Tag Archive | family

2016 Reflections

As I sit here on NYE awaiting the arrival of the new year, I realize that much like this year’s presidential election, I may not be exactly “for” 2017 so much as I’m “anti” 2016.  My word, it’s been a rough one in just about every way, shape and form.  The media has focused upon the numerous deaths of celebrities; I admit, it’s been easy as a child of the 80’s to get caught up in the “what the heck?!” feeling that for some reason, 2016 set out to attack my teenage memories.

Celebrities weren’t the only ones who met tragedy over the past year.  2016 was bathed in conflict, controversy, and sadness: racial tension, police officers and criminals, natural disasters, religious doctrines, sex-trafficking, ISIS, battles over human rights.  I couldn’t listen to the radio or check out social media without discovering another tug-of-war within humanity.  Often times, it was too much to stomach.  (We won’t even go into the hatred spewed during this year’s election.)  What was happening to this world?!  Is this how God created people to be?!

Toss into mix my own family trials that knocked the wind right out of us in 2016.  My mother suffered a stroke in late August and is still in rehabilitation.  This prompted an unexpected trip to visit her in September, during which my husband underwent an emergency appendectomy while my daughter and I were traveling back to GA from PA.  (He arrived home with the help from a friend about the time I walked through our kitchen door.)  My husband had other bouts in the ER throughout the year.  My sister-in-law had a cancer scare and thyroid surgery.  And me?  Well, I received the gift of the beginnings of menopause in January and was recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  In March, I had a traumatic flashback from childhood that caused my depression to spiral.  (I am not ready to journey down that blogger’s road by sharing the deep darkness of my past, although I am sure that day is coming.)  As my depression worsened, my physician decided medication was the best route.  It would be easy to bitterly, with tongue in cheek, exclaim a sarcastic, “Thank YOU, 2016!” and insert a few Fred Flintstone grumbles in place of cussing out the whole year.

Yet it will do me no good to yell and scream obscenities as Auld Lang Syne plays somewhere in the distance.  The more I struggled personally, the louder God’s voice became as He guided me to one particular verse: “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last” (Job 19:25, New Living Translation).  I had to hold on to His promise in the midst of this tumultuous year.  I’ve learned in my counseling courses that although a complete dichotomy stands between the evil in this world and the goodness that is God, making it impossible at times to believe that there can be one AND the other … both do indeed exist.  God is good, He has always been good, He will always be good.  Satan may have his sway on this earth now, but eternity sees him bound in hell while my God reigns forevermore.  I am reminded that while suffering takes place, it – and all of this life for that matter – is temporary.  My husband and I were discussing getting older and losing loved ones, and he brought up a good point.  When we were very young, we thought that 40 was old.  Now we are in our 40s, and we realize a lifetime has passed in the blink of an eye.  Soon, Lord willing, we will be in our 60s and eventually 80s, and it, too, will fly by just as quickly as this half of our lives.  Thank GOD for eternity, or what would be the point of this short little life?

So goodbye to 2016, a year of painful lessons – some visible, others, not so much.  I have to hold on to my faith in God and His promise that no tears are wasted.  He has a purpose for each and every one, and I praise Him for the day when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, NLT).

Welcome, 2017.  And come, Lord Jesus, come.

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Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Biblical and Theoretical Examination

Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Biblical and Theoretical Examination

            Childhood sexual abuse is a topic often avoided in social circles due to the discomfort it causes on the one hand, and the absolute outrage it evokes on the other.  It is the topic of inappropriate humor or brushed aside as less than evil.  Comments such as, “Oh, Uncle George is just a dirty old man” are whispered at family reunions, when what “Uncle George” has done to females in the family for generations is not only atrocious but illegal.  It is irresponsible and immoral to turn a blind eye to the devastating crime of CSA.  A voice must be given back to those whose voice – and innocence – have been brutally stolen by those more powerful.  A stand must be taken against CSA, if not to stop it from happening, then in order to assist survivors who are haunted by their experiences.  Evil is overcome by redemption, and redemption can be found if people are willing to look evil in the eye and say, “No more.”  Individuals must study CSA – the causes, the effects, intervention, and treatment – in order to become equipped for the battle against it.

sad-child

A Broad Look at Childhood Sexual Abuse

By definition, childhood sexual abuse entails a variety of characteristics.  According to Glicken & Sechrest (2003), “Sexual abuse might be defined as a sexual assault on, or the sexual exploitation of, a minor” (p. 107).  The abuse may take place only once or over an extended period of time.  It may include one or more of the following acts: “rape, incest, sodomy, oral copulation, penetration of genital or anal opening by a foreign object, and child molestation” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 107).  CSA can also involve sexual harassment, exposure to pornography or taking pornographic photographs or video of children, and the sexual trafficking of minors.  These acts are done for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator.

