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Archive for the ‘Adult Children’ Category

4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Lieryn Barnett

The apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his side that he pleaded with God three times to remove (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Biblical scholars aren’t sure exactly what Paul’s thorn was, but I can tell you mine: bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed as an adolescent and have pleaded with God more than thrice to remove this from me.

It took me longer than Paul to hear God telling me that His grace is sufficient.

Mental illness can still be a highly stigmatized topic in the church. For those who do not have such struggles, suicidal ideations and the extreme despair that come with clinical depression can be difficult to understand. Although many Christians know the trial of occasional anxiety or depressed feelings, people with a diagnosed mental illness face unique challenges.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Mental illness is not a new phenomenon.

And the same biblical truths that have encouraged Christians for centuries can encourage those who suffer with mental illness today. Though we may continue to struggle daily in the “bottomless pit” of the mind, we can cling to four encouragements.

1. You Are Not Alone

God’s people have suffered—mentally, emotionally, and physically—since the fall. Even Christ himself cried out in despair on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), echoing a psalm of lament (Ps. 22:1). When we suffer, we are not alone.

What’s more, mental illness is probably more common than you know. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience mental-health issues.

You are almost certainly not the only one in your congregation dealing with issues arising from mental illness. Speaking openly about your mental-health issues will allow others to share their own struggles and will enable you to care for one another.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

Though mental illness is a result of the fall, my affliction—like that of the man born blind (John 9:3)—isn’t punishment for my sins or the sins of my parents. Mental illness may not be my fault, but it can be my opportunity to speak truth about Christ’s love to others.

Of course, sin can exacerbate mental illness, or stir up depression or anxiety. Sin spreads the infection of the darkness, which is why it’s so important to have people point you to Christ. If we repent and turn our focus to Christ, we can allow the light—however dim it may appear—to seep in. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) is a promise for good days and for dark ones, too.

3. God Sees You and Is with You

We have a personal Savior who experiences emotions. As you suffer the effects of mental illness, you can remember the nearness of Christ. He weeps with you, as he wept with Lazarus’s family (John 11:35). He knew the resurrecting work he was about to do, but he sobbed with anger anyway. Likewise, he knows how he is going to work in and through your life, and he is with you in the midst of it.

By grace, he sent the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor, to be with you, to help you. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Rom. 8:27). He cries out for you when you can’t form words, but only sounds of despair (Rom. 8:26).

Remain steadfast, therefore, for there is great hope: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We are all broken in our own ways, but Christ makes us whole. He lights up the darkest corners of my heart and mind (2 Cor. 4:6). He pulls me out of the deepest pit (Job 33:28Ps. 40:2; 103:4Lam. 3:55). And if he sees fit, he will use me to reach others (2 Cor. 4:7–10).

4. God’s Word Speaks to You

The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about mental and emotional anguish. Look at Job or the psalms of lament, which compose the largest category of psalms. These are songs of people crying out to God in despair:

  • “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16).
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps. 42:5).
  • “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3).

Yet even most psalms of lament end positively, reminding their hearers of God’s faithfulness. Like God’s people throughout history, we often forget everything he has already done for us and the promises he continues to fulfill.

Keep these truths somewhere you can be reminded of them often. Share them with a close friend, family member, or accountability partner who can remind you when you forget or when you don’t have the energy or willpower to remind yourself. God’s Word speaks to you on even the hardest days.

My thorn may never leave my side, but I can rejoice in the greatness and sovereignty of my mighty God. This illness continues to remind me that God’s grace is sufficient for me. I pray that God would make known his strength in my weakness.

You’re Never Responsible for Your Parents’ Feelings

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Micah had taken an overdose of drugs. At 24, he had dropped out of school and was living at home.

Since his parents were “good Christians,” his behavior was very upsetting to them. It tarnished their image to their group of friends, so they brought him to therapy.

As Micah and I began to explore why he was suicidally depressed, I discovered that his parents were having serious marital problems. They would get into screaming fights and then wouldn’t speak to each other for days. They would bring Micah into conflict. Micah’s father would ask Micah to ask Micah’s mother something, and vice versa.

At other times, Micah’s parents would both confide in him about the other person, instead of confronting each other directly. Micah’s mother told him that she could never stand to be left alone with his father. If Micah left home, they would divorce. If that happened, she said, she would commit suicide, implying it would be “Micah’s fault.”

Micah wanted to move out of his parents’ house and get on with his life, but he was afraid that his moving out would cause his parents’ divorce and his mother’s suicide. He felt he had no choice.

After months of hard work in therapy, Micah learned that he had another option. He learned that he wasn’t responsible for his parents’ feelings toward one another, nor was he responsible for his mother’s depression if she got divorced.

I will never forget the day in a family session that Micah gathered up his strength to confront his mother.

“Mom, I’ve been thinking. I think it’s time for me to finish school. I want to get a job.”

“But the family needs you here. Your father and I are still …”

“No, Mom,” he interrupted. “What you and dad do is up to you. I’m 24, and I’m going to get on with my life.”

She started to cry.

“Mom, you can turn off the tears, because they aren’t going to work anymore. Every time I have ever tried to do something for me, you cry, and I change my mind. I’m not going to do this again. If you are sad about me leaving home, and you and dad are going to fight, that’s your problem.”

Micah had learned what his mother had never learned: each of us responsible for our own feelings. Trying to change the way someone else feels is like losing the ability to steer our car.  We are out of control.

Help Your Adult Children Without Enabling Them

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Being a parent doesn’t stop just because our kids reach a certain age.

Many of us find that our love for our children is wrapped up in our desire to protect our kids and make sure their basic needs are taken care of, and that can go on well past any given age for a lot of parents. Helping our kids feels really good in the right situation, and sometimes we’re the only place they can turn to when they’re trying to make a positive change in their lives. But we’re also the place they’re most likely to turn when the going gets tough, and sometimes struggling is necessary for our development.

When do you think it’s a good idea to support your adult child directly? Not just moral support or love, but financially?

Every parent-child situation is different, but let’s say that all parties agree that you’ve found a fair way to provide support for your adult child and that you have the means to be able to help them while they work toward a goal.

When you help your adult children, you’re a resource. All resources can be depleted, and it’s important that your kids understand that. While earned success is the best and most rewarding way to demonstrate the effectiveness of one’s efforts, living up to an agreed upon standard of accountability is the right way to conduct this kind of support.

You’re saying: I believe in your future enough to invest in it with my hard-earned money. You have my faith in your ability and desire to accomplish your goals, and I have a strong wish for you to have a wonderful life.

Making this situation work is about connecting the resource that you’re providing them with to a commitment to making progress in their goal. Failure to progress needs to have appropriate consequences attached to it. If your son or daughter lacks seriousness about accomplishing his or her goal, or gets lazy, or loses interest, you have to be ready to pull your financial support. Something to keep in mind though is that not all failures are equal.

There’s a saying in business — Fail fast, fail often. The lesson here is that we can learn our best lessons from our failures and that we can utilize that knowledge to improve our future attempts to achieve our goals. Failure doesn’t mean that progress has stopped, it means we’re about to learn something hard. What we do with that knowledge defines our character.

Doing Life with Your Adult Children

SOURCE:  Jim Burns

Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out

“The first forty years of parenting are always the hardest!”

A woman I know was asked at her son’s wedding, “What is the responsibility of the mother of the groom?” She smiled and said, “Wear beige and keep your mouth shut.” She got a chuckle, but it was great advice, especially when it comes to relationships with in-laws.

Many comedians like to do a bit on in-laws, especially a mother-in-law. I must admit I have done my share of laughing at those jokes. The reason so many comedians take on the in-law routine is because the in-law stereotypes are based on realities most people can relate to. Some in-laws do meddle. When it comes to dealing with in-laws, stepfamilies, and the blend, the wisecrack wisdom of “wear beige and keep your mouth shut” is a much more effective strategy than meddling. Here’s my short take on navigating a successful relationship with an in-law or an in-law-to-be:

■ Don’t criticize the in-law.
■ Don’t criticize the in-law’s parenting.
■ Don’t criticize the in-law’s treatment of your son or daughter.
■ Don’t criticize anything about the in-law.

If I might be so blunt, it’s not about you; it’s about them. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to agree with them. Your job is to honor your child by honoring your in-law because they chose your in-law and you didn’t.

Susan and Matt confided in me that their new daughter-in-law was not the type of person they had hoped their son would marry. She was brash, bossy, opinionated, and a bit narcissistic. They also felt she was keeping their son away from the family. While Matt wanted to confront the couple, Susan was nervous that a confrontation would push her new daughter-in-law and son away. They asked me what I thought. Although I do believe that gentle confrontations can work, I wasn’t sure that was the best strategy in this case.

“It seems like she is a bit rough around the edges,” I said. “I’d shower her with kindness and pray for a transformation. It doesn’t sound like she has a vendetta against you as much as this is her personality with everyone. What if you took on the task of nixing any negativity toward her or your son? Be the people in their lives who support their marriage. Be the safe in-laws to whom they will be drawn, rather than the ones causing tension. Lower your expectations for a while and support them whenever and however you can.”

Susan also shared she was struggling over the loss of closeness with her son. Before his marriage, the son and his mother had been close. Now, not so much. “Your access to your son and future grandkids is through your daughter-in-law,” I said. “So it’s back to supporting her in any way you can. Without being intrusive, offer to babysit anytime she needs a break and it works with your schedule. Go out of your way to bring her a small gift or write an affirming card. You’d do it for a friend, so why not for your daughter-in-law, who can become your friend? When you honor her, you are honoring your son. Be the person they want to spend time with because you are investing in their lives. Then sit back and watch the relationship change.”

