Pro 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
I need to open this post with a very clear explanation of what scenario I am going to be discussing, lest I be misunderstood and the things I am proposing be misapplied. Almost all of my articles address situations in which an adult, usually the husband, is the abuser.
This post is different. This post is not about homes in which one parent is a domestic abuser. It is not to be applied in such cases. Nope. Don’t do it.
Here, I am compelled to write about another very common abuse model. I wish it were just a model, but it is in fact reality. I want to talk to you about cases in which a child is the abuser. And by child, I mean a son or daughter of any age. And in particular, I need to warn you about the all too common response to this abuser which is a terrible trap so many parents fall into. And I must say, because this is my own experience and observation, that the mother of such a child is especially susceptible to this trap.
You all know that adult domestic abusers are very deceptive and work energetically to gain allies for themselves. Those allies, you also know, are very often other family members or friends or pastors or church members. In this case, the child abuser works to gain a family parent, usually the mother, as an ally even though SHE is often the target as well!
Children, teenagers, adult offspring of mom and dad can be and are very frequently, abusers. No doubt some of you have experienced this. It can happen in a family where neither parent is an abuser. Children have different personalities. Born into this world as sinners, like all of us, some sons or daughters have especially strong fortresses of sin and are narcissists or sociopaths in seed form. The gospel and regeneration by Christ are of course the only real and ultimate remedy for such a sinful heart.
As such a child grows, this evil can blossom into full blown abuser personality. Think of it. Where did your domestic abuser learn his trade? Maybe from an abuser parent but certainly not always or even most commonly. The abuser largely just is. The lust for power and control is his essence and being. It doesn’t really matter how he got to be what he is. The fact is, he is, and must be dealt with for what he is.
But back to the child abuser. Such a child increasingly controls the home if the parents are not wise. In fact, parents can feed that narcissism by giving undue praise and failing to discipline him. Coupled with whatever genetics are in play or what is in his sinful heart, feeding arrogance and pride along with excusing sin and covering up for his evil is a formula for disaster.
As such a child grows, he or she becomes “wiser” and more cunning. He learns he can control and exercise power in the family. He can abuse his siblings and he can manipulate his parents, usually in particular one parent. He can turn family members against one another and they can find themselves battling each other while the child abuser watches in glee. Mom and dad often end up in conflict with one another in such cases and their marriage is even threatened.
How does this happen? Well, I suppose many psychologists would suggest a particularly nasty mechanism called co-dependency. I am no psychologist and no expert on these things in theory, but I can tell you that I have seen this thing first hand many times and it is an ugly thing. Mothers, take care. Why? Because, again in my experience, mothers are especially susceptible to this trap. Yes, I have seen a couple of cases wherein the father is the one caught up in it, but the high percentage of cases I have observed concern the mother.
REMEMBER: I am not talking about a setting in which the father is an abuser. I am not addressing that subject in this article. I am speaking of a relatively normal family in which the child is the abuser, be he or she 5 years old, 15 years old, 25 years old, 45 years old, or whatever.
Here is a condensed version of what happens. The child is given undue, unwarranted, excessive praise. Ongoing. Habitual. Praise that really isn’t deserved. Praise that has no basis in reality. And then, when the child sins, his sin is excused. He is enabled. Rewarded. The sin is covered up. He is not disciplined properly. And here comes the punch line from my experience: It is usually the mother who falls into this trap. Motherhood gone wrong. Have you seen it? Do you know what I am talking about?
My grandmother was a perfect example of this. Her youngest son was an evil, wicked child and then youth and then young man. Frankly I am surprised he didn’t murder her what with the intense rages he would launch against her. And her response? Excuses for him. Boasting to others about him. Lending a blind eye to his evil. And dad just stayed out of the picture lest he incur his wife’s wrath for trying to discipline the boy. This was supposedly a Christian home!! Sunday school and church every Sunday, prayer meeting every Wednesday, well-worn King James Bibles in hand.
