Last week when I confessed about committing adultery, I mentioned about one other post with a secret I would share. Again, the reason I’m baring my soul is so that when I talk about the effects sin has on a believer’s life, you’re not going to give me an eye roll. I won’t need to glaze over realness and be afraid to step on anyone’s toes. Love, I have the scar marks from sin, and they’re not pretty.
Sharing this is honestly much more scary than admitting to committing adultery three times. The fact is that this sin is socially unacceptable, and there is never a face put with this that isn’t demonized. What is it? I physically abused my daughter when she was still really, really young.
How It Happened
Before I go on any further, I’m going to stop here and explain that I do not abuse her now, and at the time of when I confessed to get help, a state CPS report was filed. So, no need for you to fill out another one, though they would tell you since I don’t live in the US, I’m out of their state jurisdiction anyway. Since I confessed, I went to counseling and got help for my anger.
[A sidenote from a practicing US clinician based in Beijing, “I wanted to make sure your readers understand that US citizens are NOT outside of US Federal jurisdiction when they are outside of the US, particularly when it comes to cases involving children. For example, Federal legislation does allow for prosecution of US citizens for crimes against children abroad. As a clinician, I’m still a mandated reporter as mandated by my licensing body AND federal law. When I’m in China, I must report to the US Embassy in Beijing.]
It’s not important, or helpful I think, to share with you how I abused her, other than to say that it was more than yelling and spanking. This abuse went undetected for about a year because I never left a mark. It was also NOT sexual abuse (though even those who have sexually abused others can be changed).
When a close friend of mine found out she responded, “I’m so sorry, Vanessa. I remember you saying that you were struggling. I know it’s not like you woke up and thought ‘I’m going to hurt my daughter.’” She was right. My anger built. My circumstances around me got harder and harder, while parenting got harder, and I dealt with all the stress in an extremely inappropriate, inexcusable way.
I look at my sweet little girl now and I feel so much shame and pain for having hurt her so much. She was so little she probably doesn’t even remember, and now she adores and loves me so deeply.
Reality Check: Faces of Those Who Abuse
I’m sharing with you today about this secret because I know most likely there are parents sitting in front of their screen who might also physically abuse their children. I might be the first American person who has ever publicly admitted to physically hurting their child since CPS has scared everyone, but I know well that I am not the only one who has done this.
Several moms, from all over the world and from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds, have confided in me that they struggle with anger and/or abuse toward their child.
When I was explaining to my daughter’s homeroom teacher (not in the US) how I had hurt her in the past, her response was, “That’s not as bad as what some people have done.” Heartbreaking.
One mom told me, “I don’t spank because I am the kind of mom who, once started, wouldn’t be able to stop.”
In the US, in an attempt to root out all possible abuse, CPS has made it virtually impossible to get help from qualified professionals and pastors without being reported. There are those who physically abuse their child and want to stop but are very, very scared about what to do.
They’ve heard horror stories about CPS, and it’s overreaching arm. And, largely this is the truth. What will happen to a family depends upon the case worker and supervisor more than it depends upon local and federal laws. Though this is changing, there’s not a lot of standardization from one CPS district branch to the other, which leads to a lot of unknown.
Even though statistically there are many parents who physically harm their child, the prevention measure is to punish rather than educate parents on how to deal with the ups and downs of childrearing. And that leads to a lot of hiding.
Children Are Hurting From Parental Anger
It’s estimated three million children in the US are victims of child abuse, meaning that 1 out of every 25 children you see is probably a victim of abuse. Statistically speaking, at least one peer in every child’s classroom is a victim of categorical child abuse.
Many more parents deal with explosive anger, when they suddenly snap at their children when under circumstantial stress. But it’s not the circumstances that cause sin during a flash of anger. Sin is at the very heart; it’s indwelling in everyone’s flesh.
I would venture to say that even yelling is abusive. I know that sounds extreme, but stay with me for a moment.
As adults, we don’t want to be yelled at by other adults, our boss, our spouse, or strangers. Why would it be OK to yell at a small child who depends on us for everything? What can a child do to escape the yelling and shouts of a parent?
All they can do is cower in fear and cry, or hide and wait for us to calm down. This isn’t what a loving relationship should look like, yet in reality this is what many of us faced as children or what our children now face from us.
Pursue Christ, Pursue Change
There are many things that I want to teach and share with those parents who abuse their children or who deal with anger and yelling, but I’m going to narrow down what I can share to what helped me immediately.