I know my advice to Susan might sound like an oversimplification because life and relationships can get complicated — even good, well-intentioned people can make mistakes when hurt feelings get the best of them. But for those in Susan’s situation, the decision to support the marriage of your grown kids can help keep it from being unnecessarily complicated. Stay away from disputes with your kid’s spouse on anything. You just can’t take it personally.

WHAT IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM?

Sometimes people tell me they just don’t like the person their adult child is dating or has married. I get it. But unless the situation is abusive or destructive, it’s better to focus on learning to like them than to focus on what you don’t like about them.

One mom I know changed a relationship with her daughter-in-law through small gifts. Her daughter-in-law had a shell that was difficult to penetrate. She didn’t have much of a filter and would say hurtful words to her mother-in-law and talk negatively about her son. She was simply a negative and draining person. One day when the mom was at Starbucks, she realized that her daughter-in-law loved Starbucks, but the young couple was on a pretty tight budget. So the mom bought her a ten-dollar gift card. Next door was a candy store that sold chocolate-dipped strawberries, and she purchased two. On her way home, she stopped by her son and daughter-in-law’s apartment with the gift card, strawberries, and a short note. The daughter-in-law loved the gesture. From that time on, it became a weekly ritual. Eventually, the daughter-in-law reached out and asked to get together for coffee. One year later, they are best friends. Of course, this wonderful ending isn’t always the case, but the point is clear: reach out in love, even if you don’t start off liking them.

Carly and David pulled me aside at one of our Doing Life with Your Adult Child seminars. They told me they had taken an instant disliking to their daughter’s husband and made both subtle and not-so-subtle comments to their daughter about him before the wedding. Their daughter went ahead and married, and now they were the proud grandparents of three children and still not too crazy about their son-in-law. But their story was a good one.

They decided against complaining about the son-in-law to their daughter. Even when she made negative comments (with which they agreed), they kept quiet. They just listened. Their philosophy was, “He’s your husband and we will stay out of the fray.” When grandchildren entered the picture, the son-in-law routinely limited their access to the grandkids and the hurts deepened. When Carly and David asked to stop by, he would say, “Not today — we are really busy.” They waited for more access with wounded hearts. They offered to babysit. They bought gifts. They didn’t miss any occasion to celebrate together. Slowly but surely, access was granted. Babysitters were needed, and they got their time. They were smart enough to wait it out and keep their mouths shut, and eventually things changed.

When I asked them how the breakthrough happened, they said, “We decided to become the fun grandparents and fun in-laws. This meant our grandkids started asking for us. We tried to create family fun as a vital part of our family culture.” When I asked if they liked their son-in-law any better, they said, “When we lowered our expectations and accepted him for who he is, things got better. We want to do everything we can to help them succeed as a family.”

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Excerpted from Doing Life with Your Adult Children by Jim Burns, copyright Jim Burns.

The Role of a Stepgrandparent

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/FamilyLife Ministry

You can be an important and influential role in the family with a little grace and wisdom.

It’s a question I’m hearing more these days. “Ron, just what exactly is my role as a grandparent to my stepgrandchildren? I’m used to being ‘Grandma,’ and love being so, but I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do when it comes to my stepgrandchildren.”

Nearly 40 percent of families currently in the U.S. have a stepgrandparent, and by 2030 Americans will have one stepgrandchild for every 1.7 biological grandchildren. But despite this prevalence, very little has been done in society or the church to clarify the role of stepgrandparents.

Not all situations are the same. The challenges stepgrandparents experience will vary depending on how the person became a stepgrandparent. For example, if someone in later life made a clear and prayerful decision to marry into a family with adult children and grandchildren, their entrance into stepgrandparenting likely comes with a higher degree of motivation than someone whose adult child marries and becomes a stepparent, forcing them into the role of stepgrandparent.

No matter how you got to this place, however, there are going to be awkward situations. Knowing how to bond with stepgrandchildren can be challenging. You’re probably asking some difficult questions: What type of authority are you in their life and to what degree? How do you go about giving physical affection? And while you’re figuring one another out in the beginning, how do you not show favoritism toward biological grandchildren that already adore you?

Finding common ground

With stepgrandparenting, bonding is a process. It won’t come naturally like it does with biological grandchildren. In the beginning awkwardness might be high, but don’t let that keep you from taking initiative. Like all relationships, it will take time and intentional effort in order for your stepgrandparent connection to grow.

One easy step that stepgrandparents can do is to take notice of the child’s interests and find opportunities to share your talents and abilities that are interesting to the child. These natural connecting points are windows into the child’s heart and start the process of bonding.

In addition, let the child set the pace for terms of endearment, physical affection, and their degree of openness to hearing you speak into their lives. Respecting their level of openness communicates your willingness to meet them where they are and grow from there. That makes bonding less intimidating for both of you.

Certainly, don’t put pressure or standards on the amount of time it takes to form a bond or the way the children respond to you. Each child is different and will interact in various ways. It often takes a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern, in which it may appear that the child is growing closer and then suddenly pushes you away. But that’s a normal reaction. Just be patient and don’t overreact.

The loyalty conflict

Just as getting connected with a stepgrandchild can be awkward, so can staying connected with biological grandchildren who primarily live with the ex-spouse. This is especially true when the divorce was difficult, and the grandparent feels stuck between two people who don’t like each other. It creates an internal conflict for grandparents who want to support their adult child. This can tempt some grandparents to avoid spending time with their biological grandchildren in order to escape the awkward encounter with the ex-spouse.

But siding with an adult child comes at the expense of staying connected with your grandchildren, and this loss creates a hole in the grandparent’s heart. This can often cause guilt when you spend time with new stepgrandchildren.

Other grandparents experience an issue on the other side of the coin. Their strong desire to stay connected with all grandchildren (and stepgrandchildren) may move them to keep the door open to their ex-son/daughter-in-law to the dismay of their biological son/daughter.

No matter what, either disconnecting or staying connected comes at a price. So, what is a grandparent to do?

Grace-filled grandparenting

Develop and maintain the relationships in your life by applying a grace-filled heart to your one-on-one connections with each family member, new or old, even if others struggle to join you. A key principle to apply, whether trying to stay connected with grandchildren or get connected with stepgrandchildren, is this: possessiveness divides, but grace connects. Having an inclusive, grace-filled heart that is open to new relationships and keeping old ones fosters bonding and love.

On the other hand, trying to hold on to what you feel you’re entitled to or orchestrate relationships according to your needs only divides family members because it exudes animosity and encourages grudges.

Grace-filled grandparents refuse to be cornered or controlled by the standards and agendas of others, even if a son or daughter tries to manipulate the way you relate with children or an ex-spouse. You actually have the ability over time to connect the generations of a stepfamily through your efforts of love and acceptance. And that is a beautiful thing.

But let me offer this word of caution: Being a grace-filled grandparent can initially come at a cost. People might resent your openness to others or relationships they find threatening. Adult children and grandchildren, who are often wounded by the past and caught in their own loyalty conflicts, sometimes find it difficult to give permission to new and old relationships.

The stepgrandparent that can struggle through the initial storm of loyalty wars, however, can actually have a positive impact on family. When you demonstrate an open heart and find the ability to love each person, biological or step, in ways appropriate to their established or developing relationship, you have a unique ability to influence the entire family system toward grace. I have witnessed this dynamic with many families.

For example, grandparents who refuse to show favoritism to biological grandchildren and include stepgrandchildren help stepsiblings accept one another. And grandparents who gently refuse to withdraw from an ex-son/daughter-in-law despite the tension, quietly but powerfully remind family members to extend forgiveness and welcome the outsider in.

Being a stepgrandparent can be an important and influential role if you remain levelheaded and have patience. And thankfully, you are not alone in this task. God is a God of unity, and He longs for all members of your family—step, ex, biological, or adopted—to love and respect each other. So don’t forget that you have the power to pray. Pray for your own wisdom in the matter, but pray that others will see your grace and follow your lead.

How to Stop People Pleasing and Focus on Your Own Goals

SOURCE:  Karl Shallowhorn/bphope

Learning to define and set your own goals can free you from other people’s expectations and allow you to go beyond your previously conceived limitations.

Growing up as a young child my mother used to reinforce the need for me to try to excel at whatever I did. “Even if you’re a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there is,” she would reiterate. This regular kind of prodding produced a dual-pronged response. At first, I accepted her challenge eagerly, thinking that I did have the ability to be the best at whatever I attempted to do. As I got older I came to realize that being “the best there is” wasn’t always possible (if ever).

Then—at the age of 18—bipolar disorder hit. I went from a promising future to one that was very unclear in a matter of weeks. At that point, my hopes and dreams were dashed against the rocks. I was being told what I needed to do just to get better. Essentially, I was powerless.

This whole experience was difficult for my mom. She had such high hopes for me and seeing her only child dealing with such a disabling disease hurt her dramatically. Eventually, she could no longer bear seeing me in the hospital. It was just too much for her.

However, there were times early in my life with bipolar disorder that I had brief periods of remission when I was able to continue school and eventually earn my Bachelor’s Degree. I vividly recall my mom’s mantra during this time, “Either you go to school or get a job. But you’re not going to lay around the house on me!”

