Repost: Hana Grace and the Myth of My Happiness

PING-cover_400pxI originally wrote this in 2011, when this case became known. I understand a verdict has recently been reached.

For those seeking information on the To Train Up a Child controversy from a Christian perspective, my husband and I spent most of 2010 compiling a review that looked at Michael Pearl’s books, web articles, and audio sermons. Click here to access the free e-book in PDF format.

It’s a nightmare I can’t shake, and it does not come to me in sleep. It comes to me in waking and keeps my eyes from closing. It’s the sort of thing we called heinous when we heard of it in the POW camps. The sort of thing that drove Canadians from my quiet prairie hometown to give their lives on the fields of France and Holland. The sort of thing that sparked the Balfour Declaration when the world, for a brief and sparing moment, recognized its own complicity in a genocidal spree that went too long ignored.

The Death of Grace

She is thirteen years old, the age of my daughter. Emaciated, calm in the way of the subdued avoiding further calamity. I see her staring in the window, standing alone in the darkness. I see her ribs accordioning her brown skin. I see her shorn hair: one of the few things she enjoyed in life, amputated by an adoptive mother who admitted her hatred to the sheriff later on.

I see her shrivelled frame, naked in the rain, the clothes fumbled free in a disoriented haze as the older brothers who have whipped her with a plumbing pipe look out the door.

I see her wander, stumble and fall, and the mud coats her lips. Her famine-shaped body blends with the night and the cold. The nightmare runs like paint, washed in the tears of the sky.

The siblings of Hana Grace Williams covered her dead body with a sheet. She had died of starvation and hypothermia in her parents’ backyard. Her parents used the Pearl method, but they also employed many atrocities which not even the most severe parenting method would ever espouse.

In the affidavit, it was cited that the mother and other family members repeatedly justified it all by saying Hana was “rebellious.” Does this mean that if she had done what they wanted, she would not have been punished? If she had been able to comply and praise the mother who so disliked her, who considered her health needs a burden, would the victim have been able to change the abuser’s behaviour?

But Do I End Up Happy?

I’ve written that marriage is not a 50/50 gamble, when circumstances are non-abusive. But there’s nothing we can do to control the behaviour of another adult. Far too often I’ve seen one partner bend over backwards to accommodate the narcissism or outright mental illness of an unresponsive and negligent spouse, only to be forced in the end to leave or lose all quality of life and sanity. Sometimes, leaving is even what’s best for the children, if it gives them a space away from a personality-disordered parent whose only thought is “my happiness.”

Carri Williams was outspoken to the Sheriff about the inconvenience her adopted children caused to her happiness.

Not only can children not control adult behavior, children do not have that grownup freedom to leave on their own. They are stuck with the parent who oversleeps because they don’t feel like getting up to do the daycare run; the parent who’s determined not to take financial responsibility for the mortgage; the parent who sees children more as a lifestyle accessory than a real human being.

They are stuck with the parent who cannot perceive the value of the happiness of others except in relation to their own. And they are stuck with the parent who, as a consequence, cannot perceive the misery of others.

They are stuck with the parent who cannot conceive of the fact that children do not exist to validate their parents’ lives, but to deconstruct them.

Mold the Parents’ Will, Not the Child’s

Marriage and kids have a powerful existential role in breaking down our self-interest, not so that we can break down others. This, I suspect, is something the vast majority of Christian parents embrace as part of life’s journey. It’s why we wrote our No Greater Joy theological review to focus on whether the theology underlying Mike Pearl’s teachings is biblical, not on personalities or parenting methodology. We cannot imagine that most parents are in their role to avoid sacrificing for their children, and we do not believe that a method or a teaching can be based in a man, regardless of whether or not Mr. Pearl is a good man.

We believe in pursuing truth rather than rabbit trails, myth or invention.

There is a myth in my own personal life that I could pursue: career, education, travel, autonomy. And a second is like it: utterly domestic, avoiding intellectual engagement, housebound, dependent on living in my husband’s world.

Thankfully, we’ve avoided both pitfalls. I have no need to prove myself to the standards of a culture that remains masculinized in its attitude toward personal freedom. I am here because I want to be. And in good part it’s because I had parents who taught me to embrace the changes wrought by children.

There is also a myth that parenting an adopted child is going to be like rescuing a puppy or simply adding another number to the biological children. It’s not. It’s a different path that deserves its own unique recognition. It’s a path I haven’t walked, and yet I’ve seen others walk it in the hardest of circumstances. There are things in life we can’t control–realities we can either fight or surrender to and work with. There are more ways to see joy and sorrow than anyone imagines when we dream of white picket fences.

Right now, my children are laughing over a game in the kitchen. Yesterday, the four of them line-danced their way into the living room when they heard their father put on some music. Earlier, they were singing multi-part harmony over their Lego.

Tomorrow, they will be making their way in the world, whether for better or for worse. We can’t control the future. And in the future, we two will be left with a wistful ache in our hearts for times that will never be again. Like the moment we each held them for the first time. There’s only ever one of those.

If my life had not been turned on its head, I might have missed it. The search for happiness has been a myth; it arrived unexpectedly, without my help.

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  1. No, adoption not like adopting a puppy…and yet:
    My elderly cat died last year, & I adopted two (young adult) cats from the local Humane Society shelter. One had been a treasured pet turned in by ailing folks unable to care for her any more; the other was a “stray”.Abused & abandoned, she was saved by the kindliness of a family who brought her in saying that they had as many animals as they could care for all ready, but “she is such a nice cat, and deserves a good home”.
    Time & again, over the course of this past year, watching them interact with each other & with me, I have found myslef thinking about children, adopted children especially. Because I see in them a tiny bit of the story of adoption. (I am adopted myslef)….. Mona is very full of herslef, very assured; Tara is sweet, loving, and totally terrified every time I hang up clothes: She had been :-( beaten with coat hangers as a kitten.
    Children, too, have their own histories. Often, an adoptive parent may know less about their adopted kids than I do about my cats! Some of them may not care enough to find out. :-(
    And that is a part of the tragedy, too. Even the best-meaning folks can err, &err often. When they are less well-meaning, when they are (as I believe of the Williams) totally unsuited to care for children at all, that is when a true disaster happens.
    I pray when I see Tara afraid; I pray, and I pray, that the person who beat her is not, please God, not a parent. And please, Lord, if s/he is, protect those poor children.

    Thanks, Cat.

    1. Hey, Zooey!

      Y’know, I do tend to think God made His creatures to show us a clearer, simpler view of things in this messy world. It’s not at all the same as adopting a child, and yet there’s a message in it.

      My facebook has kind of turned into dog central since we adopted a German Shepherd X back in spring. She was previously feral, and it’s been kind of revelatory to see her learn to trust humans. She’d like to like them, but she’s not always sure it’s safe. It’s different than a dog raised with loving people from birth.

      I think of these adoption cases often as we work with her, and how much more pain the greater intelligence and insight of a human being can experience. Dogs live in the “now.” They forgive and move on because they’re always in the present. People, on the other hand, have a past and future existing in their hearts and minds.

    1. I know, eh? This is why a good friend of mine likes to say, “Christianity isn’t a crutch, it’s a whole hospital!” I think these things happen when people try to use Christ’s name merely as a crutch for their own agendas.

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