The statistics surrounding childhood sexual abuse are astounding.  It should be noted that according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2004), as cited by Hodges & Myers (2010), these statistics are an underestimation of the actual figures because children are often afraid to report abuse and due to the lack of abuse validation.  Hodges & Myers (2010) go on to reference the statistics as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000), stating that children make up 67% of all sexual assault victims; out of those children, those younger than 12 make up 34% and those younger than six make up approximately 15%.  Additionally, in 2007 the National Center for Victims of Crime published that females are the victims of CSA three times more frequently than boys, and 25% of juvenile females will be sexually assaulted by time they reach 18 years of age (Hodges & Myers, 2010).  Foster (2014) cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005), stating that “one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18” (p. 332).  Glicken & Sechrest (2003) report that males make up 23% of total sexual abuse cases.  Facts and figures point to the staggering truth: childhood sexual abuse is rampant in today’s society.

The existence of CSA is not exclusive, however, to modern day culture.  The bible renders accounts of sexual assault, including rape, incest, and CSA.  The book of II Samuel reveals the sexual abuse of King David’s daughter, Tamar, by her older half-brother, Amnon.  Amnon was the oldest child of David; Tamar was approximately 15 or 16 years old at the time of her assault (Smith & Chapman, 2011).  Scripture details the conspiracy between Amnon and his cousin Jonadab, who devised a plan to get Tamar alone with Amnon in his bedroom.  Once they were alone, Amnon demanded that Tamar come to bed with him.  She refused and even offered to marry him, if he would only ask their father’s permission.  Instead, “Amnon wouldn’t listen to her, and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her” (II Samuel 13:14, New Living Translation).  To make matters worse, after he raped his sister, Amnon’s so-called love turned to hate, and he threw Tamar out of his room.  Sadly, the family covered up the scandal: “So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (II Samuel 13:20b, NLT); Amnon went unpunished by their father, and eventually, Absalom ordered the murder of Amnon.  Like many women, Tamar reaped the guilt, shame, and destruction bestowed upon her by the abuser, never receiving the love, kindness, and godly presence it takes to lead a victim to restoration, redemption, and healing.

amnon-ama-a-tamar

The Causes of Childhood Sexual Abuse

There are theories as to why perpetrators feel the need to sexually violate children.  In the cases of incest, attributing factors include “dysfunctional relationships, chemical abuse, sexual problems, and social isolation” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 119).  Violators drawn toward children frequently do not tolerate frustration well, have little self-esteem, and need immediate sexual gratification.  Most tend to repeat their mistakes rather than learn from them.  Additionally, perpetrators of CSA have addictive personalities, little remorse for their actions, and excel at lying and manipulation (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003).  There are no age parameters when it comes to child molesters.  Pedophiles are specifically interested in sexually defiling children, believing that sex with children is “appropriate and even beneficial to the child” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 120).

Who fits the profile of an abuser?  Men, women, fathers, pastors, brothers, grandfatherly next door neighbors, teenage boys at the park, and older girls on the school playground can all be perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse.  In other words, although it is more common for females to be abused by older males, one should not rule out men abusing boys or females sexually abusing children (Allender, 2008).  Why do offenders sexually abuse children?  Allender (2008) lists “excuses” that he believes should not exempt the individual from accountability for the crimes committed:

  • The abuser was abused as a child.
  • The abuser had a difficult background.
  • The abuser was going through a rough time with his or her spouse and was lonely.
  • The abuser drank so much that he or she was unaware of what he or she was doing.

At the very heart of sexual abuse is evil.  Ephesians 6:12 reads, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT).  The intent of evil is to destroy God’s creation.  In the Old Testament, it is written, “So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NLT).  Furthermore, God created intimacy, perfectly reflected and expressed between a husband and wife within the sanctified bonds of marriage.  Evil takes great pleasure in destroying that which reflects God’s image – mankind, and in defiling the most intimate of God’s gifts – sexuality.  The harm done by CSA causes one to despise his or her own gender or to experience gender confusion, much to the satisfaction of darkness (Allender, 2015).  As Allender (2015) describes it, “Evil delights in sexual abuse because the return on investment is maximized.  It takes but seconds to abuse, but the consequences can ruin the glory of a person for a lifetime” (p. 36).