Say what you want about this, but it worked, and sometimes too much. During those years of transition, I struggled to meet the expectations of others—not only my mother but also family, school faculty, and even my therapeutic team.

It got to the point that I was trying to please others and failing to take into account my own aspirations (and limitations). I was still healing during this period and I felt the pressure to have to perform in some way or manner to satisfy others.

There were many times during this period that the stress of having to live up to the expectations of others caused me to seriously question what I was capable of. What I came to learn, the hard way was to set goals for myself. In traditional mental health therapy, treatment plans are often utilized for this purpose.

One way I learned later was to approach this using the SMART method of goal setting:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Reasonable
  • Timely

Setting SMART goals are great because they:

  1. Help one to be more objective
  2. Quantify what the goal is
  3. Allow for the individual to set a goal which requires effort and challenges one to go beyond their comfort zone
  4. Set a distinct time-frame in which to accomplish the goal

So what does this all have to do with expectations? By being clear on what my personal goals are I then have the capacity to understand the difference between what I want to accomplish versus what others want.

In recovery, I’ve strived to go beyond my previously conceived limitations. These are things that I want to do and not what others want me to do. This is the whole idea behind self-determination. I’m the one in the driver’s seat. It’s empowering to realize that I don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards. Mind you, I work, have a family, and take on other responsibilities. I’m not saying that I just settle for what I need to do to just get by. Actually, it’s the opposite. I like to go a little bit further in what I try to achieve in life. Some would say that this means I’m goal driven—and yes I am. But these are my goals—not someone else’s.

If you find yourself questioning your ability to succeed in recovery, break your goals into small parts. Remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Even achieving small goals can be a huge victory.

Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence

SOURCE:  Alex Berenson/Imprimis

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on January 15, 2019, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seventy miles northwest of New York City is a hospital that looks like a prison, its drab brick buildings wrapped in layers of fencing and barbed wire. This grim facility is called the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Institute. It’s one of three places the state of New York sends the criminally mentally ill—defendants judged not guilty by reason of insanity.

Until recently, my wife Jackie­—Dr. Jacqueline Berenson—was a senior psychiatrist there. Many of Mid-Hudson’s 300 patients are killers and arsonists. At least one is a cannibal. Most have been diagnosed with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia that provoked them to violence against family members or strangers.

A couple of years ago, Jackie was telling me about a patient. In passing, she said something like, Of course, he’d been smoking pot his whole life.

Of course? I said.

Yes, they all smoke.

So marijuana causes schizophrenia?

I was surprised, to say the least. I tended to be a libertarian on drugs. Years before, I’d covered the pharmaceutical industry for The New York Times. I was aware of the claims about marijuana as medicine, and I’d watched the slow spread of legalized cannabis without much interest.

Jackie would have been within her rights to say, I know what I’m talking about, unlike you. Instead, she offered something neutral like, I think that’s what the big studies say. You should read them.

So I did. The big studies, the little ones, and all the rest. I read everything I could find. I talked to every psychiatrist and brain scientist who would talk to me. And I soon realized that in all my years as a journalist I had never seen a story where the gap between insider and outsider knowledge was so great, or the stakes so high.

I began to wonder why—with the stocks of cannabis companies soaring and politicians promoting legalization as a low-risk way to raise tax revenue and reduce crime—I had never heard the truth about marijuana, mental illness, and violence.

***

Over the last 30 years, psychiatrists and epidemiologists have turned speculation about marijuana’s dangers into science. Yet over the same period, a shrewd and expensive lobbying campaign has pushed public attitudes about marijuana the other way. And the effects are now becoming apparent.

Almost everything you think you know about the health effects of cannabis, almost everything advocates and the media have told you for a generation, is wrong.

They’ve told you marijuana has many different medical uses. In reality marijuana and THC, its active ingredient, have been shown to work only in a few narrow conditions. They are most commonly prescribed for pain relief. But they are rarely tested against other pain relief drugs like ibuprofen—and in July, a large four-year study of patients with chronic pain in Australia showed cannabis use was associated with greater pain over time.

They’ve told you cannabis can stem opioid use—“Two new studies show how marijuana can help fight the opioid epidemic,” according to Wonkblog, a Washington Post website, in April 2018— and that marijuana’s effects as a painkiller make it a potential substitute for opiates. In reality, like alcohol, marijuana is too weak as a painkiller to work for most people who truly need opiates, such as terminal cancer patients. Even cannabis advocates, like Rob Kampia, the co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Project, acknowledge that they have always viewed medical marijuana laws primarily as a way to protect recreational users.

As for the marijuana-reduces-opiate-use theory, it is based largely on a single paper comparing overdose deaths by state before 2010 to the spread of medical marijuana laws— and the paper’s finding is probably a result of simple geographic coincidence. The opiate epidemic began in Appalachia, while the first states to legalize medical marijuana were in the West. Since 2010, as both the epidemic and medical marijuana laws have spread nationally, the finding has vanished. And the United States, the Western country with the most cannabis use, also has by far the worst problem with opioids.

Research on individual users—a better way to trace cause and effect than looking at aggregate state-level data—consistently shows that marijuana use leads to other drug use. For example, a January 2018 paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that people who used cannabis in 2001 were almost three times as likely to use opiates three years later, even after adjusting for other potential risks.

Most of all, advocates have told you that marijuana is not just safe for people with psychiatric problems like depression, but that it is a potential treatment for those patients. On its website, the cannabis delivery service Eaze offers the “Best Marijuana Strains and Products for Treating Anxiety.” “How Does Cannabis Help Depression?” is the topic of an article on Leafly, the largest cannabis website. But a mountain of peer-reviewed research in top medical journals shows that marijuana can cause or worsen severe mental illness, especially psychosis, the medical term for a break from reality. Teenagers who smoke marijuana regularly are about three times as likely to develop schizophrenia, the most devastating psychotic disorder.

After an exhaustive review, the National Academy of Medicine found in 2017 that “cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.” Also that “regular cannabis use is likely to increase the risk for developing social anxiety disorder.”

***

Over the past decade, as legalization has spread, patterns of marijuana use—and the drug itself—have changed in dangerous ways.

Legalization has not led to a huge increase in people using the drug casually. About 15 percent of Americans used cannabis at least once in 2017, up from ten percent in 2006, according to a large federal study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (By contrast, about 65 percent of Americans had a drink in the last year.) But the number of Americans who use cannabis heavily is soaring. In 2006, about three million Americans reported using cannabis at least 300 times a year, the standard for daily use. By 2017, that number had nearly tripled, to eight million, approaching the twelve million Americans who drank alcohol every day. Put another way, one in 15 drinkers consumed alcohol daily; about one in five marijuana users used cannabis that often.

Cannabis users today are also consuming a drug that is far more potent than ever before, as measured by the amount of THC—delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in cannabis responsible for its psychoactive effects—it contains. In the 1970s, the last time this many Americans used cannabis, most marijuana contained less than two percent THC. Today, marijuana routinely contains 20 to 25 percent THC, thanks to sophisticated farming and cloning techniques—as well as to a demand by users for cannabis that produces a stronger high more quickly. In states where cannabis is legal, many users prefer extracts that are nearly pure THC. Think of the difference between near-beer and a martini, or even grain alcohol, to understand the difference.

These new patterns of use have caused problems with the drug to soar. In 2014, people who had diagnosable cannabis use disorder, the medical term for marijuana abuse or addiction, made up about 1.5 percent of Americans. But they accounted for eleven percent of all the psychosis cases in emergency rooms—90,000 cases, 250 a day, triple the number in 2006. In states like Colorado, emergency room physicians have become experts on dealing with cannabis-induced psychosis.

Cannabis advocates often argue that the drug can’t be as neurotoxic as studies suggest, because otherwise Western countries would have seen population-wide increases in psychosis alongside rising use. In reality, accurately tracking psychosis cases is impossible in the United States. The government carefully tracks diseases like cancer with central registries, but no such registry exists for schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses.

On the other hand, research from Finland and Denmark, two countries that track mental illness more comprehensively, shows a significant increase in psychosis since 2000, following an increase in cannabis use. And in September of last year, a large federal survey found a rise in serious mental illness in the United States as well, especially among young adults, the heaviest users of cannabis.

According to this latter study, 7.5 percent of adults age 18-25 met the criteria for serious mental illness in 2017, double the rate in 2008. What’s especially striking is that adolescents age 12-17 don’t show these increases in cannabis use and severe mental illness.

A caveat: this federal survey doesn’t count individual cases, and it lumps psychosis with other severe mental illness. So it isn’t as accurate as the Finnish or Danish studies. Nor do any of these studies prove that rising cannabis use has caused population-wide increases in psychosis or other mental illness. The most that can be said is that they offer intriguing evidence of a link.

Advocates for people with mental illness do not like discussing the link between schizophrenia and crime. They fear it will stigmatize people with the disease. “Most people with mental illness are not violent,” the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains on its website. But wishing away the link can’t make it disappear. In truth, psychosis is a shockingly high-risk factor for violence. The best analysis came in a 2009 paper in PLOS Medicine by Dr. Seena Fazel, an Oxford University psychiatrist and epidemiologist. Drawing on earlier studies, the paper found that people with schizophrenia are five times as likely to commit violent crimes as healthy people, and almost 20 times as likely to commit homicide.

