Parents of Wayward Children and Memorial Day

Memorial Flag for my dad a WWII veteran

Memories.  They can be wonderful.  They can be terrible.  Tomorrow is Memorial day.  A day to remember.  We will pause as Americans to remember and give thanks for all who now serve or have served in the armed forces.  We will honor those who gave their lives in that service.

Parents of our servicemen/women have both wonderful and terrible memories of the things their child has experienced.  I think I have something in common with them.  We both have memories we treasure and memories we wish we could forget.  Some have had their children return home maimed for life.  Some gave the ultimate sacrifice – their children’s lives.  Both of us had no choice.  We had to accept what life gave us.  When that includes loss and grief, we want to forget.  We want to deny and run away from the pain.

As parents in pain because of our children’s destructive choices, there are some things we must not forget.

First, we must not forget to feel our feelings.   We tend to deny or run away from overwhelming emotions.  It’s too hard.  It’s too frightening.  We must find a way to stand strong and face them.  Our child may still be alive, but we are grieving.  We are grieving the loss of the dreams we had for them.  By facing this pain it loses some of its devastating power over us.  We find peace.  We find freedom.

Second, we must not forget the good memories we had with them.  Dear mom or dad, no matter how bad things are with your son or daughter today it wasn’t always that way.   I want to encourage you to pause —  take a few minutes to remember the good years you had with them.  There were good times.  It hasn’t all been bad.  It just feels like it.  There is a lot to remember and give thanks for.

So tonight or tomorrow pause and remember.  Get out your old photo albums and home videos.  Jog your memory.  Use them to help you remember better times.  Have your own Memorial Day (and be sure to give thanks).   Remember the fun, the laughter, the love.  The “remembering” may hurt and re-open some wounds.  There will probably be a few tears shed, a few sighs of longing for what was.  But try not to get stuck there.   Remembering just might bring you some healing.   There were so many precious moments . . .  so many things to be thankful for . . . for what you did have with them . . . for what they added to your life.

Yes, things have changed, but hold on to your loving memories.  They are a gift.

I thank you God for the many good, loving memories we shared and for the ability to remember.  I don’t have Alzheimer’s yet!   Although sometimes I wonder!    :o)

Parents in Pain Need to Forgive

Forgiveness.  For parents walking the path of having a difficult child this is part of the journey.  If your child is causing you a lot of heartache and pain forgiveness doesn’t come easy.  When alcohol or drugs are being abused, when they are cutting or burning themselves, have an eating disorder, are confused about their sexual orientation or have been in and out of trouble with the law there has been a lot that needs forgiving.

Our beloved children have made choices that have cost us a lot:   Loss of health.  Loss of sleep.  Loss of time at work.   Loss of finances – money spent trying to help them.   Loss of or damage to our realtionships – with them, with our spouse, with our other children, maybe even with our friends.  Loss of our emotional and mental well-being.  Our faith can be weakened.  We may even have walked away from God.  How dare he let this happen to us?

We need to experience forgiveness on several levels.

1)  We need to forgive our child for how they hurt us.  And they have hurt us deeply.  It is an open gaping wound for some of us.  A mortal blow for others.  Broken hearts.  Shattered dreams.  Surgery of the soul will be required for our healing.  The pain of rejection and watching them destroy themselves.  A death has occured.  We are thrown into a period of grieving the unthinkable loss of all we hoped and dreamed of for our precious son or daughter.

2)  We need to forgive ourselves for not being the perfect parent (there isn’t one — only God!)  Be easy on yourself.  Refuse to believe the lie that it is all your fault.  You didn’t make them choose what they have.  You did the best you could.  No matter how badly you may have blown it, it doesn’t excuse their choices.

3)  We need to forgive othersthose who hurt our child.  Those who encouraged their behavior, sold them drugs, took advantage of them or hurt them in some way.  This is a biggie. This was very difficult for me.  My daughter has been raped by men who took advantage of her when she was drunk.  I had so much unforgiveness in my heart toward them.  It wasn’t hurting them at all – only me.  Forgiving them has been a long slow process for me.  Your friends may walk away, too.  They can’t handle your pain.  Your suitcase is too heavy for them.  They want to, but they can’t carry it.  It’s not their fault.  They just can’t do it.  It’s too hard.  They can’t understand.

Louise Smedes said it so well: “The first and only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness….When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”

4)  We may even need to forgive God.  Sounds strange, doesn’t it?  It can be very difficult to accept that while he is all-powerful and could have prevented them from going astray, he gave them free will to choose for themselves what they will do with their lives.  We blame him for not protecting them from the bad things that happened to them as a result, even though they were the natural consequences of their choices.  God doesn’t need to be forgiven because he didn’t do this TO them.  WE need to forgive him, if we are blaming him and resentment is building up in us.

