Do You Have a “Scapegoat” Child?

Lisa Cherry —  November 30, 2014

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Ok. If you clicked on this title, you may already be under some fear...or some conviction!

Here is what I know as a mom of many children:

I love each of children completely.

I would die for each of my children without question.

And even the accusation of me having a "favorite" child hurts my mom heart!

So if that is the case, how could I make one of our children the family scapegoat?

The word "scapegoat" comes from the story found in the Old Testament in Leviticus 16.

In the sacrifice system God enacted to cover the sins of the nation of Israel, the priests were commanded to ceremonially transfer the sins of the people to a goat. The goat was then released into the wilderness, thereby bearing the weight of the nation's guilt.

We need to understand that Jesus was our scapegoat. He bore the guilt of all our sins and our children’s sins, for “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

But when dealing with conflict and failure within our families, there is something in us that still wants to assign blame.

In some families there is one person who is always blamed for problems and thereby carries the weight of the blame.... even when the problem is not truly that person's fault! This is called “scapegoating.”

Obviously, scapegoating a child is very, very dangerous to a child's development! It could lead to shame, guilt, broken relationships, depression, and a whole list of terrible issues.

If a parent makes one child a scapegoat, it can become a family tradition, with the other parent and the siblings joining in. If the family system is deeply involved in "scapegoating," they most assuredly need some serious help.

But what if the problem of "scapegoating" is happening in subtle ways that are not so easy to see?

* The kid who struggles most with remembering to clean up after himself gets blamed automatically in our mind when any mess appears.

* The argumentative child that seems to pick fights easily with his siblings gets blamed instantly when any kid disruption arises.

*The always-late child gets blamed when the family runs behind in getting to church (even when everyone else was slow to get to the car.)

Scapegoating can happen just because it seems so logical; we are busy and don't take time to collect all the facts!

So what can we do? Here are my 5 thoughts....and maybe you can think of more:

1.  Stay alert!
Since we know this can happen, we must keep a watchful eye on ourselves.

2. Have the same heart as Jesus.
Compassionate and just. Ever loving, truthful and forgiving.

3. Bring this issue into the light.
Talk about it as a family. Express a desire for your family to avoid this unhealthy and ungodly temptation to scapegoat anyone.

4. Stop it immediately.
When you note a subtle—or not so subtle—case of scapegoating happening, stop it in its tracks. That will take the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit! Pray for the grace to break the cycle of singling out and blaming the scapegoated child. Forge a new family tradition of respect and love for each member, even when dealing with conflict, failure and disappointment.

5. Repent and let it go.
Sometimes after the problem of scapegoating has been resolved, the conflict lingers on because of hurt, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Help your family to get a fresh start with proper repentance. Ask the Lord to help you speak genuine, loving words of affirmation to all your children, including the one who was previously scapegoated. Then trust God to renew your relationships and write a new chapter in your family's life!


Image: Gianluca Ruggiero “Scapegoat” via Flickr Creative Commons
License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Gratefully linked to:  Making your Home Sing Monday

  • Debra Rose Childers

    My now-4-year old was slow to talk. Because he didn't have words, he developed a habit of screaming (that I am still trying to break). Because usually his sister was doing something to cause the screaming, we fell into the habit of automatically telling her to leave him alone when he screamed. I don't remember what happened that day, but I do remember the moment that I realized we did that. He screamed and I told her to leave him alone and then realized she wasn't anywhere near him. I felt awful and I have since worked to not let that happen anymore. It's so easy to blame the older child who should know better when arguments break out or misbehavior happens. But I have definitely learned that it's better to be sure I know all the facts before deciding on discipline.