Read Part I here.
This is the first time I have written openly about my childhood. It isn’t to get back at anyone, it is more to give a voice to the voiceless. I will admit right here, that, of course, I have anger. Yet, I write this not to blame, or to be spiteful, or to seek revenge. Many of us who move through this world with deep resolved and unresolved pain caused by our parents, are told we shouldn’t talk about our abusive past, because it could hurt our parents. To this all I can say is that children grow up. As children we are muted out of fear and ignorance. As adult survivors, we should speak – not to do more harm, but to create change.
I am happy to report that my relationship with my mother is intact. Although she still has an edge to her, she has not hurt me, in any way, shape, or form, for a very long time. I set boundaries, and in those boundaries, she and I have found a way to coexist. My father and I also have a good relationship. Yet as with any relationship that has gone through what he and I went through together, as well as individually, the past affects our interactions, which are, understandably, sometimes heated.
As I write this piece I am thinking of all the other children who are being abused by their parents in unspeakable ways right now. Children who are afraid, feel unloved, and are simply confused. These kids too will grow to be adults – adults who struggle every day to face their past holistically and with love. Or, they will become adults who can’t deal on a non-violent level and end up abusing their family members as well, and the vicious cycle continues.
Then there are the children who will not wake tomorrow to face another day of abuse because their parents have made a choice to take their lives. What of them? Who speaks for them?
This makes this question even more relevant – how do we honor our parents when they don’t always honor us?
God may command us to honor our parents, yet, God certainly does not condone our parents hurting us in any way. An adult hurting a child, at any age, is simply unacceptable.
The reality is that there is no true answer that works for everyone, because all of us who are and were abused are in a different place than the other. We must view our reactions and ability to thrive individually.
I choose to honor my parents with my love, because if I were to choose anything different, I would be hurting myself more than anyone. God has given me this incredible gift of candor and survival. Sometimes I wonder why I have this gift, and others, struggle immensely with forgiveness and acceptance of what they cannot change. My sister says I came out of the womb pissed off at the world. I think this has helped me survive as well.
The pain caused by abusive parents is an ultimate betrayal. Those who are supposed to love us, nurture us, keep us safe, instead, choose to harm the littlest of us who cannot, and could not, fight back. This is not only a betrayal to the child, but to parenthood, and ultimately, to God.
When we choose forgiveness, we choose grace, and more, we choose God. God graces me with insight as to why my parents hurt me. Although the reasons do not excuse or justify their behavior whatsoever, knowing the reasons creates a context that is real, honest, truthful and raw. Because the reality is, parents do not have children with the intention of abusing them. No child comes out and the parents say, “I am going to abuse and hurt my child…” Of course not. It just happens.
The strange reality is that most parents who abuse, really do love their children. This is incredibly confusing, because how can a parent love a child and beat them with a hairbrush at the same time? How can a parent who loves their childrem call them “stupid” or a “slut?” Many would say that a parent who does this is not capable of loving. I am sure there are parents who are incapable of loving their own children, yet, I believe most parents that abuse do love. They are lost in their own pain, and they are incapable of seeing the pain they inflict. This isn’t an excuse, nor does it make it okay. It is just an unfortunate reality.
Today, five children in the United States will die at the hands of their parents. These kids are whom I am ultimately writing this for. They are the silent voices we must heed if things are going to change. Because we ultimately honor our parents with love, yes, but, we also honor them by holding them accountable for their actions.
Honor your mother and your father? I often wonder why God didn’t make the commandment, “Honor your children. Never harm them, raise a hand to them, and love them with all your might, as I love you.” The only reason I can come up with as to why She didn’t make this commandment, is because She never imagined a parent could and would do such harm to their own child.
If only we all imagined as God does…
Karen Hernandez is a Theologian with a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism. Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist, doing this type of theological work in the USA. She has published with several media outlets including Feminism and Religion, the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Karen lives in San Francisco, where she is currently designing an Interfaith Dialogue Workshop for Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. She is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.