How to love a child

Sally - Hands

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

I wrote the first draft of this article in 1999 as a way to deal with the overwhelming grief I felt as I watched the current news unfold. At the time I had four children six and under and was watching parents all around me…emulating the successes and seeking to learn from the mistakes. I have always had what my husband calls a morbid fascination with crime stories; while I have learned that it is better to avoid immersing myself in studying every aspect of tragedies, I willingly admit that I am still drawn to these accounts. I am drawn to them because I have a desire to understand human beings and the choices they make. I am drawn to them because I love to look for the beauty in the midst of tragedy: the stories of sacrifice, survival and hope. Most of all, I am drawn to them because I believe that somewhere, somehow, someway we can learn valuable lessons. I know that the hearts of men are easily corrupted, but I also believe in the goodness of humanity. I will never stop believing that we can make a difference one soul at a time. We can see the beauty of God’s handiwork as souls turn toward Him and choose good over evil. It is with these thoughts in mind that I ponder the lost souls that fail to value human life, that do not remember their creator, that take the lives of others and die in infamy and shame.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

After the tragedy at Columbine (April 20, 1999), the parents of one of the accused made the poignant statement, ‘We loved him as much as we knew how to love a child.’ Something about those words, out of the mouths of the grieving parents of a mass murderer, tore at my heart strings. I’ve never forgotten them and I’ve pondered them over the years. I even looked at the pictures they released to the press of a happy child in his mother’s arms. An innocent baby turned mass murderer. Senseless tragedy. Unimaginable grief.

Is it only in poverty and depravation that the seeds of evil germinate? Certainly not, this family lived in a $400,000 home and each parent was a professional. Please understand that I do not doubt that they loved their son as much as they knew how to love a child. I believe their words. Yet, it occurred to me as I read many of their interviews that we are often deluded enough to believe that modern parenting philosophies are healthy for children. We often associate loving with giving of material possessions: name brand clothing, spending money, cars, and expensive toys. We replace time and relationship with things. We have believed the lie that children and parents can live separate lives. We ignore the examples of functional, well-adjusted families. Leo Tolstoy, in the first chapter of Anna Karenina observes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Interestingly enough, one thing most convicts have in common is an unhappy (perhaps even dysfunctional) family life.

Over the years, I have observed that the modern philosophies of raising children do not actually teach what it means to love a child. How do many parents love their children? They love them enough to let them choose their own companions without consideration of influence. They love them enough to trust them in light of red flags and strange behavior. They love them enough not to check up on them or ask questions of friends and neighbors about their behavior. Many parents believe that loving their children is somehow fulfilled by providing material goods and the opportunity to fill their free time unhindered from responsibility with friends and activities of their choosing. Family is second to peer influences in far too many cases.

Parents, do you know your children? Even a child is known by his deeds. Do you know what is going on in your child’s life? When Dylan Klebold’s parents heard the other students describe their son, they were clearly in shock. His mother said, ‘I don’t know the boy they are talking about.’ This Jewish mother would find that her son held Adolf Hitler in great esteem? How often do parents fail to nurture their relationships with their children—to really know and understand them? Where were these parents while these boys were being taunted and pushed around by the ‘jocks’—where were they when the boys were stockpiling weapons, playing Doom for hours on end, building hate filled web sites and plotting to kill hundreds? Sadly, the boy’s father considered his son’s behavior to be a stage, he told a friend that he was hoping for his son to get over this ‘fascination’ with the dark side soon.

Clearly, it is true that not all of the kids who listen to dark music, fill their heads with nihilism and existentialism, and spend countless hours playing violent games and watching violent movies will end up becoming murderers. Frankly, if that were the case we’d have been annihilated long ago.

Tragedies such as these cannot be attributed to simply one factor. Consider all of the factors involved: lack of parental involvement, a fascination with the dark side, inability to deal with rejection of peers, psychotropic drugs, easy access to guns and ultimately the devaluing of life and seared consciences. Ignoring these influences does not help us to learn from our mistakes.  It is obvious that history repeats itself when we fail to learn from these tragedies. It can be valuable to ask what makes once-innocent boys with every material advantage become mass murderers. We need to seek answers so that we can do all in our power to prevent these kinds of tragedies. We need to reach out to our children, communicate with them, listen to them, and watch out for their best interest.   Who will help the lost boys?