The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The effects of CSA do not diminish simply because the abuse has ended.  In the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Foster & Hagedorn (2014) explain that “CSA frequently impacts children socially, cognitively, academically, physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally” (p. 538).  Victims of abuse develop coping mechanisms that can come in the form of justifying the abuse, dissociation during abusive incidents, or in extreme cases, developing dissociative identity disorder (Vieth, 2012).  The abuse is bathed in secrecy, and upon disclosure of the abuse, children may experience guilt when threats made by the perpetrator – such as being removed from the home, isolation, or disbelief – come true.  Being taught to obey adults, there is much confusion when obedience puts the child in such a deviant position by the offender.   Children believe that adults, especially those who should love them, can be trusted; CSA breaks that trust in others (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).

There is a developmental impact on children as a result of sexual trauma.  Because trauma impedes a child’s ability to control arousal levels, problems such as learning disabilities and aggression may develop (van der Kolk, Weisaeth, & van der Hart, 2007).  Allender (2015) and van der Kolk, et al. (2007) touch on a similar point: the inability of the abused child to convey affect states in words.  As Allender (2015) describes it, “Literally, during trauma, language goes offline” (p. 58).  When trauma occurs, Broca’s area – that section of the brain where language is processed – stops working or drops in activity, similar to a stroke patient (Allender, 2015).  Unfortunately, when the words cannot be formed, the images attack later in life in the form of flashbacks.

As sexually abused children mature, the damage of that abuse may be witnessed in different areas of that person’s life.  CSA creates within that individual a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, and an undying pain deep within (Allender, 2008).  If that pain is not addressed, the tendency is to adapt self-numbing habits, whether through outside sources such as drugs or alcohol, or simply through the hardening of emotions and isolation.  There is a loss of the sense of self, as well as a loss of the sense of judgment.  “Sexual-abuse victims have learned to doubt their own feelings” (Allender, 2008, p. 126).  The adult victim of CSA often loses any hope for true intimacy, for strength, or for justice.  Life is marked by ambivalence, which can further lead to depression, sexual dysfunction and addiction, compulsive disorders, and physical complaints (Allender, 2008).  Biblically speaking, this makes sense: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT).

The spiritual effects of CSA vary.  In one study, it was discovered that children were spiritually injured, so to speak, due to the abuse they had experienced (Vieth, 2012).  These children encountered “guilt, anger, grief, despair, doubt, fear of death, and belief that God is unfair” (Vieth, 2012, p. 261).  However, not all spiritual effects were negative following sexual trauma; the same study showed that survivors prayed more often.

The Intervention of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Intervention and possible prevention of CSA begins with educating both children and adults.  CSA education can be shared within schools, churches, and community centers; however, the education is only as effective as the accuracy of the information.  Unfortunately, there are myths regarding CSA that can cause more harm than good.

Although “stranger danger” is an important rule to teach children, the facts show that perpetrators of CSA are more likely to know the child personally than to be a stranger.  In fact, CSA occurs only 3-10% of the time at the hands of a person the child does not know (Foster, 2014).  Programs should teach the pervasiveness of known offenders, as well as explain the warning signs of a possible abuser and the grooming tactics that violators use.  It is crucial to teach that people who commit childhood sexual abuse vary, “in which most are known by their victims, trusted by their family, and do not have a criminal history” (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014, p. 552).

Another falsehood is that most sexual predators are adults.  Studies have revealed that adolescents commit 33% of episodes of CSA (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  Adults should be aware of certain characteristics of juvenile offenders, such as delinquency and impulsivity.  In addition, adolescent offenders are often former victims of CSA; therefore, intervention is important for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Correspondingly, there is the myth that children can stop the abuser from attacking by utilizing tactics such as yelling “stop” or running away.  One should never expect a child to be able to impede the plans of an offender bent on molestation (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  To put that belief within a child can do more harm than good, especially if he or she is unsuccessful at stopping the abuse.  Self-blame for CSA is already common; to put the expectation within children that they should have been able to avoid or prevent that attack of a pedophile would heap mounds of guilt upon the already existing fear, anger, shame, and grief.

Programs that educate adults and children about CSA can help intervene and prevent childhood sexual abuse.  When taught about safety and healthy sexuality as opposed to victimization, the bonds between parents and children can be strengthened.  This leads to trust, which boosts the chances of disclosure, lowers a child’s self-blame in the case of CSA, and promotes children’s self-efficiency (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).

Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Once the safety of the child is established and medical attention has been provided (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003), it is imperative that a victim of CSA is not left untreated for the psychological, emotional, and spiritual ramifications of trauma.  According to Glicken & Sechrest (2003), “Appropriate treatment and careful case management can often lead to successful outcomes and frequently end the multigenerational cycle of abuse” (p. 122).  During crisis intervention, it is critical that the victim be reassured that he or she is not to blame for the abuse.  Because of the complexity of CSA, other members of the family may require counseling as well.  Any fears of disbelief, punishment, or revenge from the abuser must be addressed; as aforementioned, the child’s safety must be of top priority.

Therapists working with children who have been victimized by sexual abuse must remember that trust has been broken; therefore, it may be slow going in gaining that child’s trust (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  Empathy toward the child’s worries can help to put the victim at ease.  Counselors may support children to express their hesitancy and anxieties, share information about therapy, and reassure them that what they are feeling is common.  It is important to be proactive when it comes to relieving the fears of the victim.  In addition to educating the child, it is vital to advise the parents or caregivers about the counseling process.  By letting them know the challenges that accompany counseling, it can prevent them from removing a child too soon if symptoms appear to worsen before improving.

One effective method of counseling is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).  This is “an evidence-based treatment approach that is structured to include child-only sessions, parent-only sessions, and joint family sessions” (Foster, 2014).  This type of therapy is conducive in meeting the developmental needs of the victimized child.  The focus is on symptoms related to trauma, such as fear, anxiety, and depression, in children ages three through 18, using gradual exposure.  Per Foster (2014), the eight components of TF-CBT are as follows: psychoeducation and parenting skills, relaxation skills, affective regulation skills, cognitive coping skills, trauma narrative and cognitive processing, in vivo mastery of trauma reminders, conjoint child-parent sessions, and enhancing safety and future development trajectory.

From a Christian perspective, Vieth (2012) provides guidelines in ministering to a victim of childhood sexual abuse.  First, if the child is older, or if this is a case where an adult has come for counseling when processing his or her own CSA, put judgment aside and do not focus on the victim’s sins.  It is not uncommon for the lives of abuse survivors to be tainted by drugs, alcohol, divorce, crime, sexual promiscuity, or mental illness (Vieth, 2012).  Quick judgment and harsh rebuke will push the victim away.  Instead, love should be poured upon the survivor of CSA, putting the gospel into action and standing with the broken.  Isaiah 61:1b reads, “He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (NLT).  God wants his people to comfort the victims of childhood sexual abuse, releasing them from the fear and captivity of their trauma.

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Survivors of CSA must be shown Christ’s empathy (Vieth, 2012).  Victims may question the goodness of God.  The counselor can explain that the offender disobeyed God’s commandments.  Victims need to know that Jesus understands maltreatment, emotional abuse, and physical abuse, as portrayed by His journey to Calvary.  Sharing scripture about Christ’s love for children may reassure the survivors that God does care about them.  In Mark 9:37, Jesus said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me” (NLT).  Regarding the harm of children, Jesus said, “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin” (Luke 17:2, NLT).  Luke 18:16 reads, “Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children’” (NLT).  If the Lord cares so deeply for children, then those in the Christian community should provide the care and protection needed when one of God’s little children has been abused.

References

Allender, D. (2015). Healing the wounded heart: The heartache of sexual abuse and the hope of transformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Allender, D. (2008). The wounded heart: Hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Foster, J.M. (2014). Supporting child victims of sexual abuse: Implementation of a trauma narrative family intervention. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 22(3), 332-338. DOI: 10.1177/1066480714529746

Foster, J.M., Hagedorn, W.B. (2014). Through the eyes of the wounded: A narrative analysis of children’s sexual abuse experiences and recovery process. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 23(5), 538-557. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2014.918072

Glicken, M.D., & Sechrest, D.K. (2003). The role of the helping professions in treating the victims and perpetrators of violence. Boston, MA: Person Education, Inc.

Hodges, E.A., & Myers, J.E. (2010). Counseling adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse: Benefits of a wellness approach. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32(2), 139-154.

Smith, R.P., & Chapman, C. (2011). II Samuel. In Spence, H.M.D., & Exell, J.S. (Eds.), The pulpit commentary: Ruth, I & II Samuel (Vol. 4) (pp. 1-637). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.

van der Kolk, B.A., Weisaeth, L., & van der Hart, O. (2007). History of trauma in psychiatry. In van der Kolk, B.A., McFarlane, C., and Weisaeth, L. (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body and society (pp. 47-74). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Vieth, V.I. (2012). What would Walther do? Applying law and gospel to victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 40(4), 257-273.

Sister

Childhood best friends

Sweet little sister

I will protect you

From the monster

I will save you

From the deep waters

We giggle, we play

We grow, we love

We change

Different paths

Different choices

Don’t go down that path

But I still love you

We are still friends

Mistakes made

Separately, together

No, no, don’t go further down

Don’t throw it all away

But to whom am I speaking?

