When we hurt our children

I didn’t know if I’d be a good mother. I’d never babysat, changed a diaper, or enjoyed other people’s children. I feared I was devoid of maternal instinct. 
But when I held my baby for the first time, I knew one thing—I would die for her. I would donate my last pint of blood, defend her against a pack of wild dogs, or charge a madman with an M-16 to protect her. It is a powerful thing, this mother’s love. 

We spend our lives protecting our children. We childproof our homes before they can crawl. We pad our stairs, fence our yards, and screen our babysitters. Whatever it takes to keep them from being hurt. 

But what do we do when we’re the ones who hurt them? 

I don’t mean physically, although that’s certainly possible. Just about everyone’s had an infant roll off a bed while her back was turned or slammed little fingers in a car door. These injuries are seldom permanent and usually quickly forgotten. 

 I’m talking about heart hurts. The kind that plant themselves into our children’s memories and carry long term, destructive potential. Angry words. Demeaning comments. Sarcasm. A friend of mine remembers his father shouting in a fit of anger, “You’re hopeless. You’ll never amount to anything.” He’s struggled against those rash words all his life. 

So what should we do when we hurt our children? Here are seven steps: 

1. Apologize immediately or as quickly as possible. Like destroying a weed in the garden, the quicker we yank the poisonous words out of our children’s hearts, the less time they have to grow roots and bear fruit. 

2. Clearly state the offense with no excuses. Instead of, “I’m sorry if I said something to hurt your feelings,” say, “I know I hurt you when I said,’_______________.’ I spoke in anger without thinking. I was wrong.” 

3. Ask for forgiveness. First we must ask God to forgive us, because all sin is ultimately against him, and then we must ask our children. Asking our children to forgive us is a very humbling experience. It lowers us from positions of authority to positions of equality. It gives them the power, rightfully theirs, to accept or reject our requests. 

Don’t be surprised, depending on the degree of hurt, if your child doesn’t forgive you immediately. Sometimes it takes a little time. On a bright note, children are amazingly forgiving and usually respond right away to a sincere, humble apology. 

4. Whether they verbally forgive you or not, forgive yourself. First John 1:9 describes God’s prescription for handling sin: “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If God is willing to forgive us when we sin against him, it’s presumptuous to cling to guilt and shame. 

5. Ask God to erase the memory of your words from your child’s mind. In Joel 2:25, God promises to “restore what the locust have eaten.” Erasing the destructive power of harsh words is restoration that honors and glorifies him. 

6. Examine the scenario that led up to the sin and learn from it. If you spoke harshly to your child because you were running late and feeling stressed, purpose to leave earlier for appointments. If an ongoing character-training issue frustrated you, prayerfully plan to tackle the issue during a time when you and your child are in good moods. Take the necessary steps to ensure that the outburst won’t happen again. 

7. Breathe grace. We are flawed human beings, and we are parenting other flawed human beings. There are no perfect parents, and to expect to never sin against our children is unrealistic and naïve. By demonstrating how a Christian repents, asks for forgiveness, and takes the necessary steps to break the sin cycle, we become a powerful and positive example to our children. 

It has been my goal never intentionally to hurt my children. Sadly, over the course of over 24 years of parenting, sometimes I’ve failed. I’m sure I will fail again. I hope, however, when my children look back, they’ll remember less about the times I’ve hurt them and more about the steps I’ve taken to make it right. 

What are your thoughts? I’d love for you to share them by leaving a comment below.

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  1. Thanks for posting this. I don't know a Mama alive that doesn't need this reminder...and often :)
    Rachael @ Diamonds in the Rough (

    1. You're right, Rachael, flawed as we are, we need accountability and encouragement to interact with our children in ways that honor them and honor the Lord. THanks so much for sharing it.

  2. I loved this article-very encouraging. We moms try hard to do right, but it's amazing how quickly one moment of frustration can cause us(me!) to lash out at our child. I know from experience when I was a child how harsh words can hurt, and now I know, as a parent, how easy it is to let those harsh words slip out. Thank you for your practical encouragement on this subject. :)
    (p.s....I truly don't want to correct, but it's about the Bible verse...It's I John 1:9, not I Corinthians...just to avoid confusion for future readers. :) )

    1. Thank you, Rachel, for catching my typo, and for your kind words. Blessings to you, another flawed mama wanting to do right by her children.