NAMI’s statement that most people with mental illness are not violent is, of course, accurate, given that “most” simply means “more than half”; but it is deeply misleading. Schizophrenia is rare. But people with the disorder commit an appreciable fraction of all murders, in the range of six to nine percent.

“The best way to deal with the stigma is to reduce the violence,” says Dr. Sheilagh Hodgins, a professor at the University of Montreal who has studied mental illness and violence for more than 30 years.

The marijuana-psychosis-violence connection is even stronger than those figures suggest. People with schizophrenia are only moderately more likely to become violent than healthy people when they are taking antipsychotic medicine and avoiding recreational drugs. But when they use drugs, their risk of violence skyrockets. “You don’t just have an increased risk of one thing—these things occur in clusters,” Dr. Fazel told me.

Along with alcohol, the drug that psychotic patients use more than any other is cannabis: a 2010 review of earlier studies in Schizophrenia Bulletin found that 27 percent of people with schizophrenia had been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder in their lives. And unfortunately—despite its reputation for making users relaxed and calm—cannabis appears to provoke many of them to violence.

A Swiss study of 265 psychotic patients published in Frontiers of Forensic Psychiatry last June found that over a three-year period, young men with psychosis who used cannabis had a 50 percent chance of becoming violent. That risk was four times higher than for those with psychosis who didn’t use, even after adjusting for factors such as alcohol use. Other researchers have produced similar findings. A 2013 paper in an Italian psychiatric journal examined almost 1,600 psychiatric patients in southern Italy and found that cannabis use was associated with a ten-fold increase in violence.

The most obvious way that cannabis fuels violence in psychotic people is through its tendency to cause paranoia—something even cannabis advocates acknowledge the drug can cause. The risk is so obvious that users joke about it and dispensaries advertise certain strains as less likely to induce paranoia. And for people with psychotic disorders, paranoia can fuel extreme violence. A 2007 paper in the Medical Journal of Australia on 88 defendants who had committed homicide during psychotic episodes found that most believed they were in danger from the victim, and almost two-thirds reported misusing cannabis—more than alcohol and amphetamines combined.

Yet the link between marijuana and violence doesn’t appear limited to people with preexisting psychosis. Researchers have studied alcohol and violence for generations, proving that alcohol is a risk factor for domestic abuse, assault, and even murder. Far less work has been done on marijuana, in part because advocates have stigmatized anyone who raises the issue. But studies showing that marijuana use is a significant risk factor for violence have quietly piled up. Many of them weren’t even designed to catch the link, but they did. Dozens of such studies exist, covering everything from bullying by high school students to fighting among vacationers in Spain.

In most cases, studies find that the risk is at least as significant as with alcohol. A 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence examined a federal survey of more than 9,000 adolescents and found that marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence; a 2017 paper in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology examined drivers of violence among 6,000 British and Chinese men and found that drug use—the drug nearly always being cannabis—translated into a five-fold increase in violence.

Today that risk is translating into real-world impacts. Before states legalized recreational cannabis, advocates said that legalization would let police focus on hardened criminals rather than marijuana smokers and thus reduce violent crime. Some advocates go so far as to claim that legalization has reduced violent crime. In a 2017 speech calling for federal legalization, U.S. Senator Cory Booker said that “states [that have legalized marijuana] are seeing decreases in violent crime.” He was wrong.

The first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use were Colorado and Washington in 2014 and Alaska and Oregon in 2015. Combined, those four states had about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults in 2013. Last year, they had almost 620 murders and 38,000 aggravated assaults—an increase of 37 percent for murders and 25 percent for aggravated assaults, far greater than the national increase, even after accounting for differences in population growth.

Knowing exactly how much of the increase is related to cannabis is impossible without researching every crime. But police reports, news stories, and arrest warrants suggest a close link in many cases. For example, last September, police in Longmont, Colorado, arrested Daniel Lopez for stabbing his brother Thomas to death as a neighbor watched. Daniel Lopez had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was “self-medicating” with marijuana, according to an arrest affidavit.

In every state, not just those where marijuana is legal, cases like Lopez’s are far more common than either cannabis or mental illness advocates acknowledge. Cannabis is also associated with a disturbing number of child deaths from abuse and neglect—many more than alcohol, and more than cocaine, methamphetamines, and opioids combined—according to reports from Texas, one of the few states to provide detailed information on drug use by perpetrators.

These crimes rarely receive more than local attention. Psychosis-induced violence takes particularly ugly forms and is frequently directed at helpless family members. The elite national media prefers to ignore the crimes as tabloid fodder. Even police departments, which see this violence up close, have been slow to recognize the trend, in part because the epidemic of opioid overdose deaths has overwhelmed them.

So the black tide of psychosis and the red tide of violence are rising steadily, almost unnoticed, on a slow green wave.

***

For centuries, people worldwide have understood that cannabis causes mental illness and violence—just as they’ve known that opiates cause addiction and overdose. Hard data on the relationship between marijuana and madness dates back 150 years, to British asylum registers in India. Yet 20 years ago, the United States moved to encourage wider use of cannabis and opiates.

In both cases, we decided we could outsmart these drugs—that we could have their benefits without their costs. And in both cases we were wrong. Opiates are riskier, and the overdose deaths they cause a more imminent crisis, so we have focused on those. But soon enough the mental illness and violence that follow cannabis use will also be too widespread to ignore.

Whether to use cannabis, or any drug, is a personal decision. Whether cannabis should be legal is a political issue. But its precise legal status is far less important than making sure that anyone who uses it is aware of its risks. Most cigarette smokers don’t die of lung cancer. But we have made it widely known that cigarettes cause cancer, full stop. Most people who drink and drive don’t have fatal accidents. But we have highlighted the cases of those who do.

We need equally unambiguous and well-funded advertising campaigns on the risks of cannabis. Instead, we are now in the worst of all worlds. Marijuana is legal in some states, illegal in others, dangerously potent, and sold without warnings everywhere.

But before we can do anything, we—especially cannabis advocates and those in the elite media who have for too long credulously accepted their claims—need to come to terms with the truth about the science on marijuana. That adjustment may be painful. But the alternative is far worse, as the patients at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Institute—and their victims—know.

======================================

Alex Berenson
Author, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence

The Joys (and Tears) of Parenting My Adult Children

SOURCE:  Shantel Patu/The Gottman Institute

I watched as she stormed into the house. Peril, sheer peril, if you let her tell it.

She hadn’t noticed me reading, quietly in the corner, so she went about, slamming cabinets and drawers, then finally ending her assault on the kitchen by opening and staring into the fridge. I heard her mumble something about hating her job, her co-workers, her commute, and of course, her meager paycheck that she waited for each week. She was adorable.

I peered over my book and examined her. She was considered an average-sized person, about 5’7”, which was a giant to my 5’1” frame. She had these amazing, almond-shaped, bright brown eyes, which she was constantly complaining about the size and the color of, but to me and her father, they were gorgeous.

I looked at this amazing person that I had created, and the thing that stood out to me (besides her poked-out lip) was that she was now an adult. She looked over as if noticing me for the first time and asked, “What are you looking at, mom?” I couldn’t help but smile. All she needed to do next was stomp her left foot, and as if on command, she did. I chuckled as she morphed into my little girl. “Nothing,” I managed to say.

My adult daughter was now a 20-year-old college student. She drove herself everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. She bought her own food and was renting a small room from her best friend. She was by all accounts an adult. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but to still see her as my little girl.

Raising a child seems to be a lifetime psychological and physiological commitment that I signed in blood, the day she was born. I had no idea there would be so much obligation and yet I’ve gleefully devoted my life to this being. The ups and downs of parenting are definitely a challenge, but just wait until you get a load of the young adult shenanigans you get to parent through next.

Parenting has taught me and my husband a lot about ourselves, our relationship, and even about our ever-changing co-parenting styles. I remember when we first delved into the theatrical account of the Misadventures in Parenting, starring us. Our co-stars were two girls and two boys and we weren’t given a script, just pure improv. Our life featured an ambient abstract of “do’s and don’ts,” as we narrated through the whimsical and slightly wild adaptation of our own version of “This is Us,” not yet rated.

Over time, we discovered that our children were complex beings and that parenting is kind of like bartending: you add a lot of this, a bit of that, a touch of this, and eventually you find yourself drunk on the specialty of each of their individual brands. I can remember having to learn to understand my 5-year-old son’s Love Language and his different personality vices while woefully enjoying my 11-year-old’s new-found independence. It was an oxymoron of joys and tears. I can also remember saying prayers with my 4-year-old, then explaining God to my 6-year-old, while my 8-year-old listened and somehow empathized with Satan and felt he got a bad rap for getting kicked out of heaven, saying, “It’s too bad for him, mama, he doesn’t even say his prayers anymore.”

We, the parents, have so many roles that we didn’t know we were signing up for. So much was left out of the job description. And to do this job, with all of its expectations, we weren’t even given an Ikea-style instruction booklet. I have had to be a janitor and a maid (neither of which offers pay or benefits). Often times, I was called upon to be a nurse, a surgeon (I am magical with tweezers) and my favorite, a therapist. Parents always need an open ear or two. One for listening to a variety of woes and the other for listening out for a variety of mischief.

We’ve been cheerleaders, pep squads, coaches, and teachers. We’ve shown great prowess as a lawyer, judge, jury, and sometimes even the proverbial executioner (metaphorically speaking, of course). There were also the joyful titles of superhero and GOAT, greatest (parent) of all time. Yet, with all of these moving parts of parenting, they somehow missed including any of it in the birthing orientation.

