A Good Question for Parents of Troubled Teens or Adults to Ask

Can You Carry My Suitcase?

Parents who suffer over the destructive behaviors and choices of their teen to adult children long to find someone who can walk the lonely path with them. Alcohol, drugs, self-injury, eating disorders, mental illness, Same-Sex Attraction (SSA), gambling and video game addictions, incarceration, pornography . . . the list of troubles we might encounter is long. Saying them out loud to someone is incredulous. We shudder in shame. And so we hide.

We know. We’ve walked that path and feeling alone only made it worse.

Your pain is deep. You long for someone to share it with. If I don’t get this out, I think I’ll explode, may be your ongoing thought. But to whom do you entrust these intimate family details? Who will listen well, suspend judgement, and keep a confidence?

Try asking yourself, “Can they carry my suitcase?” What in the world does that mean?

This question comes from a story about a father of two daughters:

One day he gave the older daughter the sex talk. The younger daughter overheard faint parts and became curious. After her sister left, she went to her father, “When will you give me this talk?” But he brushed her off, changing the subject.

After several days, the father and younger daughter went on a train ride to visit family. The father put their two large suitcases in the overhead compartment. When they reached their destination, there hadn’t been much conversation between them. The father asked her, “Will you please reach up and get our suitcases down?”

“Daddy, I can’t! They’re too heavy. They might fall on me and hurt me!” The father picked her up and lovingly placed her on his lap. He spoke with deep affection and gentleness. “You’re right, my child. I love you very much and I’d never ask you to carry something too heavy, that could hurt you. For this reason, I need you to trust me. I’ll have the talk about sex with you when I think you’re old enough and strong enough to handle it.”

What does this story have to do with hurting parents?

As the issues with our daughter became more serious, we had no idea who we could to talk to. No one we knew was going through anything similar. Most of our co-workers had younger children or none at all. They could listen with empathy, but couldn’t understand.

Other friends had older teens with no problems at all. With pride they’d brag about their marvelous kids and the universities they were selecting. We, by contrast, were selecting a rehab. What a conversation stopper! They listened and cared, but they couldn’t understand or respond in a way that was helpful.

Sadly, some pulled away and rejected us. Did we have a contagious disease they were afraid of catching? Did they secretly blame us for our daughter’s behavior problems? Maybe.

We understood, from a parent’s standpoint, why they didn’t want their kids hanging out with our daughter, particularly with the behaviors she was exhibiting. Yet, that didn’t explain why they pulled away from us. For whatever reasons, now we understand that they weren’t able to carry the suitcase of our burdens. They were too heavy. It wasn’t their fault. They weren’t trying to be cruel. Our pain was simply beyond their capacity.

Their reaction intensified our pain, leaving us deeply wounded. Have you experienced this, too?

It’s taken a long time, but today we can say that’s okay. We’ve forgiven them.

Dear parent, when we learn to ask ourselves the suitcase question, it can help us decide who we can talk to about our heavy issues. It can give us a perspective we hadn’t considered before and temper some of our anger from past hurts.

Asking yourself the question isn’t a flawless solution, but it can help.

“Can ________ carry my suitcase or is it too heavy for them?”

Here are 4 tips to consider:

  1. Be cautious with parents of younger or “perfect” children.
  2. Start small. Invite the person to coffee and share only a little while watching for red flags. Do they preach, look shocked, give pat answers, make you feel uncomfortable or judged? If yes, then don’t share any more.
  3. Look for people who have suffered great trials (illness, divorce or loss of any kind) and held on to their faith. They tend to be better listeners; more accepting and compassionate.
  4. Go to a support group. You’ll meet others there who are going through something similar. If you need help finding one or would like help starting one, please contact us.

These tips can help protect you from expressing your pain to someone who isn’t able to carry it. You can spare yourself from being hurt or rejected, and them from a burden they aren’t prepared for or able to handle.

Lord, show me how to discern if someone can carry my suitcase or not. Help me forgive those who can’t, who’ve hurt me in the past. They simply weren’t able to bear my burden. Please bring people into my life who can. What a gift they will be, like a healing tree.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

This Bible verse summarizes today’s topic:

“Dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak  and slow to become angry ” (James 1:19).

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