To you?

To me?

So easy to judge

When my sin is hidden

I thought you left me

Left us all

But maybe

I left you

And now dark secrets

And a thousand miles

And many years

Separate us

You seek forgiveness

Can I trust you?

I need forgiveness

For failing you

As your big sister

As God’s child

As your friend

Fear

Everything I Learned About Being a Mother-In-Law, I Learned From My Mom.

In the midst of my divorce, I had a conversation with my mother that stuck with me.  She asked, “Are you sure you’re not going to get back together?”  My answer was an emphatic, “no.”  She stressed the point: “Are you POSITIVE?”  Yes, I was positive.  Then she said, “Because you may forgive him for hurting you, but your father and I won’t.”  This was one of the first things I shared with my daughter when she got married: you can talk to me about anything, but remember that if you complain to me about your husband, it will be much easier for you to forgive him than it will be for me to do so.  It’s that whole “mama bear” thing.  Mess with me, fine.  Mess with my child, and it’s on.

Having said that, I love my son-in-law like he’s one of my own kids.  We can talk, we can joke, and we can praise Jesus together.  He works hard to support his precious little (growing) family; he loves my daughter and their children deeply.  Key point: it is their family.  Although my daughter will always be my daughter, and although their household is part of my family, they are now husband and wife.  Their own unit.  Their own entity.  The Bible teaches us in Genesis 2:22-24, “The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called ‘Woman’ because she was taken out of Man.’  For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (New American Standard Bible).

My son-in-law and me.

My son-in-law and me.

When it comes to my own marriage (and the marriages of my siblings), my mother has followed a few guidelines, and I follow her example.  Hopefully, this will make me the kind of mother and MIL that is honored as much as I honor my mom.  Read on …

  1. Let them be their own family.  This encompasses so many areas!  Holidays immediately come to mind.  It is OKAY for your child and his/her spouse to start their own traditions, to visit other family members, and to not spend every waking moment with you.  Yes, this is hard, especially if you grew up in a family as close-knit as mine who had die-hard traditions when it came to the holidays.  Please remember that your child married someone who has a family too.  Please remember how hard it was when you got married and tried to lug the kids to several different homes (possibly while bundled up for the winter weather) in order to make everyone happy.  Please remember that your child and in-law may create beautiful new traditions that your grandchildren will remember fondly one day.  It doesn’t mean not seeing them, but please be flexible.  The day after Christmas can be just as special – it’s about the memories, not the exact day.  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18, NASB).
  2. Let their business be their business.  Praying for your adult children and their spouses is absolutely appropriate.  Sharing their confidences with anyone else is not.  Be trustworthy.  “Keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck” (Proverbs 3:21b-22, NASB).
  3. Let them come to you for advice.  This means don’t butt in with your opinions.  Ever.  I mean it.  Just don’t.  Unless you were blessed with a wonderful MIL, you remember what it was (or is!) like to have advice, opinions, and judgment pressed upon you when it wasn’t wanted.  Oh, this includes your ideas on child rearing.  Ouch.  Let them be parents, and trust that yes, they will make mistakes.  We did.  We still do.  But also trust that they love their children and are raising them the way they feel is best.  That is their job, not yours. Now, if they ask for your advice, give it in a gentle and loving manner.  “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3, NASB).
  4. Let them struggle.  You may be thinking that is just cruel.  No, it’s not.  I do not mean you should abandon them, cut off all support, and hang them out to dry.  However, I do mean that if you pay their way throughout their lives, they will never learn to stand on their own.  Marriage is about struggles.  Sometimes those struggles are financial, sometimes they are emotional, but without pain, we do not learn life’s lessons – and we most certainly do not grow or mature.  There will be occasions when lending a helping hand (or dollar) will be appropriate.  Do not let it become a crutch they depend upon every time they get into trouble.  “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NASB).
  5. Let them think for themselves.  In the end, the struggles with “letting go” of our children comes from our inherent need to be in control.  Face it, they are not small children anymore.  They have thoughts and ideas and dreams and goals.  They may not agree with you (gasp!) – and that means their spouses may not agree with you.  Do not assume that every decision made in their home that you don’t like was made by the spouse.  It doesn’t matter – they are now one flesh, united in God and in love, and they need to be allowed to make their own decisions as their own precious family.  Love them.  Encourage them.  Emotionally support them.  Above all, pray for them.  “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8, NASB).