- Confessing My Sin
There came a point when I realized my anger was uncontrollable, and if I did not get help, I was going to continue to do what I was doing on increasingly dangerous levels. That moment was sobering because I had tried to stop myself from getting angry, but I became “blind angry.”My body was so caught up in the moment of my anger that all I could see was the cause of my anger and everything else was physically blacked out. I sheepishly told my husband what I was doing, and that started a cascade of decisions toward professional and pastoral help.Yes, I was reported to CPS, but how big of an issue is this really? My daughter’s safety and my true healing were both worth going through this fear.It’s a lie, love, that if you keep secret what’s in secret there, it’ll go away or eventually fix itself. Bring what is sinful out into the light so that it may be exposed and destroyed. Confess your sins so that you may be healed (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9)
- Getting Accountability
Once I confessed the first time to my husband, a top priority was finding a no-nonsense accountability partner to walk through this battle with me. I would suggest an accountability partner who would have no problems asking you straightforwardly about your anger, but someone who also will encourage you to look to the gospel and Christ for strength to fight this sin. There’s no need to put on a face for your accountability partner because s/he knows you are a sinner. Not to mention, they’re called to exhort you in gentleness. (Galatians 6:1)A better fit for an accountability partner in this situation would be someone who can just walk in on your life with your child at any time. And if you’re ready for a challenge to your self-control of your anger, record yourself via audio or video the whole day. Give that to your accountability partner. If even the thought of that makes you uncomfortable because of what someone would see about your day to day, that’s a solid reason to get help to change.
- Seeing Anger for What It Is
The feeling of anger is not sinful, per say, but stay far away from believing that all anger is not sinful. Here’s an example. It’s good for you to want to keep your children safe, but getting angry with them for doing something dangerous is not going to keep them safe or teach them about danger. If they’ve disobeyed you, that still doesn’t justify sinful anger. Their disobedience doesn’t justify your disobedience to God (Bobby’s mentor said this, I can’t take credit for it’s simple brilliance). You’re called not to sin in your anger (Ephesians 4:26).Speaking of awesome mentors, one of my previous mentors pointed out that anger is when you’re upset that you’re not getting something that you want. It’s normal to feel anger, but how we act is the difference between being Christ-like in our anger and throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum.
- Seeing My Child as Owned by God
Who has given this child to me and who does this child ultimately belong to? Have I made the earth or my own womb? Was I able to give this child life? If then I did not make this child, nor pick her to be mine, how can I treat her as though she belongs to me and not to her maker?If I see my child as fearfully and wonderfully made by God, that I am a steward over her, to minister Christ and the gospel to her, my attitudes and actions will greatly change. If I look at the way I treat her as a daily testimony to the gospel, that she is my most important disciple, I should surely be aware that mishandled, inappropriate anger points her toward my sin rather than toward the goodness of the gospel.As a non-perfect parent, I ask my child for forgiveness when I sin against her, whether through anger or through unkindness or something else. I remind her that I too need Jesus to give me a changed and renewed heart and to teach me to walk in his ways. Otherwise, how can I fulfill the command of Christ to raise her up in the ways of the Lord? (Ephesians 6:4)
- Reducing Stress
Lastly, anger can often arise in times of stress, even low stress. Though this is not the root of the problem of sinful anger, creating an environment of less stress can help parents focus on dealing with the heart problems of sinful anger instead of focusing on dealing with stressors.Many of the circumstances of abuse of my daughter happened out of fear for her safety or to prevent her from hurting my son. I would have been wise to ask for help from friends, to create safe places in my home for them both, to buy a hand tether for my daughter (she was a street-runner), and to throw out cultural, extra-biblical expectations on children and moms to have “well-behaved angels” (she was a public screamer).Remember, I am the adult; she is the child. I am responsible to care for her and make the least stressful environment for us both.
I hope this quick burst of information was momentarily helpful, though I want to encourage you to seek out help and run. Run fast and far away from the sin that seeks to tear you apart. Let’s join together to fight!
If you are a believer, Christ saved you from eternal death. Is anger a larger hurdle than God’s wrath poured out during an unearned and shameful death on the cross? Uh, no. If the power of Christ can overcome death, can not his spirit of power break you away from your flesh dwelling in its sinful anger? Yes! Run to him!
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Photo: Runar Pedersen Holkestad (Flickr)