My grandmother wasn’t happy unless the boy was happy. Her mission – to keep him happy. Covering for him. Giving him what he wanted even if it was something they really couldn’t afford. It was this sick, twisted thing parading as love that wasn’t love at all. It was two people feeding off one another with one in particular in charge. Many if not all of the same tactics of abuse that domestic abusers use were in operation in that scene. And mother was the chief enabler and ally of the abuse even though she was most often the target of it!
That is only ONE of many, many examples which I have personally seen in my life, in my 14 years as a police officer, and especially in my three decades as a pastor. I cannot keep silent about this. It is real and it is very, very common.
This evil construct goes on and on and on and on. It continued in my grandmother’s life until the day she died. And in a sense, it still goes on today as its evil consequences continue. This thing destroys families. It causes the righteous children in the family to suffer greatly at the hands of the abuser sibling and that suffering is increased esponentially when the enabling parent focuses the majority of her/his parenting attention on the abuser child. Isn’t that the common scenario in abuse cases? The righteous are ignored and persecuted while the wicked receive most all the attention and empath!! And I won’t even get into what this thing does to a marriage!
And it doesn’t end! It goes on and on and on down through the years. The enabling parent continues to enable, to cover, to excuse, usually all in the name of “love” or of “Christ” but if you read up on co-dependency you will find that there is nothing noble about it at all. It is actually very, very selfish. It is about two people selfishly feeding off one another with one being the primary user/abuser and the other the one whose life is being sucked out of them.
And now I am going to say something that I don’t say very often because usually I am trying to help victims of an abuser spouse. But it this case, here is wisdom:
Eph 5:22-25 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (24) Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (25) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Now don’t go ballistic on me. Do you understand? When I see a mother locked into a twisted relationship with an abuser child, and if in such cases the husband is a godly man who sees what is going on, the very best counsel that can be given is “mom, you are in trouble here. You are enabling this child. The child’s abuse is destroying your marriage and your relationship with your other children. He is destroying YOU. You are not the one to handle this child. You need to let your husband deal with him/her.”
And husbands, in such cases, YOU need to handle this. You can’t sit back and watch and be cowardly like my grandfather did. You have to love your wife and that means you need to do what is right in handling this child abuser. Just how you handle it will depend of course on the age of the child. A narcissist in formation at say 5 years old will need the truth spoken and the discipline required for his age. Whereas the child abuser who is 35 years old will require something entirely diffent – usually a no contact policy.
Mom and dad, do you love one another? Do you love your children? Then these things must be addressed if they are present in your home and marriage. Because they won’t get better. They won’t get better. They won’t just get better.
Heb 12:6-7 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (7) It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
I am trapped right now between a verbally, emotionally, and spiritually abusive and narcissistic husband and an adult bipolar PTSD narcissistic son that we allowed to move back in a few months ago with a promise that he’d be out by Sept. 1 (he’s not out). Could certainly use your prayer.
Praying for sure!!
I married our abuser when my child was a preteen. My child was always very compliant for me. There was some level of ADD and that complicated things sometimes but I was trying to teach my child how to manage in spite of that.
Once I married the abuse started immediately. My husband would play that card saying that I was being an enabler and that I needed to completely back off and let him handle all the discipline. At first I felt that he must see something that I wasn’t so I did back off. There were times that my child would try to sneak computer time in the middle of the night or try to lie about doing his/her schoolwork or eat the last cookie when s/he had already had his/ her portion. My approach was to explain why the infraction was not ok and give an age appropriate consequence. There were sometimes things I had to get pretty tough about but I was willing to if needed. My child did get spankings when it was merited. (I do have mixed feelings about spanking now). My husbands approach was long yelling lectures with name calling and labels. Throwing out any toys left out of their appropriate place, shoving to the ground, threatening to put his head through the wall etc. With that approach the infractions quickly escalated. Then he blamed me for the escalation because I was trying to tell him (privately) it wasn’t right.
All of that to say that accusing me of being an enabling parent was a brilliant opportunity to abuse both of us. Please watch out for that tactic. It created so much confusion and turmoil for me. It gained him allies. It gaslighted me and did so much damage.
