Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Food, shelter and clothing aren't enough.

We all like to think we would do the right thing if we saw evidence of a child being abused.  Call the cops.  Call CPS.  Report what you see.

What's harder is knowing what to do when a parent's treatment of a child is not illegal, but is still not right.

For instance, for those of you with kids, think back to your first Christmas as a parent.  You probably went a little nuts, right?  I know I did.  My son wasn't even five months old, but I was so excited about being a mom and about having an excuse to shower gifts and love upon my new little man, that I went a bit overboard.  I've toned it down some since that first Christmas and birthday, but I still get a big thrill out of shopping for and wrapping my little prince's presents.  Sometimes I get him something for no reason, or just pick him up from school early to go to a movie or play in the park, just because I enjoy showing him love.

Now, I want you to imagine parents who get their baby nothing for his first Christmas, using the logic that, "He'll just get too much stuff from friends and family anyway."  Well, that's probably true, and, on the surface, it's a very practical idea.  And there's sure to be no long-term harm, anyway, since the baby certainly won't remember being short-changed by his parents at Christmas.

But there's just something so eerily off about the idea.  What new parents, who have the financial means, aren't thrilled to spoil their new baby at Christmas?  Even someone living below the poverty level would surely get their child at least one gift, right?

After all, aren't children precious?  Aren't they the greatest gift?

Not for everyone.

I'm sure most of you, especially the parents among you, have all seen "those" parents.  The ones who seem to resent parenthood, who treat their children like unwanted burdens.  They provide for their children's basic needs, but that's all.

Maybe it's a father who constantly uses his words to put his kids down, to tell them they're "bad" or "stupid".  Or the mother who is willing to drop her kids off on whoever will take them because she would rather not spend time with them.  Perhaps you've been around the toddler whose behavior is immaculate but whose parents can only find fault.  Or you'll see the evidence on the child herself, who never wants to go home, and who often wears clothes too small, not because her parents can't afford new ones, but because they would rather not.

A lot of these parents further confuse and hurt their children by adopting a Jekyll/Hyde split-personality.  In front of people they want to impress, they'll be loving, doting, and attentive.  In front of people with whom they're more comfortable, their true natures come snarling out.

For those of us who love kids, it breaks our hearts.  You can see the child's pain but, because they're not being beaten or neglected (except emotionally), there is nothing you can do.  You can't confront the parents because they are incapable of seeing the wrongness of their behavior, and will likely just take their frustrations with your well-intentioned advice out on the child.

All you can do is love that child a little extra.  Whether you're the teacher, family, a friend, do whatever you can for that kid.  Buy them gifts for no reason, or bring hand-me-down clothes when you see theirs don't fit.  Offer to take them to the museum or the zoo.  Here's the trick though:  For a lot of these "resentful" type parents, you have to make sure it doesn't look like you're just doing nice things for the kid.  For instance, when you offer the kid clothes, be sure to tell the parents something like, "Oh, these don't fit anymore and they're just taking up space in the closet.  If you don't want them I'll just go chuck them at Goodwill."  Or, instead of asking if their kid would like to go to the circus, tell the mom, "I can take him off your hands for a few hours so you can rest or get some errands done."  With selfish parents, you have to make it all about them.

Of course, the other thing you can do is pray.  Pray for the kids, that their innocence will blind them from seeing their parents' resentment and anger.  Pray for the parents, that their eyes will be opened to their children's inherent value (beyond what the child can do for the parent).  Pray for yourself, that God will give you the wisdom to help these children the best you can.

And pray, too, that you never forget that your own kids are a miracle.

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