Loving who more . . . How self-centered relationships impact children

By Teri M Bethel

The misplaced emotions of Elizabeth Smith, a young mother of three girls, were stronger for her boyfriend Nicholas White than for her children. The 2018 Cincinnati, Ohio case that eventually put both Smith and White behind bars for the sexual abuse of her three young daughters astounded the nation. Elizabeth’s “I love you more…” was directed at her sweetheart rather than her kids. Both were sentenced to prisonment; Smith for 12 years and White for 30 to life. But what about the children? Can merely stopping the abuse be sufficient to remedy the horrors of rape they endured before the age of nine? Will the cycle of abuse continue for them if the girls are not cared for physically, emotionally and spiritually?

Closer to home

A very gentle, non-confrontational lady we’ll call Sofia, shared her experience concerning her husband, Trevor, and their kids. Trevor was a self-centered individual who dabbled in drugs for most of their marriage. His wife and children were a public showpiece to make him look somewhat normal. However, he considered them an tiresome expense behind closed doors. Although Sofia tried to please her husband, his multiple addictions and neglect of his family drove a wedge between them.

There were things Sofia reflected on after their second separation that made her question aspects of their marriage. Why, for example, were her children terrified of being alone with their father even when he was sober? Why were his stories about his friends rife with their sexual indiscretions and improper behaviour with their children? Why was she not aware of her husband’s abuse of their children? Years after Trevor and Sofia’s separation and thousands of miles away from their father, the emotionally battered children were still reeling from his abuse. Sofia’s questions unfortunately did not arise at a time that was crucial to her children.

Removing children from harmful homes

Rather than avoiding the issue of a child’s sexual exploitation or abuse, it is important to ensure that the child is placed with a caring relative or in responsible foster care. The Washington Post featured a story by Richard Cohen back in 1987 which highlighted a child on life support who was physically abused by her adopted parents. What shook the nation at the time was the fact that the two unmarried adults who adopted little Elizabeth Steinberg, though considered polished professionals, were unstable and had a history of reported abuse and neglect. Contrary to popular opinion in some quarters, a good home is not solely determined by the ability to financially care for a child.

A former foster child, Michael Olivieri, wrote the article “What Makes a Great Foster Parent?” for Foster Focus, an online magazine devoted to foster care. In his brief but helpful article, Michael’s answer to a question asking what it took to be a great foster parent was simple. He said, “a desire to help a troubled, complete stranger like you would one of your own kids.” The question that then begs an answer is what makes a great parent? The answer is one that obviously escaped Elizabeth Smith and other parents who place their selfish desires before the need to lovingly nurture their children.

Are you closing your eyes to abuse?

“I love you more…” has an endearing kick to it but what if it has a “than my own children” attached to it? Being a good parent goes beyond one’s ability to provide seed or a womb—dogs and other animals are capable of that. A good parent is not self-centered. They nurture and provide for their child in the good and bad times; whether they feel like it or not. A good parent does not allow a love interest, petty grievances or finances to take precedence over a healthy relationship with their own flesh and blood. A good parent knows that responsible child-rearing is a decision and not based on their emotions.

While sexual abuse is pervasive in society, it is equally concerning that innocent children are being emotionally, physically, and financially abandoned by their parents. The horror of rejection from one that was meant to care for and protect them can be devastating to a child. Self-serving parents who close the door to fostering healthy relationships with their children are essentially opening the door to their child’s possible destruction.

Avoiding harmful trends

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative (USA 2001), fathers who are involved with their children’s education are more likely to see their child getting A grades. A similar study in 2012 showed 27 percent of children from a home where fathers are absent are more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than those kids living in homes with their fathers. At a time when single young ladies are planning pregnancies out of wedlock as lightheartedly as one plans a lunch date, it is a concerning trend. Males, young and old, trying to rack up their “bones made” count without being fathers to their children has put the family structure at risk and has opened the door to child neglect with an abhorrent trend in sexual abuse in children.

So where do we go from here? What is our responsibility as concerned citizens? A humble suggestion for us all is to be alert, knowledgeable and ready to help solve the problems that erode our families. What would that look like in simple terms? Take care of your family, look out for your neighbour, care for or adopt those who have been abandoned and abused. Report suspected abuse to the relevant authorities for their investigation. Exemplify the love that you would like to see in our society. If everybody truly cared for someone what a weight would be lifted from our children to produce a tomorrow filled with hope.

• Teri M Bethel is a publisher and an author of relationship enrichment books which include “Before We Say, I Do…” and “My Marriage Matters”. She has also published romance and adventure novels, purse-making and fabric-painting DVDs for adults and children. Additionally, Teri provides a free online directory for local authors to showcase their family-friendly books. She and her husband have two adult sons. Visit her website, www.BooksByBethel.com, or e-mail her at tbethel@booksbybethel.com.


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