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness.  These are two of my favorite verses on the subject:

“Be kind and compassionate to each other, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:32)

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34)

Why should I forgive?  Because Jesus has forgiven me and it is for my well-being.  If he forgave those who brutally crucified him then I can forgive.   He  is my example.  This is what motivated the Amish parents in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, to forgive the young men who murdered their children in the school shooting several years ago.  He is the how and the why of forgiving.

Forgiveness.  We need to offer it.  If we don’t it will only lead to bitterness.  It is the only way to lance our wounds before they fester and make us sick.  I encourage you to make this journey of forgiveness. It is not easy.  It is not quick.  It is a long, slow process.  It takes a lot of hard work.  But if you choose to forgive, you will be set you free.

You can read more about how the Amish community forgave in the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy available from Amazon. 

Heartbroken Parents Need to be Resilient

Resilience.  The ability to recover or adjust quickly after setbacks or difficulties.  To bounce back after going through a tragedy or setback.  Bouyancy.

Do you feel stretched?

This is a character quality that I need.  As brokenhearted parents we all need this.  We have been through so many difficulties and setbacks.  When our children our abusing alcohol or drugs; when they are cutting or burning themselves; starving themselves; binging and purging; when they are sexually promiscuous, confused about their sexual orientation; when they have a mental illness and are refusing treatment; when they have attempted suicide or are threatening to do so . . . .  How well do you find yourself recovering?  Are you bouyant or are you sinking?

Resilient is also defined as: “The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed; elasticity”.   I sure feel like I’ve been bent and compressed.  Crushed.  Definitely “stretched” like a rubberband.  However, I have become alot more elastic and bouyant than I used to be.  Much more than I was before I went through these years of bending and stretching.

Life-shaking.  Traumatizing.  Bone-wearying.  Draining.  I lost my zest for life.  Have you?  At one point I even despaired of life itself.  I actually wished my life would end (or that my child’s would – as horrible as it is to admit that).  What I was going through was so horrific it actually felt like it would have been easier.  It would have ended the pain.

How can you rebound and snap back to who you once were?  Is it really possible?

For me it is only through my faith in a loving God that I have been able to bounce back and recover.  It has been a long, slow process.  Many have helped me along the way.  Friends, pastors, counselors, rehab center staff, support groups —  all have played a part.  Reading.  Resting.  Being easy on myself.  Simplifying my life.  Giving myself permission to feel my feelings.  Accepting that I am not perfect.  Accepting the issues that my child faces, then learning as much as I can about them.  Taking One Day at a Time.  Releasing my need for control.  Letting go of a desired outcome yet holding on to hope.  Giving thanks, even in the worst of times.

Resilience.  It’s a good goal to aim for.   We can do it!   We can recover and bounce back!

This Bible verse has greatly encouraged me as I have worked on my recovery:

“Now he (God) is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

When Mother’s Day Hurts

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  A special day of joy for many moms, but a sad day of emotional pain for many others.  If your child is causing you a lot of heartache and pain due to their negative behaviors (alcohol and drug abuse, self harm, an eating disorder, trouble with the law, same sex identity issue, etc.) it is a day that you wish you could skip.  Every holiday hurts, but Mother’s Day feels the worst.  This one focuses on all that you wish you had with your child but have lost.  It elevates your pain.  It reminds you about your broken dreams and your broken heart.  The reminders are everywhere.  TV commercials, stores where you shop, ads on the internet and in the newspaper.  You’re surrounded.

You may hear from your child.  You may not. You may see them.  You may not.  You may get a card.  You may not.  Maybe you would just be happy to know where they are or that they are okay.  If any of these describe you, I have 5 tips for you.  They are the same I give on every holiday.  They really do help.  I hope something here will help you.

5 Tips for Surviving Mother’s Day:

1) Adjust your expectations – lower them.  If you can, let go of them altogether.  This will help you be content with whatever happens.  Let go of needing a certain thing to happen.  If you don’t you are setting yourself up to be hurt and disappointed.

2) Consider doing things differently – maybe your former traditions will just make you more sad or be too difficult to do in light of your situation.

3) Avoid social media – hearing about your friend’s blessings with their children can make you feel worse than you already do and envious (not good)

4) Focus on others – do something for someone else who is hurting or lonely

5) Be grateful – keep giving thanks no matter how you feel; start a gratitude journal (even the smallest things count!)

A book that will comfort you and help you keep your sense of humor (is that possible?) is Where Does a Mother Go to Resign? by Barbara Johnson.  Click here to watch Barbara herself say a few words about it on Youtube.   I just finished reading one of her other books, When Your Child Breaks Your Heart,  and found it very insightful.  She’s been in the pit of despair yet found her way out.  Two of her sons died and a third was living a gay lifestyle.  She lost her sense of humor for a while, but through her faith she found it again.

Laughter.  Hmmm . . . maybe this should be #6 on my list?  Laugh.  Laugh hard if you can.  Let’s be honest.  It may make you angry with me for suggesting such a thing.  You may be wondering how in the world you can laugh again?  I know.  I’ve been there.  But if you can find a way to have a really good laugh it will do so much for you.  It releases those “feel good” chemicals throughout your body.  So, go watch a funny movie.  Read some jokes (or have someone tell you a few!).  Watch silly Youtube videos.  I like America’s Funniest Videos and re-runs of really old sitcoms like I Love Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show and Happy Days.  Whoa.  They are really old, aren’t they? Maybe that will give you a laugh!  I am so glad God created us with the capacity for humor and laughter.  I need to go add that to my gratitude journal!  Ha!  :o)

Happy Mother’s Day and God bless you with his comforting love.  And may He give you the gift of a good laugh sometime during the day.  If you need a little help click on a few of the links above and watch a one of the video clips.   I bet something there will help you laugh!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh . . .”(Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4a)

LAUGH!!!

Hurting Parents Can Cope

When you feel like you are losing it because of your son or daughter’s behaviors and choices how do you cope?  What do you do to keep your sanity if your child is struggling with alcohol, drugs, self harming behaviors, suicide, same sex identity issues, or a mental illness?  How do you regain your emotional capacity to simply keep going?  Where do you turn when you want to quit?  How do you hit the “refresh” button for your heart and soul?  Don’t you wish you had one?  I do!

Writer Oswald Chambers said, “God does not give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome.”  Overcoming.  That’s what I am thinking about.  How can we do that when we feel so overcome, so overwhelmed?  The dictionary defines “to overcome” as: suceeding in dealing with a difficulty or problem; prevailing over, getting on top of or conquering; to win a victory over.  That’s it!  My goal is to overcome these things, not BE overcome by them!  So, back to the question of how we can cope.

Here are 6 ways to cope when feeling overcome by negative emotions:

1)  Be honest – with yourself, with God our wonderful Counselor, with your family and close friends; don’t keep this trial a secret – it will only get harder on you and you desperately need support.  Begin to face the frightening possibilities.  Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself how you feel.  Write it down in a journal and talk about it with a trusted friend, and with God.  There is real healing power in saying these things out loud, too.

2)  Pray, pray and pray some more.  Keep believing in the power of prayer.  There’s no magic formula, but it CAN change things.  Bring your child and your pain to God and leave it all in his hands.  He can handle it.  He will always answer – yes, no or wait.  He is the great Comforter and is the only one who really understands exactly how you feel, and what you are going through.  So talk to him!  Tell him you want to trust Him to walk you through everything that happens.  He’s listening and He cares more than you can imagine!

3)  Name your pain – are you aware of what you are feeling?  Or are you confused?  Maybe you just know you feel really bad;  anxious, worried, irritable, frightened, angry, upset & depressed.  Ask God to help you identify them.  Counselors say we have 4 main emotions – mad, sad, glad and scared.  Which one(s) are you feeling right now?  Take a minute and see if you can identify one or two.  Write them down.

4)  Join a support group or start one!  Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are two good choices.  They even have online groups!  Being with others going through the same thing is so comforting.  You can strengthen each other and be in a safe place to process your feelings.  If you would like to start one but aren’t sure how I would love to help you!  Send me a message and I will contact youthrough email !  My husband and I are available to coach anyone wanting to start a group.  If we can do it you can, too!

5) Calm down – take deep cleansing breaths; redirect your attention by focusing on something or someone else; do whatever relaxes you – make a list and post it somewhere to remind you to do those things!  Start doing them one by one.

6)  Prepare for the worst – think of what the worst thing is that could happen and face it.  Doing this desensitizes you if it should happen.  You have already felt the intensity and weight of those emotions and walked through them in your mind.  I did this and it really did help me!

My last suggestion is to pray and ask God to show you new ways to cope.  During this time work on making a list (I mentioned this above) of 20 things you can do to cope with your negative emotions.  Include things you like to do to distract you, relax you or comfort you.  Post it where you can see it (maybe on your bathroom mirror!) to remind you to begin doing them!  Experiment with them and see which ones work best for you!  Whenever you feel overcome by your emotions go get your list and use it!

In my next post I will tell you what some of the things are on my list!  The picture I used in this post is one of those things.  I like to go outside and enjoy nature.  This is one of my favorite places.  Lord, help us overcome instead of being overcome!  Teach us how to cope!

Two Bible verses that have helped me cope many times are:

Philippians 4: 6-7  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

I Peter 5:7  “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”