I was saddened but I wasn’t totally shocked when I heard the recent news about Josh Duggar. I could see how such atrocities could have happened in such a family.
No — I’m not agreeing with the vicious critics who say they “saw it coming” and place blame on Christianity or traditional gender roles. The reason I’m not really shocked by Josh Duggar’s actions is because Josh Duggar was an over-trusted fourteen year old boy surrounded by girls.
I don’t mean that what he did was normal or okay or excusable. I’m not saying that every family inevitably goes through something like that. Thank goodness they don’t. But it is a risk for every boy, for every girl, for every family. Sexual deviation, in all its variant forms, is a risk for every person in the world.
What scares me most when I read a story like the Duggars’ is that some sort of terrible thing could happen in my own family – to my own children. This is a reasonably relevant fear for most parents in this day and age. We’ve heard the statistics and we know that it happens to all sorts of families in all sorts of situations and that no child is totally safe.
Which, to me, means the best thing any of us can do to protect our children and our families is to account for this constant risk; we can never assume that any person is spared temptation. I don’t know the Duggars’ full story but my guess is that the fault on the part of the parents (other than, perhaps, a sort of prudishness about sexuality which could create a fixation in their children) was due to their assumption that their children were completely safe around one another (and the continued assumption even after reports were made.) Unfortunately, this is an assumption that many parents make. It is a comforting, and therefore, attractive assumption. But it is a wrong one.
I have heard first hand accounts of so many horrifying stories about siblings — stories like those of Josh Duggar’s – stories about siblings sexually assaulting one another, siblings sexually experimenting with one another, and even siblings plotting to and/or almost killing each other. I didn’t have siblings growing up, so I feel I have somewhat of an outsider’s perspective. The message I always got about siblings was that the relationships can obviously be absolutely beautiful, but they are by no means resistant to the most horrific of evils.
No relationships are.
That’s why we have to make rules and set boundaries and hold each other accountable. That’s why there will come a time (long before puberty) when my son and possible daughters will not be allowed to sleep in the same bed. That’s why they won’t host or attend coed sleepovers in the same room— even if everybody is technically related. That’s why, even if it’s girls playing with girls and boys playing with boys, I’m going to check in on things frequently. I’m going to ask questions. Because kids mess around. They play doctor. They hold grudges. Children are wonderful but they are also capable of bizarre curiosities and atrocious selfishness and it’s our duty to watch out for that stuff. It’s our duty to have rules that may seem ridiculous or unnecessary – just like we have to do in our marriages. Because the rules that seem so beneath us are often the ones that save us. Our culture is beginning to catch on to this truth when it pertains to protecting children from adults. People don’t think you’re weird if you’re picky about babysitters or you employ the “no secrets” rule. But we need to be able to make rules like this about siblings, about cousins, about friends — about children with children (even children with themselves). And we need to not feel ashamed of this. There is nothing shameful about admitting the reality of humanity and preparing for it. It is only in admitting and preparing for the potential evil that we can truly cultivate the good.
This does not mean we terrify our children with fears of fire and brimstone. But I want my son to know that people can do wrong – that he can do wrong. Not only because that knowledge will hopefully keep him on guard, but also because it is only in recognizing our wrongdoing that we ever get to reconciliation and forgiveness. I want my son to understand the language of right and wrong well enough to come talk to me about it. I fear that sometimes we are so afraid to talk to our children about sin that when it happens and they know it they are terrified to say it. They bathe in their own guilt (or guilt on behalf of another) because they fear they will be rejected if they admit to anything. If we want our families and our children to be safe, we have to be honest about human fault, and equally honest about human forgiveness.
So as we watch the world crucify the entire Duggar family (for many things totally unrelated to Josh’s atrocious sins) let it be a warning to all of us. Long skirts or short skirts, 19 kids or 2, Christian or atheist — bad things happen when you aren’t looking. Bad things happen when you assume you’re totally safe.
This should not be cause for additional anxiety. We do have power to protect ourselves and our children. Recongnizing the danger is scary but in the the end it assures us greater protection from that which we fear.