I find that I’m really enjoying watching my children grow into adults that I can be proud of. I don’t even mind the new roles of ATM, auto mechanic, co-signer, organizer, and their forever therapist (janitor and maid still somehow keep being requested).

As parents, we are hard on ourselves and even harder on our parenting, but in the end, all we can really only hope for is that our children become thoughtful, caring, and loving adults.

Everything else is up to them to figure out. That’s what parenting adult children is all about, learning to watch them figure it out, and of course, waiting in the wings to swoop down like the superheroes that we are. And I see that now.

So regardless of how daunting the tasks, time, and commitment of parenting may seem, we do it to the best of our abilities and with little acknowledgment or appreciation for our sacrifices. Our hopes and dreams lie simply in seeds we planted in their little hearts to grow.

And then it happens. They finally grow up. And hopefully, they are able to leave our loving arms, in search for the means to wrap their loving arms around someone else and become parents themselves.

Adult Children: Praying for Your Prodigal

SOURCE:  Jodi Berndt from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart. — Jeremiah 24:7

Lauren stared at the photo on her phone, barely comprehending what she saw. It was a picture of her son, William, lying in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. He had been assaulted in what he said was a random robbery, and Lauren wanted to believe him. Given what they knew about their son’s current lifestyle, she didn’t know what to think.

Lauren and her husband, Mike, had been lukewarm about William’s plan to move to Chicago when he graduated from college. They understood why a guy from a small town in Alabama would want to spread his wings, but his idea — to launch a neighborhood-based classified-ad service to sell things like used furniture, cars, and household goods — sounded iffy. William had majored in business, but he knew very little about technology and even less about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. But after a six-month job search closer to home turned up nothing, she and Mike had gotten William a plane ticket and wished him well. Their son was hardworking, creative, and intelligent, so who knew? Maybe he’d be one of the success stories.

And if not, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Lauren had run through a dozen worst-case scenarios in her mind — maybe the business would flop or William would get sick from the city dirt and noise and pollution — but nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son lying in some unknown hospital, more than six hundred miles away. She wished Mike would get home soon; she needed to talk. An orthopedic surgeon, he was usually at the hospital all day on Thursdays, and she hadn’t been able to reach him.

Lauren thought back over the past several months. William had burned through most of his start-up money, and then in an effort to recoup his losses, he had started gambling. His drinking, which Lauren and Mike had hoped would lessen once he got out of college, had gotten worse. Lauren didn’t know much about William’s friends and business associates, but the words from Proverbs 13:20 kept coming to mind:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Apparently, William had been walking with some fairly serious fools.

When had that started to happen? Lauren didn’t know exactly. William had given his life to the Lord at age twelve, and as he grew, so had his faith. He had been a youth group leader in high school, and when the time came to go to college, he elected to live with a Christian roommate. Lauren and Mike were thrilled when William joined a campus Bible study; surely, the friends and the teaching he’d be exposed to there would help guard him against some of the secular philosophies he would encounter in the classroom.

But things hadn’t turned out that way. Parties, football games, and study sessions with his classmates filled William’s calendar, and he began to drift away from Bible study and other fellowship opportunities. It wasn’t as if some atheist had talked him out of his faith; rather, the shift had come gradually as William spent more time with unbelievers than with his Christian friends. And then, almost as if he was looking for an intellectual reason to account for his behavior, William began to question some of the most basic tenets of his faith. Salvation by grace seemed far too simplistic. And the resurrection? Nothing he learned in any of his science classes made that even a remote possibility; it seemed (as William told his parents during his junior year) to be a story designed to bring comfort and hope to people who would grasp at anything to keep their faith alive. Which was fine for them — just not for him.

Mike and Lauren hadn’t wanted to alienate their son by revealing the depth of their concern or by arguing against some of his claims. Instead, they welcomed William’s questions, pointing him toward authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis, apologists whose work they thought might appeal to him on an intellectual level.

“But honestly,” Mike had said, after one of their conversations, “I don’t think he is looking for evidence to support Christianity. I think it’s a moral issue, masquerading as an intellectual one. I think he wants to find a worldview to support his quest for independence and self-sufficiency as he runs away from God, something that will justify his rebellion.”

Prayer Principle

Ask God to work in your prodigal’s mind and spirit, demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The kitchen door opened, snapping Lauren’s mind back to the present. It was Mike, home from the hospital where he had been making rounds. Lauren showed him the photo and filled him in on what little she knew.

“He says it’s nothing serious,” she said. “Some guys jumped him when he was walking home from work. He says they took his wallet…”

“Maybe they did,” Mike said, “but we aren’t sending him any more money.”

He picked up the phone and enlarged the photo. “It looks like a good bandage job at least. He’ll be okay.”

Lauren knew Mike wasn’t being callous or insensitive, and that he was hurting just as much as she was. He was just being practical. But for a mom, it wasn’t that easy.

“Mike, I want William to come home,” she said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son — he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

Lauren loved that parable — especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic He is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street.

Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Prayer Principle

God knows what it’s like to grieve over a prodigal child — and to rejoice over his return.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids — and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

I think my favorite comment came from a mom whose daughter has walked a path no parent would choose for a child. Looking at all of the bad decisions (and tragic consequences) the girl has experienced, and stacking those things up against verses like Genesis 50:20 (“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”), this sweet mama summed up her perspective like this: “I don’t know what God is doing in my daughter’s life, or why she does the things she does. All I can figure is that she is working on her testimony. And it’s shaping up to be a good one.”

For parents who’ve staked their trust in the Lord (and for those who believe, as author Max Lucado puts it, that “we see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach”1), the idea that our kids are still “working on their testimonies” is a lifeline to hope. And it’s not just their stories that are still being written; Lauren and Mike don’t know what the future holds for William, but they’d be the first to tell you that his experience has shaped their own spiritual journey in a powerful way.

“We’ve prayed more than ever before,” Lauren told me, “and we’ve learned to wait on God. It’s hard not to let fear and worry cloud the picture, but the more we look into the bright light of God’s love, the more those dark things are obliterated. This trouble has been a gateway for us to get to know God better; our prayer is that it will also be a gateway for William.”

Prayer Principle

The light of God’s love is what scatters the darkness. Tether your prayers to the brightness of His promises.

“We’ve learned that we are completely helpless,” Mike added. “We cannot change or control our kids’ lives; all we can do is trust in a God who has given us great and precious promises.”

Mike is right. We are helpless, at least insofar as it comes to dictating the way our adult children think and behave. Many of them are out of our reach, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But they are not out of God’s — and He invites us to join Him in the work He is doing, through prayer. We are not helpless there; even when we have no idea how to pray, God has us covered. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes in Romans 8:26.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Nelson, 2013), 10.

They Call it Narcissism

SOURCE:  /CCEF

It is always their “birthday.”

Today, tomorrow, and the next day are dedicated to their interests and desires, so don’t expect that you will be known or understood. No empathy here. No room for guilt either. If you interfere with the party, expect to receive their anger. That anger might come at you as a bully who wants power and control or one who doesn’t even have time for you, so they turn away. Expect lasting grudges. Perhaps, if you are penitent, you might be able to get back into an orbit that surrounds them but they will not move towards you in return.

It is always their birthday, but they never seem to grow up.

There are different versions of this self-absorbed style, commonly called narcissism. They are all maddening. Some are dangerous. And this very real problem is worth much more time than I will give it here.

As a catalyst for thought, I read Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary¹. Though not a Christian book, I was helped by her kindness and insight, and she actually rekindled my interest in engaging those who fit the narcissist description. Rather than review the book, I will identify a few of the points that helped me rethink how to love those who show this level of entitled self-interest.

Say “no” to your angerYour anger will not help you or the self-absorbed person. If you expect the other person to actually be moved by your anger and change—you will be disappointed. In fact, your anger will be interpreted as further evidence that you are the problem. Instead, you need a calm and measured engagement that invites discussion.

If you are feeling great pain and rejection from the narcissist’s predictable outbursts, you also will be unhelpful, unless you are able to seek the good in that person, even in the midst of your pain. We believe God gives grace for this, and we expect that our own growth here will be hard fought.

Somehow, people who fit the narcissist description can make fools of us all in that they know how to irritate us and we begin to act like them. Instead, conversation will be more productive if there is at least one thoughtful person in the room.

See the other person as a child. I have found this helpful; it limits my expectations. It’s similar to how I view people who have a long-term history of addiction: the addiction essentially shields from the challenges of life that mature us, and the addict is easier to understand as a twelve-year-old rather than a forty-year-old. Though this could be an affront to most children, the image fits more than it doesn’t. The benefit is that you will be more patient with the person if your expectations have been adjusted.

Practice your own empathy skills. Empathy is the ability to step into someone’s world in a way that the person feels understood. It is not approval of that world, but it is an understanding of it. An apparent absence of empathy is what is most difficult about narcissist-types. They do not understand either your world or their own. In response, we redouble our efforts to grow in empathy, to which there are so many ingredients. Here are three:

  • Know their story. When someone is hard for us to understand, it is helpful to know something of the culture of their family. With narcissism, we might find a history of being spoiled or deprived, or parents who were preoccupied in their own selfish worlds and never affected by the good deeds of their children.

