Parents who were abused as children incur a debt that’s hard to part with.

Called to Love their own children, the debt becomes a dam that blocks the flow and, like their parents before them, their children pay the price, either as hostage to the trickle of care they can still afford, or as scapegoat sacrificed in exchange for the debt still outstanding. This is intergenerational transmission, when a debt of Love is visited on one's children “and on their children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Daily I come across children of dammed loved that reflect the two distinct outcomes I have identified as the scapegoat and hostage situations.

The first, the scapegoat, is the child who carries the burden of parental shame, often expressed in the form of physical and verbal abuse, and is cast off to roam far and away from home. The scapegoat usually does leave home in mid-adolescence, cutting off prematurely from the womb but with a vitality and sense of survival that is apparently inborn. This is the child that scientists are scrutinizing in search of that magic gene called resilience, the gene that is supposed to have rubberized the child against pain. I don’t believe in such a gene. Rather, I think that early psychological separation from hearthurt parents is what, by grace, preserves the child’s will to live.

The second, the hostage, may have been spared the full force of parental brutality, perhaps because he was the chosen one. Yet, ironically, he is also the pitiable one who cannot quite separate, his will to leave being trapped like a fly in the unguent of promised love. He awaits healing that never comes and the wound stays open indefinitely.

Whereas the challenge for the scapegoat is to find comfort in the oasis rather than the desert, to learn how to love others rather than live free but unattached, the challenge for the hostage is to wiggle free from bad love and not flit endlessly from one hurt to another.

One final observation:
So many children of abusive parents have reported to me that their parents were extraordinarily challenged when it came to parting with their money, especially when it came to the child’s education (the ultimate act of separation!). One young man’s wealthy mother refused to give him a loan for his University studies although she agreed to finance the oversea adoption of another child. Another woman recalled how her mother withheld financial support for her studies, obliging her to sign a declaration of sexual chastity for the duration of the loan. Another man was deprived financial support when his mother convincingly lied to the father that their son had run morally afoul.

Apparently, the “debt” of love transpires in the financial realm.


  1. Waiting, not so patiently...

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