Ross Hendry, Chief Executive of Spurgeons Children’s Charity, discusses how parents’ responsibility to be good parents is right and serious.And how, inspired by the Christmas story, when they fail, we are called to get our hands dirty and help; not stand on the sidelines admonishing.
I have a morning routine. It unfailingly includes listening to one particular radio station that makes me smile, and avoiding one particular TV channel that always makes me angry. Last week I broke my routine and I’ve been annoyed ever since.
On that particular morning Piers Morgan was interviewing Ofsted’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman. The subject was her annual report, which highlighted the growing number of children coming to school having not been toilet trained and being given left-over take-away for their packed lunches.
Rightly, the chief inspector of schools questioned the skills of these children’s parents and stated that schools should not be expected to be substitute parents in these basic life skills. That seems sensible. It is also consistent with how the Bible expects parents to love their children well (Titus 2:4).
There was no compassion to understand why; no love to want to help; no hope that they could change
So when we read in Proverbs 22: 6 that parents should “train up a child in the way he should go, (so that) even when he is old he will not depart from it” that is a holistic command that covers all the things a child will need to grow and flourish as a person made in God’s image.
But the discussion did not explore why some parents do not realise this biblical vision.It simply berated and condemned them. The interviewer enthusiastically pointed to the truth that some parents were rubbish, pathetic and should be ‘named and shamed’. There was no compassion to understand why; no love to want to help; no hope that they could change.
The tone and content of the interview was in stark contrast to the messages coming out of Spurgeons annual Parents Report published last week, which revealed how more than one in 10 parents feel out of their depth most or all of the time. Not ‘on occasion’ or ‘some of’ the time, but ‘most or all’ the time.
That is scary enough. But, when combined with results in the same report, which found over a third felt there was no support for them at critical times and over half of the parents surveyed knew of local services that had been cut, we see parents who need a helping hand but often have nowhere to turn.
This is backed up by my experience of Spurgeons’work with many of those parents beratedby Mr Morgan. Just last week I was speaking with a group of our family support workers, who acknowledged that some parents simply do not have the right priorities and cannot manage their money or their life very well.
But there are far more who depend on charities like Spurgeons and who, despite working, are living in poverty. There are parents with significant mental health problems; mothers who are being emotionally abused and whose husbands go as far as forcing the neglect of their own children; and parents who have never had a good parental role model and have no extended family to teach right from wrong, or good from bad.
I simply cannot quickly condemn and write off these parents. In brokenness, ignorance, violence, neglect, sin and dark despair, these parents need the hope of light.
At Christmas, we celebrate the light of our Saviour coming into the world. Emmanuel, God with us. God’s grace taking the initiative and coming to a people in need.
And in the nativity story we have people responding by taking risks and the initiative as a response to this great act of grace. Mary and Joseph, obedient and trusting in the message Mary received. The shepherd not bound by their lowly social status and being ready to worship. The Magi, open to a calling they were not expecting and offering generous gifts that would help a soon-to-be migrant family.
The incarnation is shocking in so many respects. It does not conform to our neat pre-conceived ideas of what God’s rescue plan for us should look like. And it is all the more remarkable as a result.
Are we prepared to see the scandal of God among us; God as a helpless baby? If so, I believe we will also be moved to see the struggling parents in our communities not as hopeless but as hope-needy.
But who, if not the church and every member of God’s family, will meet that need? God does not need us, but wants us to be changed by the Christmas story. The challenge is whether we will let him change us. Will we be quick to see the need, slow to condemn, but ready to act?
Churches and charities are waiting for you.