How I Teach My Children to Honor Their Abusive Parent
I have never found that obedience to God looks the same for each person. How we love others and love God varies . . . because we vary. I cannot even love my children exactly the same. Some of them have bigger love cups than the others do. For a few of them, character development is the focus. The other few just need to feel loved and not be so hard on themselves. Each day presents me with different scenarios in which I must bolster up my prayer life in order to love effectively and proactively. Obedience to the commandment to “honor thy father and mother” gets even more inventive for those of us parenting separate from the other biological parent.
I have heard it said that the Ten Commandments can be funneled into two areas: our relationship toward God and our relationship toward each other. That is why Jesus said that “all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” — love God, love each other. (Matthew 22:40) Teaching children to honor those who are biological parents (or otherwise) is part of what constitutes health in family relationships.
Before I continue, let me just state the fact that “Honor thy Father and Mother” does NOT mean this: “Adult children obey your parents in all things.” From what I have observed, this commandment has become a mess in the Quiverfull Movement and in the Russian-German Baptist culture from whence I once came (in my first marriage). There seems to be no understanding of the fact that people go through stages in their lives. As children, honoring a parent may look like esteeming the parent, coming when they call, respecting him or her, going where he or she tells one to go, etc. As a child grows into adulthood, a parent should no longer be telling a grown child what to do with their lives. Leave and cleave, people. I pray that I am able to let my children go when they reach adulthood. I have already prepared myself for the day when they leave home, get married and live their own lives. At that point, my role will be support and love in freedom (I can’t wait to have grandchildren, by the way!). And, for my grown children, honoring their parents will look different. I do not know how different. Perhaps they will just simply show us respect. Or they will teach our grandchildren to listen to us or something like that. I pray I will be worthy of respect so that there is no struggle in this area on the part of my children.
But, what do we do when our ex husband or wife is (or has been) abusive? How do we teach our children to honor him or her? Is it even possible? I cannot answer this for everyone. Some folks have to share custody; some have to watch their precious babies head off to a horrible household for the weekend. I cannot imagine. My heart aches for some of my mama-friends who have to see their children suffer and then cry upon their return . . . always having to comfort and re-program when the children get home. I have sole custody and I do not have to deal with that. Some mothers have gag orders. To these precious mamas, I would encourage them to write letters that can be read later. Write them now and save them for the children once you are released. Let them see your eyes . . . let them see the pain in your eyes as you hold them, quietly.
In our household, there are no gag orders. We do not, however, sit around and bash people. That is not helpful. But, sometimes, things come up. A memory. So, is it right to talk the ex spouse/abuser up? To try to pretend that it “isn’t so bad”? To ignore it? Not in this household. I tried that when I was married to him (“he really DOES love you”). All it did was cause the children confusion and insecurity. That is not respect over here because respect (in my book) does not allow for covering (never again).
Disclaimer: Again, this is how honor looks in THIS household. I am not writing something prescriptive. I am only desiring to share the creativity it took to find ways to teach my children to honor my ex.
Over here, we talk about honor a lot. And character, integrity and honesty. It would not be honest to just pretend that their father is an upright man. We call it what it is. If he doesn’t like it, he should have been an upright man. I even remember apologizing to the children in the first few weeks upon leaving because I had tried so hard to cover for my ex and it caused confusion. Many tears were shed during that conversation. There was relief in the children’s little eyes. Healing began. So, what do I tell them?
I tell them that they can grow up to be honorable. By doing so, they will honor their biological father, their Daddy (David) and me. They can grow up to love others. They can decide not to be self-centered or be takers . . . they can choose integrity . . . they can decide to love their spouses and their children. They can stay away from pornography and lust. They can put away any attitude of entitlement and ownership. They can see their spouses and children as gifts. They can obey God. In other words, by NOT being like their father, they can break the cycle of sin that has been alive and well for generations. By doing so, they can correct the character deficiencies of the past, bring glory to God and train up their own children to be better Christians than they, thereby, honoring the generations before them. Restoring the family gene pool; redeeming their generation.
That’s it! That is the best I can do. And God knows it. On the days when I discover that my children were shown something sickening online when they were very small . . . or when I find out that they were disappointed and lied to . . . . or I hear something new that turns my stomach
. . . I hold on to the fact that I can tell them this: Don’t ever be that way. Be different. Resist the temptation to do such things.
Sigh. Sometimes, obedience has to get creative.