A religious columnist commented that Adam and Eve were good parents yet, ‘look at Cain.’  Adam and Eve certainly may have been good parents, yet they were also that couple who ate the fruit and were driven out of the garden!  Of course, there are a few good parents who raise bad children and bad parents who raise good children—every individual has freedom of choice, we each make a choice to follow good or evil.

God’s word gives us scripture after scripture to use when raising our children. Here is one of them:  Proverbs 22:6, ‘Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.’  Train here means to create a thirst for righteousness. Do Goth, nihilism, existentialism, and a fascination for the dark side help to create a thirst for righteousness?  The Bible clearly tells us to ‘Abstain from every appearance of evil.’ (I Thessalonians 5:22).  Are these dark works of God?  Do they help us to meditate on what is pure, good, or noble as Philippians 4:8 teaches?  If we choose friends whose past times are filled with the dark side, are we avoiding evil or are we keeping company with evil (I Corinthians 15:33)?

Parenting takes time and effort—and if there is one thing that many modern families don’t have it is time for family. Parents need to have deep abiding and unconditional love for their children. Parents and children live separate lives these days—gone is the family—replaced with kids-their-own-age—you know that all-encompassing word ‘socialization.’  Often, when both parents work full time outside the home, they are only together a few hours a day. Is it any wonder children take the first opportunity to find others to spend their time with and adopt the values of their peers—remember that old song Cat’s in the Cradle?

The average family doesn’t live in a home, they live in a hotel—a place that offers a warm bed and a good meal.  This is the modern home—this is how parents love their children.  All you have to do is look around to see that this isn’t enough.  How many of the recent teen murderers had quality and quantity time with their parents and siblings? How many of them had a working relationship and open communication with their parents?  Ask the authors of Raising Cain and Lost Boys—none of them did—like it or not there is a ‘profile’ for these kinds of murderers. When we fail to learn from our mistakes, we fail our children.

Every one of the mass murderers and school shooters began as a pure soul, a precious baby welcomed into this world. The damnation of a soul is never a reason to rejoice.   They are someone’s children and they were loved. Even if they were born to unloving homes, they were loved by God. One day, they ceased to be innocent souls and made a choice for evil. Whether they find judgment during this life or the next, they will bow before God. For those who have gone beyond, there is no more opportunity.

Yet, for the living, there is always hope while there is breath. Our children are beautiful souls. We ought to do everything in our power to create a thirst for righteousness in them—everything in our power to watch out for them, to teach them to take a stand for truth and against evil—everything in our power to love them.  Yet, to love their souls is to teach them that life is not fair and people can be cruel—it is to teach them how to deal with disappointment and rejection.  To love their souls is to realize that obedience to God is more important than obedience to man.  To love their souls is to realize that modern psychology offers very little of value in regards to parenting—but the Bible says it all.

Looking to society rarely helps in the effort to raise godly children. We do not have to buy into society’s self fulfilling prophecy of teen confusion and rebellion. We do not have to allow our children to choose doom and hate; we can refuse to allow them what may hurt them. Parents must take a stand. Hollywood isn’t going to take a stand, public schools aren’t going to take a stand, and the media won’t take a stand. As in all things, we will reap what we have sown.

It does not take a village to raise a child—it takes a dedicated mom and dad—a family. Children need our love, but it is through our time and dedication that they will feel that love. What they need more than things, more than kids their own age, more than extracurricular activities is time with their family. What they need is for us to love them enough to give them boundaries, to teach them right from wrong, to build a relationship in which they come to us first and look to us rather than their peers.

Many modern children are essentially raising themselves. Who will help the lost children? If we want to raise our children to walk the straight and narrow, we have to be around to set the example. Absentee parenting is a failure—when the daycares raise our children why are we surprised when they stray from the path we hope for them to follow? There are few mothers at home greeting their children after a long day at school, instead many are latch key children with no one to welcome them home.

Who will teach parents what it means to love a child? We brought our children into this world and we are responsible for equipping them with what they need to run the race successfully—when we fail to do that we fail our children. When we fail our children, we hurt our country as a whole. How many lives are lost to the rage, confusion and hate of these lost children—lives that could have had a great impact on society. What will it take for society to change this cycle? Whether we want to believe it or not the hand that rocks the cradle still rules the world.

Category: Musings
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