Don’t expect such discussions to help the person directly though. Those who lack insight are rarely enlightened by their past. More often, they see past hurts as no big deal and resist our attempts to suggest long-term patterns. But these insights encourage our own patience and kindness.

  • Assume that they are normal human beings. Amid all the boasting, entitlement, and “I don’t need you or anybody else,” expect to find people who would like relationship but act in ways that push people away (which confirms to them that they can never really have relationship). Expect people who fear failure and, in response, blame others when things go wrong. Expect people who don’t know how to deal with or express their struggles. This all comes out as meanness and covert behaviors. Sometimes addiction becomes a way to ward off the discomfort within. Expect people who are alone and living on that unsettling ground of the opinions of others.
  • Look for good. When someone is demanding or showing off their greatness for our affirmation, it is hard to offer anything good. But empathy looks for the good. If someone is often talking about their achievements, look for “unadorned” good such as an inadvertent interest in another or other kindness you notice. After hearing someone’s complaints about how the world is not serving them as it should . . . Sometimes it is hard to find the good, but if you pray for love that sees the good, you will see some good.

Among the helpful features of Behary’s book were words that someone could speak, which bring together empathy and wisdom. Here is a response by a wife, spoken with preternatural calm, to her fuming husband (not me, a different Ed).

“You know, Ed, I don’t believe a word of that. It’s not that I think you are lying. It’s just that I know you, and I know how difficult it can be for you to tell me that you miss me. When I’m distracted, like this week, you often feel as if you are unimportant to me. I can understand how upsetting that must be for you. But there is no need to put me down or blame my job. You aren’t giving me a chance to care about you when you speak to me that way . . . I’d like to start the conversation over. How about you?” (pp.158-159).

To speak to a self-absorbed person like this might not bring instant repentance, but you might have helped.

I am raising a number of issues and questions in this brief reflection. How do we help self-absorbed people? How do we help their family and remaining friends? And how might we be helped by secular literature? Secular literature is most helpful when its descriptions of difficult-to-understand behaviors are coupled with years of experience and when its practical suggestions come close to the wisdom and love we find in Scripture. With the behaviors that are called narcissistic, we know that the Spirit can change us and teach us more about how to love wisely, and we invite all comers to give their ideas on ways to love.

————————————————

¹Wendy T. Behary, Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed, Second Edition, New Harbinger, Oakland CA, 2013.

6 Ways Parents Can Have a Better Relationship with Adult Children

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud/Dr. John Townsend

Very few parent-child relationships make it out of the teenage and young adult years without some battle scars.

We all have them!

This being said, there’s often some work that can be done to strengthen and/or repair even the strongest relationships between grown-up kids and their parents. Other than giving love, moral support and being an ally, one of the best things parents can do is to allow their adult kids to set up their own boundaries within the relationship. This is a time of profound emotional, spiritual and overall life development for young people, and finding your ‘sea-legs’ in the rocky waters of adulthood can mean temporarily pushing away from those closest to you. I’ve mentioned it before, as a parent you can say the same things to your kids over and over yet they never listen, but the minute an aunt, uncle or family friend mentions it to them all of a sudden they think it’s genius advice.

We just have to be there, waiting, respectful of our adult child’s autonomy, agency and hard work. It can be difficult to hold back, but letting them come back to you on their own terms is a way of acknowledging their adult freedom.

The rewards are things like having a front row seat to our children’s adult lives. There will be ups and downs and spectacular adventures, just as there has been in our own lives. If our adult children have grandkids, that can add a whole different and incredible range of emotions and possible futures. Some kids need more help raising their children than others, and some just need a babysitter from time to time. Being a grandparent is about the connection between you and your grandchild, and that is its own special relationship separate from your parent-child relationship.

There are some simple steps we can follow to help our relationships with our adult children:

Apologize – If you have been playing the parent too much, go to your adult child and tell her you have been too much like a parent and not enough like a friend. Tell her you are sorry for any problems this has caused. Then tell her that you would like to establish a new kind of relationship, and talk about how to do that.

Treat Your Adult Child As An Equal – Stop talking “down” to your child as if he were still ten years old. Assume that he is an equal and do not maintain the “one-up” position.

Assume Competence – Stop and think before you suggest what she “should” do. Does your comment assume that she is a big person now? Or does it suggest that only Mom or Dad knows how to live?

Respect Separation – “Leaving and cleaving” involves both space and freedom. Watch out for intruding or being hurt when your child is living out his right independence as an adult. He has a life now that has many parts that do not include you anymore, and you should have a life also.

Respect Freedom – A free adult makes choices of her own. Certainly you can have opinions about your friends’ choices, and you are free to voice them at times. But after you do, your friends are free to do what they want. Remember that you adult child is also free to make her own choices.

Live in Acceptance – Watch for guilt messages in your communications. If you are judging your adult child in guilt or shame or condemning ways, you are still playing the parent.

Unlearning the Lessons of a Toxic Childhood

SOURCE:   / PsychCentral

I didn’t realize until relatively recently how much my view of things is shaped by childhood. I took the position, until I went into therapy, that at age 42, all of my problems had to do with the present. But they don’t.

Even my therapist said that my mother did the best she could, and I believed that and, frankly, thought I should just make do with what she did give me and muddle through. But that’s not the answer, I now realize. Reading this book has made me realize how much I am getting in my own way.

Everyone in my life keeps telling me to move on, that the past is the past, and I need to just get on with living in the moment. They just don’t get it. The little girl I was needs to be dealt with.

Our culture is characterized by impatience with slow recovery, has a penchant for quick fixes, and a focus on forward motion, and future possibility; these cultural biases make it hard for someone who’s trying to make sense of and deal with childhood experiences as these messages, received from readers of my book Daughter Detox: Healing from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, attest. Get Over It! Is considered by many to be positive cheerleading, even though it belies any understanding of what psychological damage looks like.

 

CONTINUE READING AT THIS LINK:  https://blogs.psychcentral.com/knotted/2018/01/unlearning-the-lessons-of-a-toxic-childhood/

 

When Your Children Have Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Diane Ramirez/Today’s Christian Woman

Keeping your stressed marriage healthy

After 35 years of marriage, serious thoughts of divorcing my husband took me by surprise.

I never thought I would ever consider leaving James, as divorce is contrary to our Christian values. But when our contention over difficulties with our adult children escalated, I started to entertain thoughts of separation, and so did he.

Let me be real with you. I suffer with depression; it runs through my genes. Our son is diagnosed with mixed bipolar disorder, and our adopted daughter suffers with severe separation anxiety. Throw in a spouse who is an A-type personality, and you have a recipe for conflict.

The crisis peaked when our youngest daughter moved back home with an infant and a 5-year-old. Her husband was deployed overseas. Not only was she experiencing debilitating separation anxiety, she was making unhealthy choices and spending much of her time with old friends. Her checking out caused a lot of clashes. My mental and physical health disintegrated. Many times I had to leave our home for days just to get rest, as she expected me to pick up the slack of caring for her kids.

I felt alone, fatigued, and mad that my husband was not there for me. I discovered, through our many “talks,” that he didn’t like the way I was acting. He wondered why I couldn’t rise above the madness. He didn’t grasp the emotional and physical strain of day-to-day life at home because he escaped by going to work, school, or other activities away from us.

Differences Can Create Wedges

In a crisis, it’s typical to want to escape. The mayhem created by constant appeals for help from both of our adult children created a vacuum in our relationship. This is how my husband described it on our blog, “Not Losing Heart”:

“[My wife] seemed to have a different understanding than I at first. Our beliefs were at odds and it was putting a wedge between us. I believed that if our children would do this or that, or do things my way, they would get it right. When my wife challenged my thinking, I became angrier inside. I felt she was coddling them.”

A wedge is a good way to describe what can happen to a marriage when mental illness raises its ugly head. Parents tend to think a change in a child’s behavior is due to the normal developmental challenges of adolescence. Disagreements on what causes these behaviors or what should be done can create a wedge. These differences are even more apparent when dealing with an adult child who should be living independently.

A wedge creates a gap and a gap can create a chasm if a couple will not stop and assess what is happening. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that mental illness causes.

In our marriage, these factors created our wedge:

  • We had different perspectives on solutions. My husband wanted our children to be more independent. He wanted a “quick fix”; I wanted to nurture and stay engaged with them. Both of us felt we were supporting them, but with totally different styles.
  • Our communication broke down. A difference of opinions is expected, but when those opinions keep a couple from reaching a solution, anger, anxiousness, frustration, and loneliness set in. It’s like a tug-of-war over who is right. Each is working against the other, and it’s exhausting.
  • We neglected our marriage. When we were caught up in our separate whirlwinds of emotion, focusing on our marriage was impossible. Resentment, snapping at each other, and being easily annoyed were a few indicators that we had lost touch with each other. Our relationship suffered.
  • Our emotional responses were different. My husband withdrew to escape the chaos and stuffed his emotions. I resented him for his lack of involvement and became overcome with sorrow and depression, which affected my physical health.

What happened to our desire to live as one in Christ? To allow the Lord to live through us, to be a godly wife and husband? The unexpected super-storm sucked away our purpose as a Christian couple, because we let down our guard. We prayed, but we each had choices to make about where we were going.

As you contend with the difficulties surrounding a child with a brain disorder, there is no “easy button” to push. The truth is, it will feel like pushing a 10-ton boulder up a slippery slope. Perseverance is a key. And awareness of what is happening can be a catalyst in the meeting of the minds.

