Yesterday I was talking to a teacher I used to work with, and I found out about a family that I used to teach. The children (3 siblings--5-year old twins and a 4 year old) were 3 of the sweetest, silliest, most lovable kids. The fact that their home life was terrible made them all the more lovable. I've wondered all year (since they left our center) what became of them. And yesterday, I found out.
One twin has been diagnosed with some pretty heavy mental health issues--the kind kids are usually placed in facilities for. He just spent several months in a mental hospital, and will likely need to go back soon if he doesn't show improvement. His twin is about to enter the same mental hospital to participate in a program for overly-sexual behavior. Yes, at 5 years of age. And the littlest one is a ward of the state and living with a foster-parent right now after the mom gave her away. The twins have just been taken from the mom and placed in foster care as well. It breaks my heart to hear about children in this kind of situation, but even more so since I know and love these kids. I wish I could take them in and love them and care for them. They are good kids. They've just never had a chance! Their mom is on drugs. She sells her body to pay for these drugs. Her kids watch all of this. They spent much of last year homeless, living in one shelter until mom got kicked out of it, then moving to another.
As my fellow teacher told me all this, she said, "Some people just don't deserve to be parents." And I know what she means. These kids have dealt with more in five years of life than most kids will ever deal with. But despite the choices their mom has made and how badly she's screwed up her kids' lives, I've talked to this mom, and I know she loves her kids. She wants what's best for them, but she doesn't know how to do it. She can't get out of the cycle drugs has created in her life. She can't stop using. She's been beaten down and abused and mistreated all her life. It's a sad cycle that now her children have been cursed with too.
But does this make her undeserving of motherhood? In my line of work, I see a lot of bad parenting. The kids I teach come in and tell me stories that make me want to cry. Not all of them as drastic as this one, but still...one little girl in my class gets up every night to give her baby sister a bottle because mommy won't wake up. Another child gets spanked every time he gets an answer wrong on a worksheet (in Kindergarten!) and then has to redo it. Another comes in every morning and says she didn't get any breakfast because they don't have any food in the house. And one boy's father was arrested this month after he beat the kid up. Not to mention the parents who "just" yell and scream and degrade their children all the time. Or can't get off their cell phone long enough to say goodbye to their child. Or don't ever tell their child NO but wonder why their kid's in trouble all the time.
But I don't think that means any of these parents don't deserve to be parents. What it does mean is that there are a lot of parents out there who need to be taught. They need to learn a different way of raising their children than the way they were raised themselves. They need to learn how to put their child's needs above their own. Many of them just need to (literally) grow up.
In the case of my little friends, I'm glad the state intervened in their situation. I'm so grateful that they are getting professional help, and are living with people who will take care of them and meet their needs. But my heart really goes out to their mom right now. I cannot imagine having my children taken away from me. I can't even think how it must feel to wake up on Mother's Day and not know where your kids are, or if you'll ever see them again. And even worse, to know that you only have yourself to blame. How might her life have been different if someone had intervened earlier? If she had straightened her life out before she actually became a mother? If she had never gone down that path in the first place? If someone had taken her under wing after those twins were conceived, and taught her how to be a mom?
Maybe we need to be less quick to judge. Maybe, when we see a parent who we don't think deserves to be one, we need to step in and help them learn how to succeed instead of writing them off as a failure. I don't know what this might look like for you, but I do know that I want to be love in action to those who need it.
And not only that, but which one of us actually "deserves" to be a mom or dad anyway? Are we such perfect parents that we set the bar by which everyone else should be judged? I mess up everyday! I yell at my kids. I say things I don't mean. I ignore them to fool around on Facebook, or clean up messes, or read a book. I feed them junk because I'm too tired to cook dinner. I nod and say "Hmm" while they talk but don't listen to a word they're saying. I count down the minutes until bedtime, or until Girl's Night Out, when I can "get away from them" for a little while. Don't you?
None of us is a parent because we "deserve" to be. We're parents because God gifted us with these children, and allows us the privilege of raising them and teaching them and loving them while we're here on this earth. If God sees fit to give any of us such a precious gift when we don't deserve it, then all we can do in return is the best we can with them. And as you sit and hug your children tomorrow, and call or visit with your own mom, remember those who struggle everyday to be a mother to their children. When you see those moms, give them a hand, or say a kind word, or smile at them. You never know what difference one little action may make for their child. As for me, I am seriously considering how I can do more for moms like the one I just told you about. Because there is one thing I know--we all deserve to love and be loved.