Good Tree, Bad Fruit?

Good Tree, Bad Fruit?

If the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” stumbles you, then “Why do good parents have bad offspring?” will be equally upsetting. It is logically befuddling and morally disturbing, but still prevalent.


Eli, though the incumbent priest of God, had two truly deviant and misbehaving sons (1 Sam 2:12-17). But beyond a rap on their knuckles, Eli was not wont to rein them in, despite the monstrosity of their misdeeds. As such, “the Lord was inclined to slay them” (verse 25, Berkeley Version). Extreme stuff, you may feel.


So, would it be best to avoid having children, to ensure that you won’t plant bad seeds? We just might have to accept that good parents don’t necessarily equal good parenting. Even the best of us get the occasional black sheep. There was the case of the couple who had a brat on their hands. But how do you explain that they also raised two other sensible and well-adjusted boys?


The jury’s out. But, fortunately, some expert witnesses are in.


“Perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children,” wrote psychiatrist Dr Richard Friedman. “For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise; where there is chronic bad behavior, there must be a bad parent behind it. But while I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook – sadly, there are all too many of them, from malignant to merely apathetic – the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children.”


This theory contends that it’s already hardwired into the child. Could it be a genetic predisposition that is difficult to shake off?


“The central pitch of any child psychiatrist now is that the illness is often in the child and that the family responses may aggravate the scene but not wholly create it,” comments Dr. Theodore Shapiro, a child psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. He adds, “The era of ‘there are no bad children, only bad parents’ is gone.”


Kent Hayes who wrote “Why Good Parents Have Bad Kids” offers tips to help parents recognise troubling signs before they lead to heartbreak. Parenting skills need upgrading to be in step with the times. Blanche Hackett in a review of the aforementioned book pointed out that one essential factor remains constant: Parental neglect is the primary force promoting today’s disturbed child.


So, yes, there are the expected areas where parents are remiss: lack of consistency in exercising discipline; acting like “absentee” landlords; and, not being very good models, as in “do what I say, not what I do”?


“Bad Children Can Happen To Good Parents”, as the title of a recent book suggests. But children of bad parents can also reverse the tide. It’s not all fate and futility. The Holy Spirit is not totally absent.


Mediacorp actor Chew Chor Meng shared in a 2010 “Monday Interview” (The Straits Times) that although abused by an alcoholic and violent father, he chose the positive way and forged ahead. Accepting Christ also helped sustain the difference.


One expert concluded: Parents should not too quickly take the blame (nor credit). Instead, in both situations, we turn to the Lord as our strong tower – willing to accept His ways instead of our ways, and His thoughts instead of the best of our logic and reason.


There is hope at the end of the rope!


Dr Andrew Goh is the honorary editor of Impact magazine.