We have now been married for seven years and have a six-year-old daughter…. For years… my husband and I were in an abusive relationship and our daughter was witness to all of it. When she was just three years old, she would sometimes beg us to stop fighting, but we just yelled at her and told her to be quiet while we continued fighting.

Two years ago, God transformed our lives and we have tried to change our ways. But our daughter had been mistreated for all those years through our yelling, threats, humiliation, and apathy, as well as through our lack of time with her and affection for her. She has become a complainer, a crybaby, and a pessimist. We know that we are responsible for the damage we have caused her. What can we do to give her back security and happiness, and to try and erase the consequences of the abuse that we subjected her to?

Dear Friend,

Congratulations on your new life as followers of Christ! As you have discovered, a personal relationship with God gives you strength and wisdom to make a better life for yourselves and your family. When God forgives your sins, you no longer have to be concerned about the eternal consequences of your past. However, as you have also learned, God’s forgiveness does not erase the natural consequences of whatever sins you committed in the past or will commit in the future.

You say that your daughter suffered because of your former behavior. If only more parents were willing to recognize the effects of their behavior on their children! Those years can never be taken back, and the ill effects on your daughter may be long lasting.

However, you can begin today to make a better future for your daughter. It is worth noting that negative attitudes and complaining sometimes have a genetic component, so your daughter may have been a pessimist even if she had been born into a constantly happy home. Probably one or more of her parents or grandparents has a pessimistic tendency, and she likely inherited this negative trait from that person.

But whether she inherited it or learned it through her environment, complaining and being a crybaby are traits that you want to influence. If you and your husband are positive in your outlook in your own lives, she will subconsciously take those cues from you. Every time you choose to see a glass as half full instead of half empty, you model that attitude for her.

Read to your daughter every night before she goes to sleep. Choose the true stories of people who have overcome great obstacles. Show her videos of runners who have artificial legs and athletes with no arms. Get involved in programs that feed hungry people and help the homeless, and talk to her about your experiences. As she learns about the truly disadvantaged people around her, your daughter will gradually begin to understand that she has many reasons to be positive about her life.

Practice changing the way you ask your daughter about the details of her life. For example, instead of asking, “How was your day?” which will probably result in a negative answer, ask, “What was the best part of your day?” If she responds with, “Nothing,” then ask, “What part of today would you have changed if you were the teacher?” And each time she gives a negative answer, determine to change the question the next time so that she can’t answer so pessimistically.

We wish you well,