Women never stop being mothers.  We will love our children until there is no breath left within us.  We need to honor our God and our grown children by showing love, respect, courtesy, privacy, and encouragement.  You are already an example – be a good one.  “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 2:3-5, NASB).

Loving the Strong-Willed Child Without Losing One’s Mind, Part 5: Biblical Perspective

The Strong-Willed Child: Biblical Perspective

            God’s word is the blueprint for life. People often say, “Too bad kids don’t come with an instruction manual!” God provided His instruction manual – the Bible. Throughout the Bible, God directed parents on how to raise children in a way that honors Him. God’s word also contains several recollections of strong-willed children and their parents; some events had happy endings, and others ended in tragedy. Point being, God is the foremost Authority in parenthood.

Parents who are obedient to God in child rearing are not guaranteed a life free of struggles, but they are promised the Lord’s blessings. One of the most-noted verses surrounding God’s promise to parents is Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (New King James Version). This does not mean that children of Christian parents will not go astray. Each person, young and old, has the gift of free will. Everyone must make his or her own choices in life. This verse assures parents that the seeds they plant within a child, whether spiritually, mentally, physically, or emotionally, will remain with that child forever. Those seeds will influence a child’s life; therefore, they need to be a reflection of God the Father’s parental guidance of His children.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1a, NKJV)

“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1a, NKJV)

There are a variety of parental accounts within the Bible; the following show drastic differences in parenting styles and the results of each. In the second chapter of First Samuel, the record of Eli the priest and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, was told: “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:12, NKJV). The story goes on to reveal the abominations committed by Eli’s sons, his repeated warnings to them about what would happen should they not repent, the sons’ continued disobedience, and finally, God’s wrath upon the family. God was not just angry at Eli’s sons for their disobedient and ungodly behavior; He was angry with Eli for allowing them to continuously dishonor Him. In a prophecy revealed to Eli, God said, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” (1 Samuel 2:29, NKJV). The very first of the Ten Commandments is, “I am the LORD your God … You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3, NKJV). By allowing his sons to go undisciplined, not only were they committing grievous sins against the LORD, but Eli was putting them above God and breaking God’s law. This would no longer go unpunished; God allowed both Hophni and Phinehas to be killed by the Philistines on the same day, and immediately after receiving the news, Eli fell off of a wall and died. Parents must consider the spiritual consequences of allowing children – even strong-willed children – to remain undisciplined. God not only holds children responsible for their actions; He holds the parents accountable.

In the book of Luke, a second narrative of a disobedient child is told. In “The Parable of the Lost (or Prodigal) Son,” Jesus described a grown son who does not wish to wait for his father to die before gaining his inheritance; he demanded it, and the father granted it. One may be lead to believe that the father was too permissive. However, to read the entire account paints the picture of a wealthy, intelligent, industrious and well-respected man. In Luke 15:17, the son had lost everything and recalled his father’s character: “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!’” (NKJV). This father was fair, not only to his kin, but to those who served him. It must be remembered, too, that there was a second son who obeyed his father and did not squander his fortune, as described in Luke 15:25-31. Therefore, the prodigal son appears to be the typical strong-willed child; in spite of his father’s loving yet firm discipline, he demanded his own way. His father allowed him to find his way in the world, and the son failed miserably. Lesson learned. The son recognized his foolishness, repented to God, and headed home to ask forgiveness of his earthly father. Godly parenting was mirrored perfectly when this rebellious young man’s father not only forgave him for his disobedience, but he celebrated his return and showered him with love. Parents would be wise to heed this example when children seek forgiveness. Yet this is not just the story of a father’s loving forgiveness. The fact that the son wanted to go home and knew he could go home provides another key about how well this father parented his son. In the face of adversity and defeat, this young man sought proximity and closeness to his father, felt that Dad was a safe haven, was sad at the possible loss of a relationship with his father, and although his explorations proved disastrous, knew his father would be there for him when he returned home. The relationship between this wayward son and his father demonstrates the role of attachment in angry and defiant children (AACC, 2006). This father had rules, but because he had a strong, loving relationship with his son, the young man was able to eventually accept discipline, even if learned the hard way.

Parents who embrace the word of God in their lives and instill His teachings in their children can gain strength in knowing they are never alone. The apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians with these words: “And you, fathers (or parents), do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NKJV). No parent has ever been or will ever be perfect, with the exception of our heavenly Father. There are genuine, solid, practical measures that can be applied to parenting the strong-willed child, or to parenting in general, that will promote a healthy, happy home. However, God’s word stands true, and in the words of the psalmist, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1a, NKJV).


References

American Association of Christian Counselors (2006). Angry, defiant, and violent kids (presentation). Available from Liberty University Online.

