Just this past week, a Scotsman was sentenced to 15 years in prison for shaking a 15-week old baby so hard that it is brain damaged and will need full time care for the rest of its life. For those who can stomach it, the story can be read here. It’s easy to picture these kinds of criminals as evil monsters when we think of how they treat defenseless and harmless infants. The country was, again, rocked earlier this year by the disappearance, and subsequent death, of 3-year old Mikaeel Kular. Headlines exploded as it turned out that his mother, Rosdeep, was charged with the crime. You can read more details about it here.
These kinds of stories are horrific to read and think about. They generate such intense emotions within us as we battle with rage, pity, compassion, and a sense of injustice. The thought of helpless infants and children being abused and murdered by those who have a duty of care to them only serves to heighten our feelings. ‘Serious’ cases like these hit the headlines now and again, but I’m sure that there are very many cases that do not come to light of children being abused by women up and down the land. I use abuse in this article to cover crimes such as: paedophilia, physical injury, failure to thrive, emotional abuse, and neglect. Of course, there are more, but this is a blog and you get the picture! I acknowledge that fathers as well as mothers horrendously abuse their children. I acknowledge that it is not only single mothers who abuse their children. But, for the scope of this article, I am speaking particularly from a single-parent female perspective. Let’s just pick up on a few of these issues.
1. Physical Neglect
“This occurs when a child’s essential needs are not met and is likely to cause impairment to physical health and development. Such needs include food, clothing, cleanliness, shelter and warmth… to circumstances which endanger the child.”(Niddrie Child Protection Policy)
Why would a mother neglect her child?
Very often, neglect occurs when something enters a woman’s life that supersedes her care for her child(ren). Many women will claim to love their children but will, for instance, spend money on a bag of Heroin before food, light, and clothing. Others, out of loneliness, allow suspect men into their homes with access to their children just for the sake of company. Negelect occurs when the interests and needs of the woman become the priority. When something, anything, is ruling us, it comes first—no matter who it hurts. It would be naive of us to discount women as abusers and believe that a mother’s instinct to cherish her children will always overrule other desires in her heart. It some cases it simply doesn’t.
2. Physical Injury
It’s hard graft being a single parent. You are in sole charge 24/7, with no respite, no walking away from the stress or passing the baton. It’s so easy to give into the frustration and vent the rage, especially when you are exhausted. But the Bible is very clear—Ephesians 6:4 “…do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Colossians 3:21“…do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
In that moment, when you are being ruled by rage and you physically punish your child, the rage will consume and swiftly the rage is spent on the child. To get to the heart of our anger and violence, we must search our heart, confess the truth, repent and seek his help. Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”even deal with the anger within and put an end to the violence in our home(s).
3. Emotional Abuse
Although I want to acknowledge that women as well as men physically abuse and are violent to their children, for most I would suggest when we vent the rage its more likely to be verbally—we attack with our words. Matthew 15:18reminds us that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. When I was a child there was a nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!” This is such a lie. Bones and bruises heal far quicker than the emotional hurt we can cause with loose words. I remember sitting with a woman once, and she told me she just didn’t like her children and wasn’t sure she loved them. I was assured by the mother that she hadn’t said anything to the child, but I have never felt so bereft for anyone as I did for that child that day. That child knew! All of our words and actions have an impact, whether it’s screaming holy murder, spitting venomous words in anger, telling them they are too fat, too skinny, or too stupid. Proverbs 18:2 reminds us that death and life are in the power of the tongue. In Proverbs 16:24,we learn that gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
So how can the church help a woman struggling to deal with her children?
No parent need be a single parent in a church setting. We have a God-given church family that ought to support us and, therefore, as a church we have a God-given responsibility to get alongside our sister(s) in Christ. Give her a break. Babysit so she can get a lie in. Get alongside her children and spend time with them. Absent fathers don’t remove the need for a male role model in children’s lives. I challenge the good, godly men in our congregations to realise that there is a role they can play. Women, we need to get alongside those that are struggling. Help them clean their homes. Invite them for dinner. Pick up some of the slack. The list is endless. We need to demonstrate what good, godly parenting looks like. That, I believe, is how God intended the fatherless to be cared for. Far too many women are struggling and far too many children are bearing the brunt.
May God use us as local bodies live for his glory and reach out to the broken-hearted wherever we find them.