“Should Haves” to Do Now

My husband and I are healing now, thank God. In looking back, we discovered our “should haves”—a little late, perhaps, but still in time to save our marriage and to shrink the gaps developed by our ever-increasing differences. I’m including them here for you, to help your marriage stay healthy while you weather the storm of your adult or young child’s life with mental illness.

  • Acknowledge you and your spouse are on different wavelengths. You might find more clarity if you write down what you think are the points of disagreement concerning your child.
  • Seek help. Find a trusted counselor to help mediate your differences.
  • Be honest with how you feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
  • Respect how your spouse feels, even though it may upset you. (This is not easy.) And don’t make assumptions about the ways he/she is reacting.
  • Make up your minds that your relationship is a priority no matter what is happening around you. Set boundaries, which can guide you in which crises really demand your time.
  • Talk and listen. Don’t assume your partner is wrong in his or her assessment of the situation.
  • Get a diagnosis for your child, or if he or she is an adult, encourage the adult child to get a diagnosis. Knowledge is power.
  • Most important, educate yourselves on what that diagnosis means for your child (adult or not) and for your family.
  • Don’t forget humor; it really helps.
  • Above all, give each other grace to work through the crisis. God has a separate timetable for each of us. He makes all things beautiful in his time.

Again I’ll quote my husband: “I remember when my wife began to look for information and searched the Internet, the library, and any resource she could find, and then shared that information with me. Something clicked inside. To our relief, we eventually found NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was as though someone had thrown me a lifeline and given me the tools to make a difference in the life of our children, my marriage, and others. My wife and I needed to be on the same page as it came to giving compassion and finding empathy for what they were going through. She needed my support and I needed hers.”

It is my hope and prayer that if you’re in the kind of upheaval my husband and I experienced, these suggestions will aid you in getting a grip much sooner and arrive at the place where you can support each other.

Don’t forget love. Love is the ultimate ingredient to stepping outside yourself. Love and perseverance will rekindle your marriage and reestablish your bond—keeping your connection intact no matter the how fierce the raging storm mental illness can cause.

————————————————————————–

Diane Ramirez is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three adult children, and grandmother of five. She volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-facilitating a support group and the NAMI Basic classes for parents, and she blogs about this topic at NotLosingHeart.com.

 

Your Family Voyage: Family Roles

SOURCE: Excerpted from the book by  P. Roger Hillerstrom/Your Family Voyage

There are two types of family roles:  formal and informal.

Formal family roles have recognizable labels of mother, father, husband, wife, student, infant, and so forth.  Our expectations for these roles are shaped by our culture and are fairly consistent.

Informal family roles are much less obvious than formal roles.  They revolve around emotional tasks that individuals carry out for the rest of the family.  These may be performed consciously, but more often they are unconscious.

The general function of all informal family roles is to regulate tension – maintain stability – within the family.  They may or may not be successful.  Tension and conflict are natural paths of any relationship.  Conflict in itself is not good or bad, right or wrong.  In many ways it may be a sign of life, growth, and progress.  Although tension is normal, how that tension is handled will determine whether it is positive or negative.  Too much conflict in a family will result in chaos; too little will result in stagnation.  Informal roles are an attempt to regulate the tension – to balance the mobile.  Through family roles each of us learns how to respond to uncomfortable emotions such as anger, hurt, and sadness.  In these roles we learn to deal with the feelings of others as well.  Long before we reach adulthood, we have learned our roles so well that they seem instinctual.

Many families cast one member as the “family hero”, or “good child” – the member the others would describe as the most successful.  The task of this member is usually to represent the family in a positive light to outsiders.  The “good child” tends to be the ultra-responsible member who does things “correctly”.  This is often one of the older siblings who take on parental responsibilities for the younger children.  The terms caring, considerate, competent, and dependable are usually good descriptions for people in this role.

While almost every family will have a member with a number of these positive traits, the characteristics will be more pronounced in families with dysfunctions.  The more profound the dysfunction, the more pronounced the role.  We see this role emerging most prominently in families where one or both parents are negligent.  Alcoholism, abuse and mental illness generally create emotional voids into which this member steps.

Family heroes grow up learning to fulfill the expectations placed on them, which for a variety of reasons have been high.  Appearances are important to them.  It is also very important for the good child to do the “right” thing in any situation.  “To be right is good and to be wrong is bad, and it’s terrible to be bad”.  This perspective on life can make an individual very controlled and very controlling.  Heroes often find it difficult to relax and be spontaneous.  Family heroes have a strong need to please authority figures and are generally pretty good at it.

The family hero is a child who is fairly independent of the family in his or her success – the athlete, scholar, or musician.  Success is measured by how he or she projects himself or herself to outsiders.  This child’s emotional bond to other family members is generally not as close as other “good children”.  Typically, this child’s closest relationships are with people outside the family.

The Lieutenant is the child who takes on some or all of the parental responsibilities for the siblings.  This role of “lieutenant” may develop out of obedience to the directives from parents or to fill a void left by irresponsible, negligent, preoccupied or otherwise unavailable parents.  This child’s success is measured primarily by how he or she interacts within the family.

The Rescuer is the child who has taken over one particular aspect of parenting, that of nurturing – encouraging, supporting, and caring for siblings – becomes the “rescuer”.  Usually this is a job taken on because no one else was doing it.  The negative side of this role is that someone else must have a problem or be in pain for the rescuer to function.

Family heroes tend to carry these traits into adulthood.  Outwardly they are productive, hardworking, motivated, and self-controlled.  They often live with a vague sense of guilt over what they cannot accomplish.  Their strong need to please everyone leads to patterns of over-commitment and unrealistic expectations for themselves, which often result in unfulfilled commitments, half-completed tasks, or exhaustion.  These in turn lead to more guilt.  Family heroes experience failure as rejection.  Their response to rejection is to work harder.  It is difficult for these over-responsible “children” to maintain a realistic assessment of their own capabilities.  Most never had the chance to learn that they could fail and still be loved.  Their sense of acceptance and belonging became dependent on good performance.  Heroes also tend to be difficult to get close to emotionally.  They don’t let their guards down very easily.  Looking good means feeling good and vice versa.  To become open and vulnerable to another person would mean admitting fears and shortcomings they hide even from themselves.

Frequently motivated by guilt and fear of self-perceived failure, they invest a great deal of energy in the approval of others, often compromising their own convictions, values and emotional needs to avoid the criticism they may receive by not fulfilling another person’s expectations.  The need for approval from authorities in childhood frequently develops into a “need to be needed” mentality in adulthood.  People who fall into this pattern generally become rescuers – over-responsible people who tend to be attracted to under-responsible individuals who need their help.  These roles tend to complement each other, fulfilling a number of emotional needs in each partner.

The Scapegoat Role – almost every dysfunctional family has a member who plays the role of family scapegoat.  The more severe the family dysfunction, the more obvious the scapegoat role will be.  It is the scapegoat’s job to bear the bulk of the blame for the family problems.  In this way the scapegoat reduces tension in the family.  Usually the scapegoat began the role by trying to succeed to please Mom and Dad, but for one reason or another was not able to do that.  Perhaps an older or more gifted sibling in the role of hero made competition impossible.  Perhaps the parents had unreasonable expectations and demands that promoted constant failure.  Whatever the initial cause, the scapegoat learned to believe that recognition could be achieved only through negative means.  Gradually this child began to believe that rejection and failure were a part of who he or she was.  The family member is emotionally sent away and feels as if he or she is on the outside looking in on family life.  These feelings of rejection are rarely verbalized.  A small child may express these feelings by hiding under the bed or in a far corner of the house.  A teen may become involved with peers who share similar frustrations and offer the affirmation he craves.  Alcohol or drug abuse is especially common if one or both parents have chosen the same route of escape from pressure or tension.

Though not conscious of the role, scapegoats have an uncanny way of directing blame toward themselves.  At time they may even create situations in which they can be blamed in order to minimize tension in the rest of the family.  Every member needs to achieve a feeling of belonging in the family.  Even a negative, painful role will give this sense of belonging, a place to “fit”.  It feels better to belong as a scapegoat than to feel totally alone.

Young Scapegoats.  Robert and Mary had been married three years with a fourteen-month-old son, Bobby.  During marriage counseling they discovered an interesting pattern, Bobby would sometimes act in direct disobedience to his parents.  While discussing Bobby’s discipline, they both realized that his misbehavior occurred inevitably when there was tension between the two of them.  They observed that as they began to disagree and their tone of voice rose, Bobby would do something “naughty”.  At that point his parents would stop arguing, turn their attention toward Bobby, and deal with his misbehavior.  At this point the tension was broken, and they seldom returned to their original conflict.  Bobby was learning an important lesson that all scapegoats learn:  “If this family is to survive, I must get into trouble.”  Recognizing this became the motivation Robert and Mary needed to work toward resolving their differences.  They also committed themselves to expressing affection and affirmation to each other, in Bobby’s presence, at the conclusion of their conflicts.

If one of the parents grew up as the family scapegoat, chances are good that he or she will continue that role as an adult.  If neither parent was a scapegoat but both grew up in families where scapegoats existed, they will probably “scapegoat” one of the children – often the firstborn.

