Jane had mixed feelings as the nurse gingerly placed her newborn in her arms. She was ecstatic on one hand and jittery on the other. Would she make a good mom, or would she wind up like her mother? Would she raise her voice at her son for flimsy mistakes and belittle him? Would she be indifferent towards him, never letting him know that he was loved? As she peered into his drowsy eyes, she knew that he deserved healthy nurturing but wondered whether she was capable of giving it to him. “You will have to help me, Lord!” she prayed as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Parenting after a difficult childhood can be nerve-wracking. Most new parents feel ill-equipped and downright incompetent. One may also fear that they may replicate the injustices meted out to them on their children. Medical News Today outlines four types of child abuse--physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Admittedly, working through childhood trauma is a conscious effort that takes time. However, with God’s help, victims of child abuse still make phenomenal parents. Here are five thoughts to consider.
First things first--It is not your fault that the adults in your childhood subjected you to distressing or emotionally painful events. Children are vulnerable and it is the responsibility of adults to nurture them healthily. No child deserve shabby treatment. One key step towards healing is rolling the blame off your shoulders. It's also important to accept and acknowledge the painful events as opposed to suppressing them. This will help kickstart the healing journey.
In your healing journey, you may want to consider seeing a therapist or a mental health professional. They will equip you with healthy coping mechanisms and help you deal with the stress and anxiety you feel. You may also consider talking to your pastor or church counselor. Parenting for Brain website offers some practical suggestions to keep you afloat such as having a support system and embracing self-care practices among others.
Your children belong to God, they are his. He is the one who intricately formed their inward parts. He has written all the days fashioned for them in his book and has many precious thoughts towards them (Psalm 139:13-17). As their parent, you are a steward with the responsibility of nourishing them spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Despite your tumultuous childhood, God saw fit to entrust you with kids. God was well aware of your childhood trauma but that did not dissuade him. God knew you were fit for the job.
The mere fact that our God, who loves our kids best, thinks you are competent to raise them well should help you take heart as a parent. It should also encourage you to surrender your fears at God’s feet and rely on God’s grace and wisdom in raising them. The psalmist declared that unless the Lord builds a house, they labor in vain who build it (Psalm 127:1). Even parents who had the smoothest childhood cannot bank on that to raise their kids well. Only with God's help can parents raise their children well.
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7).
Having had a difficult childhood can make you feel disadvantaged. The best antidote to this is equipping yourself for the noble task ahead. The ultimate wisdom on how to be a good parent is from the scriptures. Being our perfect parent, has graciously offered us a parenting template in his word. Pore over the scriptures and glean its parenting wisdom.
King Solomon observed that through wisdom a house is built and by understanding it is established (Proverbs 24:3). You can bank on the wisdom in God's word to help you raise responsible and well-adjusted kids. You can also enlist the help of mentor parents to hold your hand and offer advice when needed. Additionally, consider enrolling in parenting classes and reading parenting books. Take advantage of the resources that are available to you to serve in the calling God has given you as a parent.
God uses us for kingdom service though we are broken, frail vessels as is evident throughout the scriptures. He tasked Moses, who stammered with the responsibility of confronting Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of captivity. He also tasked Gideon, who hailed from the weakest clan and was considered the least in his father’s house, with delivering Israel from the Midianites (Judges 6:15). God seems to have a high affinity towards brokenness because in our weakness his strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).
You too can turn your problematic childhood into a stepping stone. Perhaps since you were abused as a child, your empathy towards children knows no bounds. Perhaps because one of your parents abandoned you, you will move heaven and earth to be present in your kids' lives. Flip your difficult childhood on its head and allow the good it bears to gush out.
Forgiving your parents or the adults that caused you pain may not be easy but it is paramount. God does not offer us any other alternative where dealing with our hurts is concerned. Jesus warned that if we do not forgive men their trespasses, the Father will not forgive us (Mathew 6:15). Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice and commitment. Everything in you may be balking at it but you can still choose to forgive. As an act of obedience to God, forgiveness sets you free to be all that God has planned for you, including thriving in your parenting.
It's important to note that forgiveness doesn't mean that you need to be reconciled with your offenders. Jesus gives guidance in Matthew 18:15-20 about bringing in accountability and setting wise boundaries around those who are unrepentant. Maybe the abuse has persisted or they are unrepentant, or you don't feel ready yet. You may still need to limit your interaction until healthier patterns are established with them even after forgiving them.
A difficult childhood does not mean that you will struggle in your parenting. As a believer, your past does not define you because in Christ you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). However, seeking healing from childhood trauma and forgiving your offenders is pivotal and makes your parenting journey much easier.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster