Hurting Parents and Their Bodies

exerciseToday’s post is from my dear husband, Tom. I hope you enjoy his writings as much as I do. He will be posting twice a month:

As the pain increases and the heartache is prolonged, we hurting parents begin to let go of other things that were important in our lives at one time. These could be other relationships, doing fun things with our spouse, enjoying good music or hobbies.

Another thing we let go of is our health.  This can show up in our eating, sleeping and exercise patterns. We find ourselves at the doctor’s office more, then picking up medications at the drugstore we didn’t need in the past. Surgery or other procedures need to be scheduled. Perhaps medical equipment is on the night stand next to our bed that used to be reserved for a good book.

Stress is dangerous when it’s prolonged. Stress over a child struggling with issues we have no control over can destroy us as well.

Maybe our health wasn’t that good before our children decided to make destructive choices. This agony doesn’t help. Sometimes it gives us a false excuse to continue making destructive decisions ourselves.

I am convinced that finding the courage to start engaging in physical exercise of some kind will prove to be a positive step in reducing the negative effects  of stress on our bodies. We may find our moods lifting, our energy increasing, our outlook brighter and over time our bodies will thank us for loving them, too.

How Hurting Parents Can Live With an Unsolved Problem

wildflowersParents long to have a special relationship with their children. We have a deep emotional attachment along with a strong sense of responsibility. When we bring children into the world we eagerly watch them grow under our loving guidance.

Then one day we realize something’s very wrong. Our child has a problem — it may be with drugs, alcohol, self harm, an eating disorder,  pornography, same sex identity issues, or a  mental illness. We wonder how we can live with this unsolved problem that’s breaking our heart. That described me. Does it you, too?

We try everything in our power to stop their behaviors. We forgive, make excuses, cover up, smooth out &  believe everything they tell us. When our first attempts at changing their behaviors don’t work, we try demanding or controlling them. But nothing we say or do works.

If they live at home we’re sickened by the daily experience of putting up with unacceptable behavior. We listen anxiously for them to come in at night, or sneak out at night. We fear the phone ringing in the middle of the night. We’re  afraid of all the what-ifs. We’re angry at them, their friends, and ourselves. We’re full of guilt and shame. We torture ourselves asking: “What did I do wrong?”  “How could I have prevented this?” “What should I do now?” “How can I help them?” Sadness over all that’s lost never leaves. We become so obsessed with them we tend to neglect our other relationships, including ourselves.

Are we supposed to stop caring? Impossible. How can we live with this unsolved problem?

I’ve struggled with all of these. These are four things that can help you. They helped me:

1. We can stop our enabling, nagging and criticizing, controlling and protecting, making their problems ours.

2. We can practice courageous love. We can learn to let go and let God, allowing our children to become responsible for their own problems.

3. We can trust God and take one day at a time. Learning to trust more is the key to worrying less. We find relief. We don’t have to be chained to the despair we’ve known. We can know that whatever happens – whether our child is ever okay or not – we will be alright. We find peace.

4. We can join a support group. They offer a safe place to process your feelings with others who understand.  Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Celebrate Recovery are great. You can google them to find  a group near you. They’re also online.

By doing these four things, hurting parents can learn to live with an unsolved problem. No matter what happens they can know that  God will use it to bring good in their children’s lives and in theirs.

The Serenity Prayer is  perfect for us:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference.

What do Hurting Parents and Martin Luther King have in common?

I’ve been thinking about this all week. What do hurting parents and Martin Luther King have in common? I’m referring to parents whose children are making destructive, even life-threatening, choices and are facing difficult circumstances because of mental illness. The famous line in King’s speech tells letting go with starsthe answer, “I have a dream.”

Dreams. What dreams did you have for your troubled child?  Maybe they were a lot like mine.

  • To have a close, loving relationship.
  • To have their respect and listen to your advice.
  • To enjoy them and their friends while growing up.
  • To graduate from high school, then graduate from college.
  • To use their talents and abilities  to the fullest potential.
  • To get married to someone you feel good about, then have grandchildren.
  • To be a responsible, productive adult.
  • To enjoy a healthy, meaningful relationship with each other as adults.
  • To embrace your faith as their own and live lives of integrity. This would be icing on your dream-cake.

Does it still hurt to remember? Have you tried to forget – to let it all go? Do you still struggle with a nagging ache in your stomach, a longing for what could have been? Today I’ve found a lot of peace and acceptance with the disappointments, but sometimes I still feel this way.

It’s painful to watch dreams die.

What do you do with all that disappointment and regret?

How do you make peace with what you have no control over?

How do you make sense out of shattered dreams?

Here’s what I did. I remembered these things:

1. God is with me. I do not suffer alone. He’ll never leave me.

2. God understands and hurts with me.

3. He still has dreams for my child – it’s never too late. He’ll never stop seeking them.

4. God can use my pain to help me discover a deeper desire for Him.

Larry Crabb, in his book Shattered Dreams, says this: “Pain is a tragedy. But it’s never only a tragedy. For the Christian, it’s always a necessary mile on the long journey to joy.” (pg.4)

Joy? When dreams shatter we can find joy if we remember these four things. We can choose to let suffering drive us to the heart of God. And there we will find our deepest satisfaction.

In Him.

May He, the One True God, bring us to really believe that intimately knowing Him can bring more pleasure than seeing our children straighten out.

Will you choose to have an encounter with God in your pain? Bring Him your shattered dreams and see if He will become your Sovereign joy.

Here are two Scripture verses for your encouragement:

“I will never stop doing good to them . . . I will rejoice in doing them good.”  (Jeremiah 32:40-41)

Even though everything looks bad, “. . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength . . .”  (Habakkuk 3:17-18) English Standard Version

A Techique Parents in Pain Need to Learn

MaldivesAre you a parent who has walked through turbulent waters with your child? Maybe things are better today, yet something’s “off”, strained.

Is it difficult to have a healthy conversation? Do you feel like you’re walking on egg shells? Does the tension between you never quite go away? Does your daughter frequently seem to be a little angry or annoyed with you?

Does your son repeatedly make negative comments toward you — correcting you, telling you that you’re wrong, implying he’s right? Have you struggled to put your finger on what’s going on? Have you wondered what you could do about it?

If you have, then you’ll be happy to know there is a technique you can try. Therapists call it containing. Here is a layman’s description: Containing is when you give a person who has been holding in a lot of negative feelings the opportunity to fully express them to the individual they have the feelings about. This is done without interruption; letting them vent freely, for the purpose of receiving positive benefits in the relationship. With all the pent-up anger released, a healthier relationship may be the outcome.

This is a detailed explanation from a friend of mine who tried it with her son at the recommendation of a counselor:

1. Choose the right time and place when no one is rushed and you have privacy.

2. Tell your child you want to ask them a very important question. Say, This may sound strange, but I want you to tell me everything I’ve ever done wrong as your parent. Everything that you’re upset with me about or that bothers you about me and our relationship. I want to hear it all.

3. Then just listen. Bite your tongue. Put duck tape over your mouth if you have to. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to explain. Don’t get mad or offended. Don’t cry or look shocked. Just take it and stay calm. Maintain eye contact and offer body language that lets them know you hear them and are validating their feelings. Brace yourself, they may explode all over you. It may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done.

4. Usually, after about an hour — yes,that long — they will begin to calm down and say something like, “Wow, you didn’t get angry, or cry or ______ (you fill in the blank). I didn’t know what to expect when you asked me that question.” The hope is that then they will begin to think that maybe they can have a relationship with you.

5. Now you can begin to build a bridge. You’re more approachable. As God leads, you may ask forgiveness for some things that seem appropriate, but don’t cower or apologize for what you shouldn’t — like having healthy boundaries or refusing to enable — or for things that weren’t your fault. You did you best. No one is perfect.

6. If they don’t calm down and begin to soften towards you after you’ve listened and received their criticisms,  if they have the need for you to agree with how bad a parent you were — how controlling, how absent, etc.– then say, “I would love to have a relationship with you, but I’m going to have to limit my contact with you. I will always love you, nothing will ever change that, but I can’t be around you too much as long as you feel this way about me. It hurts me too much. I hope that some day you will change your mind.”

God, I don’t know if this will help in the relationship I have with my child or not, but I’m willing to try. I guess it can’t hurt. Who knows, it just might become the bridge to new beginning with them. I’d love that. But I’m so afraid of what I might hear. Please help me. Give me the courage I lack to ask this question and then give me the strength to simply listen.  Amen.

Scripture: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6  NIV

Five Things I Learned About Parenting From Cooking

Are you a parent who wishes there was a fail-proof formula for raising children that would guarantee the results you were aiming? How I wish bridal shower 6there was a formula to follow that would assure your children would never abuse alcohol, never have a drug problem, never self injure, suffer from a mental illness, become suicidal, be arrested, have an eating disorder or be confused about their sexual orientation. Where is the book to read? What seminar will make us this promise? If someone could write it or produce it they could become rich. Parents would line up to buy the book or sign up for the seminar.

Stop looking. No such thing exists.

There’s no secret recipe to follow that will guarantee a certain outcome. X, Y, Z ingredients mixed and beaten together in the right proportions, in the right way do not a formula make for the perfect son or daughter. In cooking yes, in parenting, not so much. God didn’t even get this and he is the perfect parent. Read the third chapter of Genesis. God’s first two children didn’t even turn out right! If there was a formula wouldn’t he have followed it?

It’s not all your fault. If you think it is, you are wrong.

There are many good principles to follow in child rearing, but it doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free adult in the end.

These are five things I learned about parenting from cooking?

1. There’s no magic, fool-proof recipe for raising the perfect child. Even though you do you best, sometimes you don’t get the results you expected.

2. You must be willing to alter your recipe when dealing with problem behaviors to take into account each of your children’s personalities. Adapt the recipe where it’s needed.

3. If your meal is a flop –you end up with a troubled child who is determined to make destructive choices — it’s not all your fault. Your son or daughter has a free will, just like Adam and Eve. Their choices are not a reflection on your parenting, but on them. They are the one with a problem.

4. When you encounter situations you can’t handle on your own turn to others for help. Go to cooking school if needed. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Maybe you even need the help of a professional. After all, the best chefs go to culinary arts school and learn from the best, don’t they? We don’t get the benefit of training before we become parents. We did the best we could and sometimes we need a little help.

5. Stop criticizing yourself. So you weren’t the greatest cook on the block — we can’t all be Paula Dean. Accept your faults, ask forgiveness where appropriate for your mistakes and move forward. Let it go and give it to God. Ask him for help and get busy learning how to do better, then trust God for your next steps. Trust him to work in your child’s life where you cannot.

You still may not be the best “cook” in the world, but you can have peace knowing you did your best. You can rest in God and find comfort in Him.

Scripture to chew on:

Our help is in the name of the Lord our God, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

When I pray you answer me, you encourage me by giving me the strength I need.  (Psalm 138:3)

Something Parents in Pain Hate to Do

Something I hate to do is wait, especially when I’m waiting for something I want to have happen. I can wait for a long time with no problem at all  for something I’mfrozen dreading:  A doctor’s appointment; results of a medical test; getting my teeth cleaned; a meeting to resolve some conflict or inter-personal problem – anything unpleasant. I don’t really want these things to happen. They can take a long time to occur as far as I’m concerned. That’s just fine with me.

But waiting for something I want to have happen,well, that’s quite different. I don’t like to wait for those things. You’re probably a lot like me.

This kind of waiting feels like a barren, frozen wasteland. And waiting for  my child to change when they’re making life-threatening choices involving drugs or alcohol, suffering from self injury, an eating disorder or mental illness, make repeated suicide attempts, in bondage to pornography, or are attracted to the same sex, is pure agony.

During a time in my life when I was having a particularly difficult time waiting for changes in my daughter’s life, I came across a book I found to be quite helpful. It had a huge impact on me when all I could do was cry out to God saying, “Help!”

I decided to share part of it with you in today’s post. The authors are two moms who have been there and understand what we go through every day. I hope their writing will encourage you as it did me.

“Of all the strategies we could suggest, waiting is perhaps the hardest. Somehow we feel better about dealing with our prodigals if we can take action – it gives us the false illusion that we are in control of things. The truth is, we’re not in control. 

When Love is A Four Letter Word for a Parent

sad heartI am the mother of a twenty-seven year old daughter who has struggled for years with a drug and alcohol sad heartaddiction, cutting, brain disorders (bipolar and more) and suicidal tendencies. It’s been a long, hard road full of countless experiences I thought I could not bear. In the last fifteen years my love for her has brought me intense pain and heartache. Love became a four letter word, but I have found my way to hope and peace, so I wrote this for those of you who are still trying to find your way there.
For brokenhearted parents love is a four letter word.
What was meant to bring joy has become a portal to pain,
A highway to hell,
A frightening roller coaster ride you can’t get off, that never stops.
A haunted house, a maze with no way out.
A hurricane with no eye of relief.
A wound that never heals.
Because we love our children deeply, we suffer deeply.
When they break, we break.
Their tears stain our cheeks.
We walk around with our hearts unprotected,
On the outside of our chests
Bleeding and exposed.
Their madness our insanity.
Could it be possible that their dying not be ours?
Our cold hearts beat again?
Our life not so wrapped up in theirs?
I believe that yes, it is.
Because of love, that four letter word.Yet love is also the place where hope lives.
Hope, another four letter word.
So hold on to love and hold onto hope
For Both are gifts from God.
In Him we love 
In Him we live
In Him make peace with pain
Until our dead hearts come back to life,
Until they beat again.

Though we break and bleed.
Wounds can heal.

Relief be found.

We can be restored.

In God                                                              hands with bandaid heart
In His life
In His presence
In His unfailing love
In that terribly, wonderful
Four letter word.
Brokenhearted parents can find
The pathway to continue to endure.