Hey, little kid, like all parents, your mom need forgiveness

October 8, 2013

neko_caseI’m a fan of Neko Case. Her 2009 album, Middle Cyclone, is among my favorites, and I’ve seen her in concert three times with her Canadian bandmates in the New Pornographers. (We even named our dog after her, although I’m not sure she would take that as a compliment!)

Her new album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, is also quite good, but it contains a song in the middle—the haunting a cappella “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”—that has been bothering me. I’ll feel better if I write about it.

To be clear (in case Neko reads this!): While I dislike some judgments made in the song, it only has the power to get under my skin because it is a powerful song.

Before I share my thoughts, listen to the song here. Be forewarned: it includes the the F-word. It’s not gratuitous: she’s simply reporting what she overheard someone say.

The mother’s words to her child are, of course, inexcusable—horrifying, in fact. We can all relate to Case’s feelings. Haven’t we been awkward bystanders as a parent loses it in front of their child? (I just came back from Disney: I witnessed it several times in just a few days!) If we are parents ourselves, we’ve probably lost it a time or two in front of our children—in public. I certainly have.

So while we’re sympathetic with Case, can’t we also be sympathetic with the mother? The song describes something that happened at “nearly midnight,” after all. Ideally, no child would be up that late. Young children who are over-tired can easily get on a parent’s last nerve. Case couldn’t know what had transpired in the moments or hours leading up to the mother’s outburst. Even more importantly, she couldn’t know what was going on in that person’s life—what circumstances motivated her to lash out like that. Did her husband just leave her? Did a loved one die? Did she literally just lose her best friend?

Or was she just really, really exhausted and acting out? For all we know, in the clear light of day—after a good night’s sleep—this same woman might have felt deeply ashamed, deeply sorry for blowing up like this.

Or maybe not. Maybe she’s just a terrible human being.

The fact is, we can’t know. We can’t look inside someone’s heart and see what’s really going on. This is the reason Jesus tells us not to judge. We’re incapable of doing it fairly or accurately.

Based on the evidence presented in the song, we are hardly in a position to say, as Case does, that this mother doesn’t love her child. On the contrary, if she’s like the vast majority of us badly flawed and sinful human beings, she does—in spite of her harsh words. We “always hurt the ones we love,” as the old song says, and family members can be especially cruel. This is why we all need forgiveness and God’s grace.

As disciples of Jesus we should err on the side of giving this mother the benefit of the doubt: “What’s going on in your life right now that you would lash out at your child like this? You can’t really mean what you said. You must be really hurting. Isn’t life incredibly difficult sometimes?”

I still recommend the album. Order it here!

8 Responses to “Hey, little kid, like all parents, your mom need forgiveness”

  1. Amy Daniel Says:

    I liked the song and artist. Totally agree with your point of view, too.

  2. I really don’t disagree with anything you say.

    But I think Case might be highlighting the reality that some children live with that their parents don’t love them. Any attempt from a child to say that they are not loved is met by other parents and children with disbelief. Children who have suffered abuse at the hands of a mother, for example, notoriously cannot find help, as it is simply not believed that a mother could do such things.

    You’ve responded, I think, just how she would anticipate – to consider how the offender might be feeling.

    I have no problems with that, of course we ought to consider how the offender is feeling. But she’s playing advocate for the unloved child here, that’s all. I think.

    • brentwhite Says:

      But maybe she’s not an offender. That’s my point. I know my own tendency to judge parents in those situations. Maybe she’s just a mother who’s having a bad day. We don’t know any more about the woman than the song’s narrator. All we have is the evidence in front of us. Like I said, she could be a monster, but we should give her the benefit of the doubt.

      • Well, she is most certainly is an offender insofar that she committed the offence of telling the child to get the f away from her.

        I understand your point and agree with it as I said (although nobody has suggested the mom is a monster). What I’m suggesting is that the song seems to be addressing children who are unloved by their parents and it is doing so through the vehicle of this incident that Case witnessed. Of course nobody can offer any insight (Case included) into whether or not that particular child in that particular instance was experiencing a rare or common occurrence in their own life. The song is about the child, not the parent, as far as I can see.

        I disagree with you that not judging is giving the benefit of the doubt though. Not judging doesn’t mean that you consider the good reasons for the sin. It means, as far as I can see, simply, not judging.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Christian thinkers throughout the ages—I’m thinking of Francis de Sales, for one, C.S. Lewis for another—have argued for giving the benefit of the doubt. Practically speaking, it’s hard to imagine living out Jesus’ words against judging without constantly reminding ourselves that our impulse to interpret people’s actions in the most negative light is wrong, and here’s what might be going on instead. I don’t know how to be “neutral” because my impulse is to go to the most negative interpretation, whether I speak it out loud or just feel it in my heart.

        In other words, I identify completely with Case’s feelings toward this woman. Without the benefit of the doubt, however, my negative judgment remains in place. It probably does anyway, but the benefit of the doubt helps the problem.

        I disagree that the song doesn’t portray the mother as a monster. Maybe that’s too strong a term, but if a mother doesn’t love her own child, what else could she be but the most depraved kind of human being?

        If I’m perceived to be overreacting to the song, it’s because, rightly or wrongly, I’m taking the song personally. But in my defense I have three children and I know my own heart. My kids drive me crazy sometimes (I’m not proud of this), and I have responded in crazy, embarrassing, and shameful ways to them. I would hate for someone to see me at my worst and judge that I don’t love my children.

  3. This is an interesting conversation that I wish could take place in person rather than on the internet, as you are saying lots of things that I disagree with, but only in a nuanced way. On the internet my responses might look like nitpicking but in real life it might be a fruitful exchange. Maybe I’ll blog a response. 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

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