One Bad Decision Away
by Christal Gavin, Clement Care Director
Have you ever heard about a case of child abuse and thought to yourself, "how can anyone do that to their child!?"
The truth is... we’re all only one bad decision away from being that person.
I’m a really patient person. It’s a quality others have mentioned to me on multiple occasions. I hear things like, “You’re a saint! You’re always so calm! Do you ever yell at your kids?” Let me address that last one. I do yell at my kids (And, I’m certainly not a saint!)
While it does seem that patience is one “Fruit of the Spirit” I typically have in abundance, I can remember 3 specific instances where I was one bad decision away from being that person.
One instance was as a new mother. We had just had our first baby, a girl. In the hospital I had questioned how much she was eating. I was told, “Babies don’t eat much. Just keep trying to nurse. Your body and her body know how much she needs.”
It was three days later and all this hungry baby would do was cry!! This sleep deprived mama was at her wits end. I remember looking at her and thinking, this is the moment where mothers shake their babies. At that moment I needed her to be quiet. I was exhausted, and I had no idea why she wouldn’t stop crying.
I remember making a split second decision to rock her, not shake her. But, it was a split second decision. If it had been even one more day of sleep deprivation, I might not have made the same choice.
The next day we took her to the hospital where they diagnosed her with "Failure To Thrive." She had been born early and wasn’t sucking properly. Therefore, she had literally been starving to death the last couple of days. She had gone from 5.7lb to 4.5lb in a matter of days. The night before I had been wanting to do anything to get her to be quiet, not knowing how to help her. One more day of her crying and I might have been that person.
Another time I can recall is when I was dealing with a particularly stubborn child (who will remain nameless). At the time, my husband and I were parenting the way that we had been parented. This meant when our kids were naughty, we spanked them.
On this day my stubborn three year old looked at me when spanked and said, “That didn’t hurt!” to which I replied, “Oh yeah?” and spanked again. Wanna guess what that was met with? Yup, you guessed it! I heard, “That didn’t hurt!” once again.
At that moment my brain said I should spank this kid so hard that they will not question my authority again. But, something stopped me (Thank God!) If I had been a little bit angrier going into that spanking situation or if I had decided that I needed to show that child who was boss - I could have been that person.
One final memory is a time where I was so angry that I was physically shaking. I could feel the heat in my face and my hands were clenched at my sides. In my head I was daring this person to say one more word. Their only saving grace was that they were bigger than me. I can distinctly remember thinking, if the person was smaller than me, it would be on. I was ready for a fight! What if it had been a younger child making me this angry, my reaction to them may have been one I would have regretted.
I could have been one bad decision from being that person.
My point is I’m a person who prides myself on being patient. Others can see it takes me a long time to get to a point where I’m angry and feeling like I’m losing control. But, even with all of my ‘saintly patience”, I have found myself in a place where I’ve had to make a split second decision on how I would respond to my child and others. I’m beyond thankful that I’ve always been able to make the right one.
However, I can put myself in someone else’s shoes. What if my husband wasn’t there to help with our baby girl? What if I had been dealing with the stress of losing my job or my home? What if I was impaired by alcohol or drugs? What if I had anger control issues that didn't allow for me to make wise split-second decisions? If things were different I could have been that person.
Am I condoning child abuse? 1000% not!! Hear me again….I do not and will not ever condone abusing a child. However, I can understand why/how it happens in some cases.
An overwhelmed mother with no support system. A father who had one too many drinks. A short tempered grandmother who lashes out in anger.
1 in 7 children were victims of abuse in 2018 (DoSomething.org).
353,400 were placed into foster care in 2018 - because of physical abuse alone (acf.hhs.gov).
How do we ensure that we aren’t that person? How do we help others not become that person?
If you’re the one struggling with anger, a short temper, an overwhelming sense of stress and anxiety, seek help! Do not let it get to a place where it causes you to make a decision that will impact your life forever and harm your child in the process.
National Parent Helpline | 1.855.4A.PARENT (1-855-427-2736)
Being a parent is a critically important job, 24 hours a day. It's not always easy. Call the National Parent Helpline® to get emotional support.
If you have someone in your life, talk to them. Be candid. Let them know that you see them in their hard place. Then offer assistance! Don’t ask, “What can I do”? Just do something. Bring a meal. Offer to watch the kids. Call and check in on them. Let them know they’re not alone! You can offer some of the suggestions found in this article by KidsKonnect.
If you suspect abuse is already happening you can call and make an anonymous tip. Here is a list of hotline phone numbers by state.
Not everyone is called to be a foster parent or adopt, but everyone is called to do something. To find out more about care teams, or how you can help support foster families and children in foster care, contact us at Christal@Clement-Arts.org.
To make a donation to help Clement Arts support vulnerable children, please go to https://www.clement-arts.org/how-to-help/.
Foster and orphan care are a passion for Christal and her family. She and her husband, Mark, have been licensed foster parents since 2016. Christal and Mark, along with their 3 children, are members of Christ Community Church. Christal facilitates a growing network of such foster ministries with Clement Arts as Clement Care Director.
Clement Care is a partnership between Clement Arts, Live the Promise, and local churches who seek to establish foster care ministries within their congregations. Believing that the local church is the best answer to the foster care crisis, we facilitate a growing network of church foster care ministries in Muscogee, Harris, and Russell counties.