A Child's Terror..Not Being Loved

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

"The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved."
Lee, the Chinese servant in Steinbeck's "East of Eden"

Kids get taken from their parents and put into foster care for all sorts of reasons, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, mental illness or drug addiction; the reasons are as complex as human nature itself. But none of these forms of abuse are as shattering to a child as coming to the realization that he is not loved.

Fortunately, not every foster kid is a victim of this form of abuse. I'm convinced that many, if not most, bio parents truly do love their children and are deeply traumatized by having their children taken away from them. These parents will do everything in their power to get their kids back.

But tragically, there are a significant number of parents that simply do not get that the relationship that kick - starts our development as human beings is that between a child and his parents. Withholding love hurts more than any physical beating.

I don't believe for a minute that foster kids are the only ones whose lives are affected by not receiving enough love from their parents during their growing - up years. All too many of us reach adulthood only belatedly conscious that we never received the full measure of love we should have received from our parents.

The result is predictable. We cannot give love to others if we have not experienced it ourselves. So our own capacity to love is diminished. We parcel out our love hesitantly, if at all, wanting it to be risk - free as though real love can ever be free of risk.

To love and be loved by another human being is as basic to our development as persons as the food we eat or the air we breathe. So, when it dawns on a kid that he is not loved, no wonder he is terrified. He's like a boat cut loose from his moorings.

Desperately he fights for survival, hardening himself against the very persons who show him kindness, He is scared to trust them because it would hurt twice as much to be rejected again. He hates others because he hates himself. As a thirteen year - old boy, choked up by tears that would not fall, exploded to me, "Let's face it. I'm a reject."

But if the withdrawal of love can do so much harm, its restorative power is equally awesome. If one person, a teacher, a grandma, a coach sees the goodness that lies beneath the hard exterior of an unloved child, miracles happen.

In Francis Thompson's powerful poem, "The Hound of Heaven," the poet who has spent his life fleeing God finally gives in to the power of love. He concludes "Fear wist not to evade as love wist to pursue." Love is the healer that can penetrate his outer shell and help to make a hurt child whole. If the lack of love can shatter, its presence can heal.