Loving the Unlovely Child

By Debra Fulghum Bruce

I think I would enjoy parenting a lot more if there was no such thing as a stage development,” my friend Lori remarked over coffee one morning. She had been experiencing a trying week with her fourth grade daughter. “It is so easy to love Jenni when she tows the line; but when she starts asserting herself and rebelling, I really find it hard to even like her-much less love her.”

Raising three children I too know the difficulty of loving that “unlovely” child. In our family there always seems to be some child in some stage at some time. Of course, the child in the stage always seems to pick that moment when I am under stress and not quite ready to deal with unlovely behavior. And just as soon as that child passes that stage in development, the next child in line seems to fall in.

Remember when your child was just an infant? Wasn’t it easy to sit and cuddle that bundle of joy? Even when the baby cried for a bottle or to be changed, there was something about the innocence of a helpless baby that compelled you to hug and kiss it.

But what about your child as he or she grows and develops? Is it still easy to hug that rebellious fifth grader about to enter puberty? Or what about the third grade boy who is asserting his new language? Or even the precious first grader who flatly refuses to pick up her things?

No, it isn’t always easy to love the unlovely. Finding the good qualities in a child who is in a difficult period in life is trying, even for the most patient parent. But as Christians we have Jesus’ commandment to care for the unlovely, to reach out in compassion to those in need.

Jesus taught us that whatever we do to the least, we do it also to Him. If we cannot accept our children at their unlovely moments, perhaps we need to work on our relationship with our Lord.

In our home we value the healing power of touch. This power seems tomelt even the most bitter moment and usually gives the security the child longs for. While our society has been conditioned to be hands off, touch may be the key to ongoing positive self-esteem. A pat on the shoulder after a firm reprimand, a loving hug after unlovely moments, or a back rub after a family upset say, “I care. ”

The Bible describes many virtues when it comes to living the Christian life. These virtues need to be discovered and used enthusiastically, especially when unlovely children tempt our patience. Perhaps the following four suggestions can pull you through the trying moments.

1. Have patience. The challenge of Hebrews 12:1 is: “Let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.” This patience involves not giving up in times of crisis, but hanging in and accepting the situation until changes occur.

When our middle child entered fifth grade, we were not ready for the changes occurring in her life. Puberty? Why that was several years away. Wrong! She experienced changes that most girls experience in junior high, and we experienced the rebellious and challenging behavior that goes along with entering adolescent years.

“But she is just a child,” I complained to her pediatrician. “She is only in elementary school and is already 5 feet 4 inches tall.”

“These times will be trying, I know,” the young woman said with empathy. “And they may be more difficult for her because she is the first in her crowd to mature. But be patient. This too will pass.”

We were patient. Yes, we did have to go to our room and close the door many evenings when unlovely behavior was asserted. And we gave many hugs-hugs that were difficult to give at times.

But now Brittnye is in seventh grade and is a settled young woman. Yes, we had many unlovely moments for 2 years, but the final product was worth the trials.

The Lord’s time is not always our time. Often we take the attitude, “I want it, and I want it now.” Our Lord reminds us of the virtue of patience and asks us to wait upon Him.

2. Be persistent. Luke offered more strength for being steadfast in Acts 2:42: “They joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion services and prayer meetings.”

As a parent, you can help your troubled child feel stability by demonstrating deep commitment. Such persistence motivates family members to believe in a power that moves deeper than the surface love of family. This commitment to the child keeps the relationship strong, even when the enthusiasm is at a low. Persistence involves loyalty to the child’s potential instead of what you might see at a bad moment.

When my friend Sharon adopted her first son, the agency told her not to have great expectations because of poor prenatal care of his birth mother. Sharon, a stubborn young woman, refused to listen.

“Jake is in the third grade and is excelling,” she told me at the open house at school. “He isn’t easy to raise, but I am determined to help him be all he can. I see the potential in this child, and I am going to develop it all I can.”

3. Be in prayer. The Psalmist said, “I will pray morning, noon, and night, pleading aloud with God; and he will hear and answer” (Psalm 55:17).

Prayer does change things. In a broken relationship in your family, prayer can help to unite the members and can give purpose to the problem at hand.

Parents who experience crisis in the family because of a strong-willed child or a child with emotional problems say that prayer is the one strength they leaned on.

“Prayer seemed to bring peace to even the most horrendous moment with Jason,” a father said. “After getting upset with him for losing his bike or for failing his test, I had to pray, or I felt I would really lose my temper. You know, the power of prayer helped change me as much as it helped change him.”

Prayer can be that special communication that enables a difficult child to know of God’s love and power, even when the enthusiasm is not felt. And prayer can bring serenity to a distraught parent during moments of anguish.

4. See the possibility. In Mark 14:36 Jesus prayed, “Father, Father… everything is possible for you. Take away this cup from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.” Paul taught in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.”

Our Christian faith is a faith of hope. Realizing the possibility and promise in the difficult child is one key to successful Christian living.

“When all others turned away from Shelly, I hung in-as difficult as it was,” a mother shared at a support group in our church. “Shelly was so bright, but she was also very opinionated and strong-willed. That is an awesome combination for a child, especially for a teacher to deal with.

“Finally when Shelly hit high school, something clicked,” the woman continued. “She got involved in the student government and was elected president of her school. Kids that used to make fun of her in elementary school now respect her and look up to her. Her leadership and strength were used for a purpose.”

Seeing the possibility in your child during unlovely moments can be exciting. But this awesome power of God can be seen only if you have an attitude of anticipation.

Have you had moments when your child was difficult to love? Remember the promise of the Scripture found in Job 14:7: “For there is hope for a tree- if it’s cut down it sprouts again, and grows tender, new branches.”

Knowing there is the promise of hope even in seemingly hopeless situations can make the difference in changing lives. And you, the Christian parent, can help make this difference.

(The above information was published by the PENTECOSTAL EVANGEL, March, 1990)

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