QUESTION: My children’s father (I’ll call him Al) left me, [with] four young children to raise, for another woman. Fortunately, I met a wonderful man who had two children and together we raised our brood of six. Now our children are adults, and my oldest daughter is disappointed that Al is constantly letting her down. She asked him to come to her son’s graduation and he didn’t show up, yet bragged about an out of state motorcycle trip he had taken. I asked her why she has anything to do with him, and she just says she doesn’t want to have any regrets.
My other three children don’t want to have anything to do with him, because their stepfather truly was a good father to them and they consider him their “real” dad.
Al’s behavior toward our children really makes me angry. Forgiving him is difficult. Any suggestions?
Dear Sad Mom,
I was recently reminded that sometimes forgiveness has to start with a baby step so small that we simply call it the desire to forgive. I note this to you because I cannot decide from your letter whether you are really ready to forgive Al and help your daughter do the same, or if Al’s anger has become a familiar old friend. It sounds like he’s been hanging out in your emotional space for decades, nourished by each new disappointment and offense. Who will you become if Al fades away as a character in your story?
As far as I can tell, Al communicated clearly long ago that he would not be meeting your expectations. Is infidelity and abandonment acceptable behavior? It most definitely is not. But you can’t change him by fuming about it. You have never been able to change him by fuming about it. You can only change yourself and influence your daughter. Probably you already know this. Pastors can be good at telling people stuff they already know but are scared to say out loud.
You probably also know that Jesus makes forgiveness a mandate (Matthew 6:14-15). He says this for you – not for Al – so that you can live life free of anger, free to love your wonderful man, your kids, and your grandkids without that shadow. So help your daughter stop setting up tests that you both already know Al will fail, and maybe together you can start the journey of forgiveness with that first baby step.
Pastor Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
Dear Sad Mom,
The first thing that pops out of my brain is that some people simply shouldn’t have children, and Al seems to be one of those. The second thing is to observe how hard it is to forgive, as you are finding out. As for your daughter reaching out to him, good for her. She is certainly trying, and maybe that’s her way of approaching forgiveness. As for you, you might try something like this: Tell God exactly how you feel about the S.O.B. Really – don’t pull any punches; God knows how you feel anyway. Say a prayer like this one: “O God, none of us is perfect, least of all me. You know the fury, frustration and rage I am feeling toward my former husband who is such a lousy father to his children, but you, Lord, can forgive him, and when you do, please share some of that power with me please because you know that I’d like to see him take a long walk off a short pier” – or something like that.
Pray that prayer several times, and use your own words. And you might add this: “God, please give Al what he needs. All he is doing now is hurting those who are trying to love him, and eventually he’ll realize that what he has sown he will reap, and it won’t be pretty, especially for him.” I don’t mean Heaven or Hell, I’m speaking of this life.
Once it dawns on Al that he has walked away from his children, he’ll be sorry. He’ll reach out, but they won’t return the effort, and he’ll be one sad sack.
Good luck, and good for you in at least wanting to forgive him. It’s hard to forgive someone who really doesn’t deserve forgiveness – but then that’s what God does for each one of us, right? Forgive us when we don’t deserve it.
Since it was almost Good Friday when I wrote this, it seems apropos to quote Jesus as he was dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” And nobody was even asking for forgiveness when Jesus spoke!
“Forgive us for what?” might have been the response from those doing the crucifying; they thought they were doing the right thing.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
QUESTION: I was shopping in a local market when a child began crying and the person with him, probably his mother, was spanking him and shaking him for quite awhile. This was late in the day, around 5 p.m. and I suspect the child was tired, and/or hadn’t had a nap. I didn’t say anything, but my conscience was nagging me and I wonder if I should have. It appeared that others who observed the situation didn’t approve, either.
Should I have spoken up?
~ Confused Bystander
Dear Confused Bystander,
One of the challenging things in life is watching someone discipline their child differently than we would. There are so many different opinions and beliefs about raising children. I know the way I was sometimes disciplined as a child would not be very accepted today. I grew up in a kind of “spare the rod, spoil the child” culture. Every once in awhile, I will see someone discipline their child and say to myself, “That looks very familiar to me.” It also crosses my mind to say something to the parent just like with you.
I don’t always say something. It really depends on the severity of what I am witnessing. If I do end up responding, I will do so with empathy towards the parent, attempting not to embarrass them or make them more angry. This empathy is being directed to put a sense of understanding to the parent’s position, trying to defuse and/or lessen the parent’s frustration. If I sense I am making progress with my first comment, I will gently try to direct the parent to our conversation and away from the child. If I don’t sense this, I will excuse myself. Who really likes to be told they are doing something wrong and, at that, in public?
Children are amazingly resilient and survive through greater challenges than we would want to see them have to deal with. My experience over the years is that many parents will parent unknowingly like their parents. Even making the same mistakes they swore as children they would never make when they were parents. Few parents reach out for parenting advice and end up fumbling through raising their child. Unfortunately for the child and those like you and me, there isn’t much we can do short of report severe cases to child services.
My sense is that what you witnessed was very uncomfortable and maybe even inappropriate, but if it were too severe, you would have spoken up yourself or asked for assistance from someone else in the store. I know one thing you can do that will help you, that child and parent. You can pray. Pray that God will send someone into the parent’s life that the parent will want to learn better coping and discipline skills. Pray that God will protect that child’s mind, emotions and body from harm now and in the future. Pray that God releases you from hurt you experienced on behalf of that child. And you can pray that God gives you the wisdom to know how to appropriately respond should you encounter another situation like this.
Thank you for caring so much for other, that is a good quality to have.
Pastor Mark Yeager
Chaplain – YMCA of the Foothills
Senior Lead Pastor,
Verdugo Hills Church
Dear Confused Bystander,
Those of us who are parents have almost certainly experienced times when our children have thoroughly exasperated us, but that is no excuse for our responding in anger and/or inflicting physical or psychological injury to our sons or daughters. We have been given a sacred responsibility in raising them and need to do so with care and compassion.
We have heard a lot about it taking a village to raise a child, and I am convinced such a statement is true. Ideally, all adults will join in the support and nurturing of our children. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. And I worry that those who administer corporal punishment to children in public could use even harsher methods in private.
That being said, we do need to be careful that we are not simply butting in with unwarranted child rearing advice rather than truly fearing for the safety of the children. However, some parents or those who have direct responsibility for children may not appreciate others interfering with them, no matter how well intentioned. And that reaction may be especially true when they are acting in less than a positive way. But I think we must still speak up when it is for the safety of children.
The important thing to remember in such encounters is the method in which you communicate your concerns. Speak to the parents or caregivers in a way that they can hear what you are saying and be called back to their best selves – that is , to “share your truth in love.” You can’t change what has happened in the past, but you could make a positive difference in the life of a child the next time you encounter such a troubling situation.
Bless you for your sensitivity and caring concern.