus.