When Home is Where the Hurt Is, Part II
- Jim Robinson ProdigalSong
- 2006 12 Jun
Last week, in Part One of this article, we looked at the dysfunctional family — a term so loosely tossed about in today’s culture that much of its true meaning has been diminished. But from a Christian perspective, the healthy family unit is of primary, critical importance in terms of human development and spiritual nurturing. Now, let’s examine the biblical watermarks for the Christ-centered family.
What’s a Healthy Family?
Healthy families are far from perfect. Most have bickering, stress, hurt, and anger—but not constantly. Healthy families allow emotional expression; members feel safe both asking for and giving attention, nurturing, etc. Rules are consistent, and likewise discipline, all the while retaining a quality of grace depending on individual needs and circumstances. Healthy families encourage individuality and the pursuit of each member’s unique spiritual giftedness, all the while maintaining the healthy boundaries required for the smooth functioning of each person as a sort of ‘cog’ in the family system ‘wheel.’ In a healthy home, children are treated with respect; they don’t live under an impending storm cloud of fear and shame. Children know they can count on their parents to provide for them not only financially, but emotionally. Finally, in healthy families everyone makes mistakes, and perfection is not required. For the kids, the pressure’s off.
Scripture places highest emphasis on this, to say the least. When Moses read the Law, the mandate for healthy parenting came through loud and clear:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way,
and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
So, What’s a Dysfunctional Family?
There’s not nearly enough space here to adequately treat such a complicated topic. But here’s a brief look at some of the ways families get lost, and how parents take on biblically inappropriate roles within the family system:
Emotionally Unavailable Parents
These parents seem unable to "connect" with their children, often due to a lack of connection with their own parents while growing up. Frequently, these parents are driven to succeed in their own lives, professionally, materialistically, etc. Because of their own deficiencies, they cannot or will not nurture their children in a biblical sense. And many children suffer what is essentially a covert—but highly destructive—form of abandonment.
These parents continue dominating and making decisions for their children well beyond an appropriate age. Controlling parents are often driven by a fear of in one way or another of losing their children. Children in these families frequently feel resentful and inadequate. Transition into adult roles is compromised.
Abuse can be verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual. While the other versions have obvious traumatic affect on children, verbal abuse such as frequent shaming and belittling (common in addicted families) can also have lasting negative effects. Some verbal abuse is overt, some covert, while others use subtle shaming disguised as humor. All of it is damaging.
Alcoholic/drug-addicted families are chaotic and unpredictable. Truth is relative, the rules keep changing, and promises are routinely broken. In addition, emotional expression is often forbidden—those like myself who grew up in such systems learned what I call the Three Laws: Don’t Talk, Don’t Ask, Don’t Feel. Family members are taught to keep problems a secret, protecting the abuser’s freedom, and keeping the family from seeking help. All of these factors leave children feeling insecure, frustrated, and angry. Children usually "own" the disease themselves: "There must be something wrong with me that makes my parents act like this." An inability to trust others, and difficulty with emotional expression and intimate relationships follow these children into adulthood. Children of alcoholics experience a much higher risk for developing alcoholism than do children of non-alcoholics.
These are only a few general examples of ways in which the family frequently comes under attack on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Emotional illness and/or mood disorders are other issues that can wreak havoc within a family environment. But whatever the causes, those of us who grew up in these dysfunctional systems often find ourselves parenting our own children in unhealthy ways, unwittingly passing along our fear and shame from one generation to the next.
Such deeply-held spiritual wounds can sometimes seem impossible to overcome. At the core of all this dysfunction, though, lies one key factor: The absence of Jesus Christ as leader of the family, and head of the home.
* * * *
As Janet and I explored her past, we came to see how her own childhood had left emotional scars—scars that come when Jesus isn’t the rock upon which our families are built. Far more than a "church every Sunday" mentality, parental adherence to biblical parenting principles is essential for any family’s spiritual health. When the storms of life blow in, Christ serves as the Lighthouse. As Christian parents, we must educate ourselves on the immense importance of modeling Christ to our children. Our personal walk of faith with Jesus will reflect to our children far more than we can ever imagine.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD,
choose you this day whom ye will serve;
but as for me and my house,
we will serve the LORD. —Jos.24:15
If you’d like to look more deeply into this issue, please visit my website: ProdigalSong.com. There, you’ll find a questionnaire that will help you determine your own family dysfunction "profile," and provide helpful resources for recovery.
Above all, have faith. Our Heavenly Father waits to parent us all.
Jim Robinson is a successful songwriter, musician, speaker, author, and recovery counselor. A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Robinson is founder of ProdigalSong, a Christian ministry utilizing music, speaking, counseling, and teaching to convey healing for the broken spirit. Jim’s web site, www.ProdigalSong.com, contains information about his ministry, numerous recovery resources, and additional articles he’s written. To subscribe to Jim’s monthly newsletter, click here: http://www.prodigalsong.com/contact/index.html.