Bernstein, J. (2014, February 26). Five anxiety-lowering strategies for children [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog.liking-the-child-you-love/201402/five-anxiety-lowering-strategies-children

Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring for people God’s way. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Clinton, T., & Sibcy, G. (2006). Loving your child too much. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1998). Boundaries with kids. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Crabb, L. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Dobbs, J. (2004). The new strong-willed child. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Flaskerud, J.H. (2011). Discipline and effective parenting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 32,82-84. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2010.498078

Karreman, A., de Hass, S., van Tuijl, C., van Aken, M., & Dekovic, M. (2009). Relations among temperament, parenting and problem behavior in young children. Infant Behavior & Development, 33, 39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.10.008

Meeker, M. (2010, May 4). Staying sane with strong-willed kids [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/family-matters/201005/staying-sane-strong-willed-kids

Strong-willed. (n.d.). In Cambridge dictionaries online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/strong-willed

Turner, E. (2013, June 24). 4 tips for managing parenting stress [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-race-good-health/201306/4-tips-managing-parenting-stress

Loving the Strong-Willed Child Without Losing One’s Mind, Part 2: Causes of Behavior

The Strong-Willed Child: Causes of Behavior

It is not unusual for parents to, at some point in their journey, question their abilities to raise their children properly. As a parent, I have looked back upon the lives of my two grown daughters and counted endless mistakes that may have adversely affected them as children and now as adults. When it comes to the strong-willed child, from where does this behavior stem? It is true that children are little sponges who learn many behaviors throughout their lives. Likewise, different situations will affect a child’s behavior. When it comes to temperament, however, each child comes into this world with his or her own unique individuality (Dobson, 2004). In a study regarding temperament, parenting, and problem behavior in children, temperament was defined as, “constitutionally based individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation, as seen in the emotional, motor, and attentional domains” (Karreman, de Haas, van Tuijl, van Aken, & Dekovic, 2009). Karreman et al. (2009) further explained that “constitutionally based” means that “temperament is biologically based, but influenced over time by genes, environment, and experience.”

pregnancy_photo

According to the AACC (2006), ten to fifteen percent of children with a difficult temperament are born that way. Studies have shown that seventy percent or more of personality is inherited (Dobson, 2004). Having at least one strong-willed child is not unusual. In fact, compared to easy-going children, there are nearly three times as many tough-minded kids (Dobson, 2004). Headstrong boys outnumber girls by five percent, and birth order is not a component (Dobson, 2004). Because children are born with their temperament, it is not surprising that parents may detect tenacious behavior early on; one-third of parents recognize the strong-willed child at birth, two-thirds become aware by the child’s first birthday, and ninety-two percent know by time the child turns three (Dobson, 2004). Because personality is, in part, inherited, it makes sense that if both parents are strong-willed, then they are more likely to give birth to a strong-willed youngster (Dobson, 2004). Genetics may explain temperament, but being born a certain way does not permit a lack of boundaries as one matures. Dr. Dobson touched on this truth when he wrote, “…heredity provides a nudge in a particular direction – a definite impulse or inclination – but one that can be brought under the control of our rational processes. In fact, we must learn early in life to do just that” (2004).


References

American Association of Christian Counselors (2006). Angry, defiant, and violent kids (presentation). Available from Liberty University Online.

Bernstein, J. (2014, February 26). Five anxiety-lowering strategies for children [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog.liking-the-child-you-love/201402/five-anxiety-lowering-strategies-children

Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring for people God’s way. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Clinton, T., & Sibcy, G. (2006). Loving your child too much. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1998). Boundaries with kids. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Crabb, L. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Dobbs, J. (2004). The new strong-willed child. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Flaskerud, J.H. (2011). Discipline and effective parenting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 32,82-84. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2010.498078

Karreman, A., de Hass, S., van Tuijl, C., van Aken, M., & Dekovic, M. (2009). Relations among temperament, parenting and problem behavior in young children. Infant Behavior & Development, 33, 39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.10.008

Meeker, M. (2010, May 4). Staying sane with strong-willed kids [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/family-matters/201005/staying-sane-strong-willed-kids

Strong-willed. (n.d.). In Cambridge dictionaries online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/strong-willed

Turner, E. (2013, June 24). 4 tips for managing parenting stress [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-race-good-health/201306/4-tips-managing-parenting-stress

Loving the Strong-Willed Child Without Losing One’s Mind: Part 1, Characteristics

I recently completed a research paper for my Christian Counseling of Children class at Liberty University.  I feel the content is worth sharing with parents; therefore, I will publish this paper as a 5-part series.

