Questions From Readers
● What are the obligations of Christian parents toward a mentally retarded child?—M.L., U.S.A.
First Timothy 5:8 is very specific and unmistakable in saying: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” So parents are under obligation to provide for their children, even though they may be retarded, if at all able to do so. Remember, such mental handicap is due to no fault of the child but rather to circumstances, such as an unfortunate birth or early fall, or to the imperfection of the parents.
Parental obligation includes providing not only material but also spiritual needs. Christian parents may not ignore the instructions set forth at Deuteronomy 6:4-7, about the way a father should talk about God’s law with his son no matter where they may be together. Not to be overlooked also is the command at Ephesians 6:4, about bringing up children in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah. If a child became the ward of the State, he would certainly not be able to receive life-giving instruction such as a loving parent would be able to impart, in obedience to his Scriptural obligation as a dedicated Christian.
By seeing to it that the child gets this discipline and admonition from Jehovah, the parent is providing for the child’s eternal salvation. The obligation to help others to salvation calls first of all for you to help members of your own family to do so, especially if you are a parent and the children are minors dependent upon you for proper religious instruction, guidance and assistance. Would it make sense to go out and try to help others who are strangers to gain salvation while at the same time neglecting a dependent child, your own flesh and blood?
Merely the amount of time you may devote to the ministry is no reason to shift this responsibility. However, if the child is so retarded mentally as to be incapable of taking in any spiritual food or knowledge by which he can exercise faith and gain salvation, this might have a bearing upon whether parents would choose to turn him over to others, such as state welfare institutions, to care for him. Still it may not be overlooked that the child, as the ward of the State, even though regularly visited by the parents, may be subjected to spiritual dangers such as may come from blood transfusions, the celebration of pagan or nationalistic holidays, and so forth. These are some of the things the parents also must consider.
True, having a retarded child in the home may prove to be quite a burden to the rest of the family. But if it can at all be borne, and, in particular, if the child is able to benefit spiritually from being in a Christian home, by all means that burden should be borne. By doing this the parents will be doing the right thing; their course will conform to the Scriptural requirements and will have God’s approval and blessing. In the long run this will be the best course, especially if every member of the family joins in the relief program.
Caring for a retarded child should be viewed as a challenge in such cases, in particular, a challenge to manifest the fruitage of the spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) A modern authoritative work says concerning retarded children: “They are affectionate . . . and often loved by their mothers and other children in the family. . . . In many cases it is possible for them to be looked after at home, a much happier solution than putting them in mental institutions. If this is to be done, however, the mother must accept the situation and not expect the child will [become normal]. She must love the child but not neglect the other children, or feel guilt.”—Neo-Natal Pediatrics, W. R. F. Collis.
Whether certain medications will prove helpful for retarded children to any degree is problematical; but in at least some cases, such as in the use of glutamic acid, there has been improvement. Concerning glutamic acid the Modern Drug Encyclopedia and Therapeutic Index (Eighth Edition, 1961) says: “Clinical observations suggest the possible value of natural glutamic acid in the improvement of personality and intellectual performance of mentally retarded children and adults.” To what extent such a product would prove helpful may depend upon heredity and sex factors as well as whether the child is being cared for by his parents or not.—Science News Letter, January 12, 1952.
Each case would have to be determined on its own merits, the seriousness of the situation, the ability of the family to take care of the child and the benefits the child would be able to gain from being at home with other loving family members.—1 Cor. 13:4-8.