MaleSurvivor Executive Director Christopher Anderson reminds us that love does not guarantee that parents will keep their children safe.
Adrian Peterson made the following comments yesterday after he signed a plea deal releasing him from any significant punishment for the brutal whipping of his four-year-old boy (which was serious enough to create genital scarring on the child).
‘I truly regret this incident,’ Peterson said outside the courthouse. ‘I stand here and take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than any one of you could even imagine. I am looking forward to and I am anxious to continue my relationship with my child.’
I do not question Peterson’s love for his children. In my opinion the love he feels has no bearing on the only important question in this case. The only matter we should be concerned with is whether or not his children are safe in his presence. This question – Are Peterson’s children safe at this moment in time, and will they continue to be safe moving forward is the question that we must ask. It does not matter whether or not he loves his children; when and if he will return to the field; whether or not the NFL will demand he pay back the salary he has been drawing down while he has been suspended during this investigation. The only issue that matters here is the safety of his children. And Peterson’s statements about the love he feels for them are no indication whatsoever what the answer is.
Love is not a defense for abuse. The love a person feels is not and cannot be allowed to be a mitigating factor in cases of abuse. We as a society must stop allowing parents (and other adults who have responsibility for the care, protection, and nurturing of others) to defend the intentional infliction of abuse and trauma on others by simply saying they love the persons they hurt. Love is not a justification for harm. There may be no greater hypocrisy in this world than defending the abuse of children than by invoking the language of love.
My parents abused me as a child. At the same time my parents loved me. My parents were incapable of providing me with the nurturing stability that a child requires in order to thrive. Eventually this contributed to making me so vulnerable as to be an easy target for the man who sexually abused me. Yet, for all their failings as parents, one thing cannot be denied: both of my parents felt love for me. I do not believe that either of them took malevolent pleasure in my suffering and pain. My parents were deeply flawed people who were simply not capable of providing me with the most basic kinds of nurturing and protection. There is no question that my parents loved me. Indeed, it’s very possible that my parents’ love was one of the things that did help me eventually overcome the obstacles and challenges their abuse created.
Love does not ensure the safety of the person who is loved. Love does not guarantee that a parent will appropriately care for their child. Love is not the antithesis of abuse. Love is an emotion—one that can oftentimes be accompanied by toxic and harmful behaviors as much as it can be affiliated with nurturing and compassion. Love is a feeling, one we hope informs and inspires good behavior. But the only way we can determine whether the love a parent feels is praiseworthy is to look at how that parent treats their child. We need to see how the feeling of love translates into the ways a person treats the person they love. A parent or partner who expresses love by seeking to control through domination and cruel manipulation is being abusive. That does not obviate feelings of love the abuser may actually feel. However, all the love in the world cannot change abuse into something positive, nor does it compensate a victim for the pain, fear, and suffering endured at the hands of the person who claims to love them.
My parents’ feelings of love for me did not excuse, offset, or somehow eradicate the truth that their neglect and inability to care for me constituted a kind of abuse. In much the same way, Peterson’s love for his children cannot, in and of itself, offset the physical and psychological harm that his actions have likely caused them. Moving forward, Peterson certainly has the opportunity to act in ways that can better nurture his children. Having a strong, nurturing relationship with their father can be one of the most important things that will help give them the greatest chance of growing up into happy, healthy, and empowered adults. And when a parent has the integrity to own up to their own failures and ask for forgiveness, that can teach a profound lesson to a child about how we establish and promote respect and compassion in this world. Therefore, I hope that Peterson can grow and learn from these incidents and become a better father.
We must recognize that Peterson’s declaration, with all its apparent sincerity, has absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether his children are safe from physical and emotional abuse when they are in his presence. In the end, that is the only measure that we can use to determine whether Peterson (or any other parent or guardian) is a fit parent. Again, I emphasize I have no doubt of the sincereity and truth of Mr. Peterson’s feelings. Nor will I make a prediction about whether or not he is a fit parent. However, if he cannot be entrusted to ensure his children are safe from harm at his own hands, then we as a society have a duty to those children to step in and do what we can to protect them.
For more from Christopher Anderson on the Adrian Peterson case, click here.