Abstract

When parents bring home their newborn baby, they are filled with hopes and dreams of what the future holds for that child and their family. If the season comes when parents realize they are raising a strong-willed child, those hopes and dreams may become filled with battles and tears. This does not mean the situation is hopeless. There are measures parents can take to lovingly and effectively guide strong-willed children toward healthy relationships within the home, which will, in turn, steer them toward becoming healthy, well-adjusted adults. In addition, parents have resources that will allow them to find relief from the extra stressors involved when raising strong-willed children. Above all, the foundation of a truly successful family life is God. When parents exemplify Him as they raise their children, kids will develop a positive attitude toward God and a strong relationship with Mom and Dad. When these factors are combined, peace and balance can replace the chaos and frustration of raising a strong-willed child.

My strong-willed granddaughter, whom I adore!

My strong-willed granddaughter!

Introduction
As a child, one may have heard it. As a parent, one may have said it. In the midst of anger, frustration, and maybe even tears, those infamous words surface: “I hope one day you have a child who acts just like you do!” Although there is no scientific evidence to prove this, chances are those words are rarely, if ever, uttered during loving moments or toward a compliant child. “The curse” is directed toward the strong-willed child. What characterizes this child? What causes such behavior? What, if any, are the effective ways to guide and discipline the strong-willed child? Just as importantly, what measures can parents take in order to manage stress and simply not give up while raising this child? Finally, what instruction does the Bible provide regarding child rearing in general, but more specifically, regarding children who require extra effort? Delving into each of these questions will allow us to better understand these determined children, their potential for greatness, and how to help them reach that potential without losing all sanity – and a loving parent-child relationship – along the way.

The Strong-Willed Child: Characteristics
Stubborn. Determined. Rebellious. These adjectives paint the picture of the child we describe as strong-willed. According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the English definition of strong-willed is, “(of a person) determined to do what is wanted, even if other people disagree or disapprove” (n.d.). What is often referred to as the “terrible twos” continues into the threes, fours, and beyond, making childhood a struggle over authority and the teenage years a battle with rebellion. In her blog on the Psychology Today website, pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker described strong-willed kids as follows: “They cry more. They sleep less. Their first, second, and third words are: no, no and no again” (Meeker, 2010). Licensed psychologist and marriage, family, and child counselor Dr. James Dobson wrote, “As toddlers, their greatest delights include painting the carpet with Mom’s makeup … As older children and teenagers, they are irritable, defiant, and seemingly bent on challenging all forms of authority” (Dobson, 2004). Strong-willed children have excessive energy; they are commanding and like to march to the “beat of their own drum,” or in other words, “my way or the highway” (American Association of Christian Counselors, 2006). Furthermore, kids who have a difficult temperament tend to be more cantankerous, more reactive and impetuous, more emotional, and experience greater difficulty with transitions (AACC, 2006).

Although these typical characteristics of strong-willed children can bring out the anxiety and frustration in parents, the core determination is not a negative feature. These kids may push the limits of authority, testing to see who is in charge, and they may dislike being inhibited; however, parents need to set healthy boundaries, provide appropriate guidance, and develop the solid, enduring confidence within strong-willed children. As noted by Drs. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy, “this same trait of having a strong will, while viewed with derision in childhood, is honored and valued in adulthood” (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). Parents should not want to destroy the will of the child, rather, they should desire the type of relationship that will allow the best qualities of this child to flourish.


References

American Association of Christian Counselors (2006). Angry, defiant, and violent kids (presentation). Available from Liberty University Online.

Bernstein, J. (2014, February 26). Five anxiety-lowering strategies for children [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog.liking-the-child-you-love/201402/five-anxiety-lowering-strategies-children

Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring for people God’s way. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Clinton, T., & Sibcy, G. (2006). Loving your child too much. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1998). Boundaries with kids. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Crabb, L. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Dobbs, J. (2004). The new strong-willed child. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Flaskerud, J.H. (2011). Discipline and effective parenting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 32, 82-84. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2010.498078

Karreman, A., de Hass, S., van Tuijl, C., van Aken, M., & Dekovic, M. (2009). Relations among temperament, parenting and problem behavior in young children. Infant Behavior & Development, 33, 39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.10.008

Meeker, M. (2010, May 4). Staying sane with strong-willed kids [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/family-matters/201005/staying-sane-strong-willed-kids

Strong-willed. (n.d.). In Cambridge dictionaries online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/strong-willed

Turner, E. (2013, June 24). 4 tips for managing parenting stress [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-race-good-health/201306/4-tips-managing-parenting-stress