There was a time when people lived in the house. There had to be. And they probably drove the car that’s parked out front.
But not anymore.
Now the house is almost impossible to see from the road. The weeds surrounding the house look like small trees. One of those small trees is growing through the car parked in the front yard.
The questions run through your mind. What turned this house into a shack? How long does a car have to stay in one place in order for a tree to grow through it? What happened?
And then you realize that the answer is much simpler than you first thought.
Nothing happened to this house. It’s all just a natural result of neglect.
A while back I took my kids to an indoor playground. I can’t prove it, but there are somewhere around 43 new diseases waiting to be discovered in indoor playgrounds. The folks responsible for these places know this. That’s why they put hand sanitizer dispensers on the wall.
I was watching my kids play while simultaneously wondering what kind of weapons grade bacteria was growing on the sliding board. Another kid caught my attention. He was playing with the hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall. Did I say playing with? I didn’t mean that. What I meant to say was eating. He was eating the hand sanitizer that came from the dispenser.
It’s always awkward when you have to correct someone else’s kid. But in this case I couldn’t help but think about this little boy losing his eye sight, needing a liver transplant and getting high. So I said something to him.
“Hey, buddy. You need to stop eating that.”
His answer was bold.
The questions ran through my mind. How does a kid get to the point where eating hand sanitizer seems like a good thing to do? More than that, what was he taught that made him think that it was okay to yell at an adult?
The answer was simpler than I first thought.
Nothing happened to this kid. His actions were the natural result of neglect.
Parents who would never dream of leaving their child in a hot car while they run in to play a few games of video poker can still be guilty of neglect. You can stay by your child’s side every hour that she is awake and have her sleeping next to you during the hours that she sleeps and still neglect her.
It happens when a parent laughs when correction is needed. You’ve probably seen this before. A small child disobeys a direct command from her father. And it’s not just a lazy disobedience. It’s a bold, you-can’t-make-me-do-anything type of disobedience. Instead of correction, the father laughs it off and says something about her being just like her mother.
Sure, there may be a threat or two thrown in but it’s never followed through. In some ways, this is even worse than doing nothing. Empty threats train kids to believe that words and rules carry no power behind them. Even if those words come from a teacher. Or a judge. Or God.
Neglect also happens when a child is treated as an object of worship rather than a human being in need of training. On the surface this may look like the opposite of neglect. You’re with the child all the time. Your whole life revolves around him. Everything takes a back seat to his baseball schedule. Everything. Which is another way to say that you worship him.
If you want your son to have an identity crisis later in life because his professors, bosses and friends don’t treat him like a god, do everything you can to treat him like a god now.
Kids are a lot of fun. But they make terrible gods. They need their parent’s instruction, not their parent’s worship.
And kids are funny. But some of the things they say and do that seem funny at first are actually quite deadly. That’s when they need their parent’s discipline and correction instead of the nonverbal approval of mom and dad’s laughter.
Nothing good ever comes from neglect. It’s true for cars and houses and it’s true for kids. If you want to raise monsters, neglect the hard work of discipline and instruction. But if you want to raise men and women, you’ll have to get some dirt under your fingernails.
Compassionate discipline and correction are the preventative maintenance that helps to keep the monstrous weeds of idol worship and rebellion from growing up around your child.
There is no such thing as a perfect child.
Nor is there a perfect parent.
But that’s no excuse for neglect.