My son is feeding the homeless today. 

Not because he is a good person (which he is), and not because he wanted to (he doesn’t), but because he is grounded. 

Big time, no “ifs” “ands” or “buts”, no excuses big major trouble grounded. 

Initially, he was supposed to spend his last week of summer at a sports camp in town. My husband and I wanted to give our newly-adopted son one last opportunity to play, relax, and make new friends before we buckled down for the second grade. But, after two behavior referrals (one of which included him standing on the lunchroom table, and another in which he stole someone’s coveted, rare Pokemon cards), we made the difficult decision to withdraw him. Poor behavior does not earn the rewards summer camp has to offer. We decided to send him to work at the church with my husband. To make up for the hurt he caused others, he needed to serve someone else. 

The first day started off as expected—he was grumpy and refused to help; however, after several hours, he invested himself in cleaning the church building and helping the maintenance man with his chores. We were excited that the lesson was working, and praised ourselves for our brilliant use of creative discipline. 

Then, he came home. And he threw a fit. And we found something in his bag that he had stolen off of the receptionist’s desk. And he yelled. And kicked. And my husband and I found ourselves completely exhausted, broken, and confused. 

Where did we go wrong?

What do you do when your kid is the bully? It’s hard to admit that this beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed, goofy, outgoing kid can be mean, but he can. 

And so can I. 

Everybody relates to the victim. No one likes to see themselves as the bully. Everybody puts themselves in Bambi’s shoes; but it’s hard to get one to admit that sometimes, they are the hunter. 

Before children, I thought it was black and white. 

“These kids wouldn’t be mean if their parents taught them right.” 

“All behavior starts at home.” 

“If they would just spank him, this would go away.” 

But now I have my own kid—with his own messy trauma history and disorders—and I wonder how many times I judged someone’s parenting based solely on their kid’s behavior? How often did I believe that a child’s parents didn’t do enough when, in reality, they were probably lost and questioning their ability to be a parent—just like my husband and I did last night?

For now, we pray. We cuddle him, and we tell him we are proud of him. We take him out for bike rides, and we write down corny jokes and stick them in his lunchbox to read at school. We remind him to be kind to others and to help people in need. We do this not because we always want to (which most of the time, we do) and not because we’re good people (we mess up sometimes), but because we fully believe the Bible when it says that darkness does not drive out darkness. Darkness fears light and hate fears love.

The response to hate isn’t more hate or harsher punishment—it’s love.

When he misbehaves, when he breaks someone’s glasses or fails to keep his hands to himself, we give him grace. We hold him, and we remind him that he is safe and loved.

And we take him to volunteer with us at the food bank. 

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Sarah E.B. Christison 

Just a 25 year-old adoptive mother of two. I am a licensed social worker who is passionate about advocating for victims of abuse and family violence.  I believe in raw, honest writing, good food, and strong coffee.