April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. According to 2017 National Statistics, Child Protective Service agencies across the country received “an estimate 4.1 million referrals involving approximately 7.5 million children.” Of these reports, over 670,000 children were victims of substantiated child abuse and neglect. For the remainder of the reported children, agencies were not able to substantiate abuse, or, children received alternative services. To say that child abuse and neglect is a problem in the United States is an understatement.
Stacey Reoach’s article at Desiring God titled, “When Our Children Are Wounded” attempts to tackle how mothers can help children who are wounded. When I saw “wounded” in the title, I was hoping for an article that would address children who deal with trauma. Instead, she describes situations where children might be disappointed such as a hurtful remark by a friend, not making a team, or not getting invited to a party. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to help children navigate their feelings of disappointment.
When Reoach said, “There’s nothing quite like seeing the child you’ve cared for and nurtured hurt by others,” I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to discuss how parents and the church can help children who are abused and neglected. Instead, Reoach’s approach fails to protect victims and withholds accountability on the perpetrator. I would like to evaluate Reoach’s “gospel-focused” reminders through the lens of child abuse and neglect.
Remember that we are all sinners.
There are no perfect people, and no perfect children. All of us will sin and hurt others. People will disappoint our children, and our children will disappoint them.
One helpful question to ask our kids when they’ve been hurt is, “How might you have contributed to the situation?”
This is simple victim blaming and disregarding the actions by the perpetrator. Why would a caring mother tell a wounded child that they are no better than the one who caused the harm? This tells the child that they played a role in the harm done to them. It also implies that the harm done to the child is insignificant due to the equal status as a sinner.
Overlook the offense.
One of the best ways to move forward from a hurtful situation is, by God’s grace, to choose forgiveness. Instead of dwelling on the wrong done, dwell on what’s good and right and true (Philippians 4:8).
We have seen instances of forced forgiveness used by church leaders at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Forcing a victim to forgive a perpetrator does not help the healing process. Instead, forced forgiveness sends a message to the victim that their abuse does not matter and an even stronger message to the perpetrator that getting away with abuse is easy.
Believe the best.
In every hurtful situation, we have a choice. We can believe the other party purposely hurt our children, or we can believe they had no intention of wounding them.
When it seems like our child has been slighted in some way, our natural, sinful tendency is to assume the worst about the opposing party.
How many children continued enduring abuse and neglect because adults decided it was better to maintain reputation and not rock the boat? How many known instances of abuse and neglect did not get reported to the police because church leaders were manipulated by the abuser? Abusers are good at making other people see that either they are not the one causing the problem, or they will work at changing.
Also, it is not “sinful” to assume the worst. This doesn’t even fall on the spectrum of sin-leveling. If a mother notices a child not acting as usual and has unexpected reactions to everyday situations, then it is best to go with your gut instinct that something is wrong.
Extend God’s grace.
Our hurts and our children’s hurts are a perfect reminder to extend the same grace that God has given us through Christ Jesus. We are not worthy to be forgiven. We didn’t earn the right to be loved for our model behavior. Just the opposite! While we were Christ’s enemies, he died for us (Romans 5:10). This motivates us to extend grace to those who hurt us and our loved ones.
Please, stop with the reminders to forgive. It is perfectly normal and healthy for victims of abuse to be angry and not want to forgive. Perhaps one day a victim or survivor will be able to forgive the abuser, but that is up to the individual. No one responds in the same way to trauma. Healing takes time and energy and lots of emotion. No one should feel shamed or guilty for not forgiving in the way expected by others.
Even if perpetrators are forgiven, their actions should not be forgotten. We should expect perpetrators to answer to and be held accountable for their actions. Child abuse and neglect is a crime. By not holding abusers accountable, more children are placed at risk.
It may seem that I am reading to much into what this article does not address. But I stand by children who are victims of abuse and neglect. Abused children are wounded children. Children need to know that it is okay to acknowledge every emotion, whether it be anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety that comes up due to their trauma. And, children need love and support to work through the trauma so healing may take place in there lives.
Let us all strive to do better with our words and actions when supporting wounded children.