I am divorced and in the wake of that is now a very angry young person who at times abuses me verbally with his/her angry outbursts and then hates him/herself for who s/he has become. My child self medicates to numb the pain. My child now has a low tolerance for biblical truth because of the hypocrisy that was blatant and nauseating. I give tough consequences for disrespect but I feel like it’s one step forward and two steps back.
Please keep this story in mind mothers when someone is trying to tell you that you are an enabler. If it is a false accusation you could be handing your child over to Satan himself.
Brokenhearted mom & grandma
I have been waiting and waiting for discussions of adult children as abusers of their already abused mothers by their fathes. In spite of “love you, mom”, I mostly feel treated like a blamed and shunned whistle blower
walking on egg shells. The elephant of abuse in the room is huge but of no concern to them. They’re “honoring both parents”, you know, which doesn’t honor me or truth at all. Instead of speaking age appropriate truth, they lie to their children about why grandma and grandpa divorced.
I am sick of hearing stupid christian platitudes from “friends” like “just love them and it will all work out, they’ll figure out the truth.” Where is that in scripture! No where! Only a fool holds her breath on that one, which I am no more.
Speak the truth in love, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free are in scripture. But “honor your father ” without any context trumps everything in my children’s minds.
This is grievous pain on top of the original abuse. I know many of you are experiencing the same. We need to help each other chew on this, to work our way through this pain.
Prevention is better than cure. Thanks for this warning to a husband and father of a baby!
This was difficult to read as it exposed my own unhealthy mothering motives… all I could do was cry out to the Lord in thankfulness that He would rise them to the surface of my heart that they could be confessed and repented of… thank you for bravely addressing it- it was a gift to me and will be to many others, I’m sure.
Thank you Mindy!
What if the mother herself is “abusive” and has narcissistic tendencies? … Having hidden a 10 year affair and the mentality that coincides with hiding sexual sin, she will blameshift, deny and lie (about anything) to maintain her “Christian” image. Now she covers and supports her abusive son (who is also a sex/porn addict) as he discards his wife (me). I finally stood up to him after his continued threats of leaving the marriage and told him to make choice—get help for himself or not. He has chosen the latter. I’m finally seeing and holding on to God’s mercy in rescuing me from a not so covert anymore abuser. The fallout has still been tough to take as my young children will continue to be in regular contact with the soon to be ex in-laws via the stbx/their son.
Not Taking….- it isn’t unusual for an abuser to have wicked family allies. But don’t let him excuse himself via blaming his mother. He is responsible. Press on to freedom.
Thank you for recognizing that there are other contexts for abuse. There is also the case where the aging parent and relatives are abusive. If you come from an abusive family you will have to work especially hard to establish healthy reciprocal relationships. In these instances you are drawn to the abusive spouse out of familiarity. You will be taken through cycles of denial, devaluation, self-preoccupation, hostility, irrationality, manipulation and more as a matter of routine. You’re not selfish for setting boundaries, requiring respect, making your own decisions, or expressing your own beliefs.
Thank you Change Agent for reminding me that I am not selfish for setting boundaries. I have some very greedy abusive relatives that stole my inheritance and are now getting “annoyed” at me that I no longer want a relationship with them. They have slandered me to everyone who knows me back home making up disgusting lies that got back to me. They deny any wrong doing or have repented. If God Himself does not forgive a unrepentant person, who should I?! One of the family members wants me to just pretend nothing bad happened and move on with a relationship. This kind of thinking angers me. I guess in their eyes I’m the one with the problem as I don’t smile while they abuse and slander me, and I’m suppose to pretend it didn’t happen?
@Walking in the Light
I am so sorry to hear that you too have experienced the sad reality that God himself refers to in Ps. 50:20 and Jerremiah 12:6
You sit around and slander your brother— your own mother’s son.
Even your brothers, members of your own family, have turned against you. They plot and raise complaints against you. Do not trust them, no matter how pleasantly they speak.
God calls us to forgive but cautions us concerning reconciliation. I wrote a bit about that in Pastor Crippen’s other post. God desires mercy and compassion, justice and truth not pretense.
I am praying for your strength. Please pray for mine.
-Servant of the Most High