Redirecting Anger: the Importance of Family in Family-Based Care
One of the many things I’ve learned since moving to Guatemala to work with Story International is what true anger feels like.
Sure, I’d been angry before. But I’m not, overall, an angry person. I’m particularly skilled at forgiving people, at seeing the bright side of things, and at making excuses for others’ behavior. But rather than nurture that particular gift, I spent a good portion of my first year in Huehue embracing the anger that I felt, dwelling with it and spreading it. It was simply too hard not to, when I felt so angry.
Over and over again, I found myself in the same situation: clenched fists, holding back tears, red-faced, stomach churning, warm to the touch. I was angry.
I was angry at the grandfather who raped his granddaughter, the stepfather who locked his stepchildren inside for days at a time, the mother who drugged her baby, the parents who beat their kids. I was angry at the parents who seemed to have left their kids behind with no second thought, at the aunts and uncles who began to visit only when finding out that their nephew would inherit his grandfather’s land, at the mother who had continued to drink alcohol while pregnant.
So when I first ventured into research and conversations about family-based care, I was very cautious. I didn’t want to believe that these people towards whom I had been harboring so much anger deserved these precious, brilliant, beautiful children. I wanted to find new families for them. I wanted them to find parents who would delight in them.
However, there is a reason that biological family is the first step on the continuum of care (the first option to be investigated and assessed in deciding where a child should live). Biological family is an important part of the identity a child builds for herself. It’s also a source of some of the most natural love that a child can receive- there’s a reason God didn’t sacrifice someone else’s son.
That’s not to say that biological family is always the answer. The child’s safety comes first, and some family situations are simply not safe for the child. But even then, our anger is often misplaced if we direct it at the child’s parents.
Our anger should be aimed at our broken world, and the cycles of poverty and violence that stem from it. What’s more, our anger should be turned into action against these things, and prayer, and a sense of responsibility for the remnants of the brokenness that God has entrusted to us.
It does no one any good for me to be angry at the mother who drugged her baby boy into silence each night so she could sleep with men for money.
It does much more good for me to ask what other options she has, and to make sure she is aware of those options and they are within her reach.
It does no one any good for me to be angry at the father who left his young son and daughter alone every days, for hours at a time, with no one protecting them or feeding them.
It does much more good for me to either help the man find a job that will provide for them all but that only exists during school hours, or to provide the man with a babysitter while he works.
It does no one any good for me to be angry at the woman who beat her children instead of parenting them.
It does much more good for me to love her, and love her children, and teach them that there are other ways, and hope that they will be the last generation of their family to think that violence is the only way.
You see, the basis of family-based care is family. It’s what we strive towards, and it’s what we believe God intends for each of us. If we discount the family out of anger, we may be missing the most important connection a child could make. We may be leaving generational cycles un-tended to, turning difficulties into impossibilities, and writing off the very answer to our prayers for a child’s future.
This doesn’t mean that I’m still not angry sometimes. There’s a fierceness with which we love the kids we work with that makes us all the more likely to be angry at those who hurt them. But what I’ve learned- and what I think most of us have learned- is to put our anger into action and to direct it at the sin that makes these situations possible, not the people who fall victim to it.
We don’t need anger, we need Jesus.
With this in mind, we continue to find work for mothers we once frowned at and invite fathers we once denounced to parenting classes. Sometimes, we bravely step forwards and remind parents of their responsibility through gritted teeth and shaky hands.
This means unlikely alliances and tense conversation.
But this also means family. And if that is what we’re working towards, then we must be willing to accept all of the discomfort that comes with it.