If one child threatens the self-esteem of the family, perhaps due to a handicap of some sort, there is a good possibility that he or she may become designated as the “problem”.  If the child is retarded or overly intelligent, unattractive or especially attractive, or in any way “different” from the other family members, that unique quality may become a factor in that person’s becoming a family scapegoat.  The “differentness” may be a family member’s temperament.  If one member is too aggressive or too passive, too dependent or too autonomous, these factors may predispose one individual to be scapegoated.  Sometimes even being named after or resembling some past scapegoat may designate the role.  Though the roots of the role may vary a great deal, the results are remarkably similar.

Adult Scapegoats.  Like family heroes, scapegoats generally carry the characteristics they develop in childhood into adulthood and they continue to play their family role in other relationships.  The role of scapegoat served a purpose in the family of origin, even though it was negative – it served to reduce tension and give the child an identity within the family.  Yet once that role is carried outside the family, it often wreaks havoc in new relationships, as well as life in general.

Adult scapegoats often find it difficult to feel at ease in any situation.  The family scapegoat feels deeply guilty, lonely and helpless.  In spite of a desire to do well, he or she feels almost compelled toward self-defeating, self-destructive behavior, as if being swept along by a current he or she doesn’t understand, propelled by the responses of others who are often oblivious to the process.

The Mascot Role – a family mascot tends to be the focus of everyone else’s attention.  The nurturing the mascot receives is not necessarily earned or deserved.

  • Being the youngest of the siblings, especially if much younger.
  • Being the smallest or “cutest”.
  • Being more frail, disabled, or needy in some way.
  • Being the only boy in a family of girls, or vice versa.

Regardless of which attribute elicits attention, one characteristic is universal for all mascots:  less maturity and independence is expected of the mascot than of the other siblings.  The mascot can often “get away with murder.”

Adult Mascots.  Mascots learn early in life that they are likable.  They are generally talkative and sociable, often becoming “the life of the party” in groups.  They learn to use their charismatic charm advantageously.  While they may be effective in passively controlling situations, they generally do not assume leadership well and are usually uncomfortable if designated “the boss”.

As adults, mascots tend to be outgoing, spontaneous people-pleasers.  They usually reflect self-confidence and handle social situations well.  Family mascots are usually fun to be around.  Mascots have a tendency to be emotionally dependent and self-centered with a strong need for the approval of others.  They tend to relinquish responsibility easily.  They seem to assume that whatever they leave undone will somehow get done or won’t matter.  Often impulsive, their lifestyles can be chaotic and unstable.  Mascots often seem to search for partners to nurture, guide and control them.

Additional Roles.

The Lost Child – a middle childe (not first or last born), “the lost child” deals with tension by withdrawing from or avoiding the family.  This family member usually has his or her closest relationships outside the family.  The most likely to be overlooked or neglected by the family, this person finds it hard to relax in relationships because fundamental trust has never been established within the family.  In adulthood this person has difficulty drawing close to others and has few, if any, intimate relationships.  The fear of rejection tends to control a great deal of this person’s behavior.

The Mediator – the “mediator” is the family member who always seems to be in the middle of family confrontations, trying to bring the opposing sides together.  Since family members tend to rely on this person to help them resolve their own problems, his or her identity becomes very wrapped up in the needs of others.  In adulthood this person typically is well liked and has many friends.  But since most of these relationships are based on problems, he or she has few true peers and enjoys very little mutual sharing of needs.  Actually, this popular person often feels very lonely.

The Family Clown – the “family clown” deals with tension through humor.  When there is anger or conflict within the family, the family clown will crack a joke, make a snide comment, or act out some humorous antic.  Sometimes the clown will relieve family tension at his or her own expense.  When the laughter is a response to self-criticism or self-deprecation, the family is sacrificing this member to avoid its own tension.  As an adult, the family clown is very difficult to get close to emotionally because he or she has learned that emotional intensity should be avoided.  Though this person may draw many acquaintances to his or her lighthearted approach to life, intimate friendships are rare.  The family clown may be fun to be around, but you often sense that you never really know this person.

Role Changes.  Family roles are not unchangeable.  In fact, changes in formal family roles are traditionally announced and celebrated.  Weddings, graduations, baby showers, and even funerals are ways of announcing formal role changes.  Informal family roles may also change as a family grows.

Exploring informal family roles may involve more than just examining the behavior of family members.  Clues can be found in other characteristics displayed by family members.  Family nicknames can point to family roles.  An adult who still responds to a childish name may be continuing to play an old role.  This is especially true if the name is used only by the family of origin.  For example, a successful corporate vice-president whose parents and siblings continue to call him “Spanky” may have a family who wants to maintain a familiar role even though it is inconsistent with the rest of his life.

Sometimes a child will resemble an older family member who had a particular role.  Such a resemblance may be a factor in assuming or assigning that informal role.  A child who is regularly told that he looks exactly like Uncle Herman will spend time thinking about Uncle Herman.  If Uncle Herman was an alcoholic who spent twenty-five years in prison, that life scenario will affect the child’s view of himself.  If family members constantly remind the child of the resemblance, it may indicate their expectations for that child to take over the role.

A family member who has some sort of special characteristic, such as a disability or a special gift, or is known as the tallest, shortest, heaviest, strongest, angriest, or kindest person in the family may have a unique informal family role.  When you identify someone in your family with a particular role, pay attention to how various family members relate to this person – other roles may begin to emerge.

Childish Thinking – It shouldn’t surprise you that we readily accept what we are told as children.  What is amazing is that we are so slow to question these messages as we grow older.  Many of the things we learn as children are obviously untrue.  Many of them probably affect how we live, how we perceive ourselves, and how we respond to others.  Unfortunately, many of those false assumptions have never changed.

Thus it is with family roles.  We learned them in childhood, when they served a purpose.  Too often we carry them with us into adulthood and continue to play them long after their usefulness has ended.

8 Steps to Break a Cycle of Family Dysfunction

SOURCE:  TIM SANFORD/Boundless

Destructive relationship patterns can get passed down from one generation to the next.

Here’s how you can set a new precedent for your future family.

Boys who witness domestic violence in their own home are three times more likely to become batterers.[1]

Children of alcoholics … are much more likely to perpetuate the cycle of alcoholism in their own lives … they have a four-fold increased risk of becoming alcoholics as adults compared with the general population.[2]

One’s dysfunctional personal behavior becomes a model or example to the next generation, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again.[3]

Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems.[4]

Yeah, that’s what you read on Google. But do destructive, hurtful and dysfunctional relationship patterns really get passed down from one generation to the next?

The answer is simple — YES.

Why?

That answer is simple, too.

In elementary school you learned one plus one equals two. What would you teach a first-grade class if you were the substitute teacher for arithmetic?

One plus one equals two.

That’s what I taught my daughters. But there was no way I was going to teach them anything about microbiology. I don’t know anything about microbiology. Besides, knowing nothing about the subject means I don’t know what I don’t know. A huge part of what keeps destructive behaviors going is individuals who don’t know they’re dysfunctional and don’t know they don’t know. We pass on through words, actions and attitudes — consciously or not — what we know. We can’t pass on what we don’t know.

“(I) …the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of whose who hate me …” (Exodus 20:5, emphasis added). Dysfunction does beget dysfunction.

But that’s not fair.

Right, it’s not fair. Ever since sin invaded the world of humanity, few things in life have been fair. People get hurt when they didn’t do anything to deserve it. People who intentionally hurt others seem to get away with it. The most unfair circumstances occur when helpless children get injured by parents who are supposed to be their protectors.

So yelling at my girlfriend isn’t my fault because that’s what my dad did to me.

Slow down, and be extremely careful. If you blame your father, he could blame his father who could blame his father. We could go all the way back to Noah and blame him. After all, he’s the one who built the ark and saved the human race. If he hadn’t, your father’s father’s father’s father wouldn’t have been born. Nobody would have yelled at anybody. So it’s all Noah’s fault.

Lousy logic and faulty theology, because it’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and.

Follow me on this. When your father yelled at you, who did the yelling (the dysfunctional action)?

My father.

That yelling is your father’s fault. He’s the one guilty of yelling at you.

When you yell at your girlfriend, who’s doing the yelling this time?

I guess I am.

This yelling episode is your fault. Your father “dealt you a bad hand” (not fair, true). Still, it’s up to you how you play those cards. The actions that follow are yours. You had no control over your father’s actions toward you. You do have control over whether you repeat the cycle — or not.

Can this cycle truly be broken?

This answer is simple, too: Yes, it can.

Keep reading the Exodus passage quoted above. God follows up the punishment declaration with verse six, “…but (God) showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (emphasis added). Dysfunction begets dysfunction. So, too, function begets function, health begets health, and truth begets truth.

So how do I change?

1. Become aware of your family’s destructive relationship patterns. This is the first step in moving toward healthy functioning. You can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t change what you’re not aware of. Awareness is a big first step.

And it’s highly likely you’re not aware. You truly don’t know, so ask around. Seek out individuals who you think are healthy and stable, and ask them what questions are the good questions to ask. You may decide to seek professional therapy to help you see what you aren’t able to see on your own.

2. Take ownership of your own actions, attitudes, beliefs and emotions. Admit, “It’s my problem. I need help. I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. I may be the one who’s wrong in this situation.” Whether you know all your dysfunctional ways or not, take responsibility for the ones you know.

3. Purposely observe, compare and contrast other families’ interactions with how your family handles similar situations. Have you noticed other family groups who — in your way of thinking — are just plain weird? They don’t overreact to anything it seems. They speak their minds. They listen and actually hear each other. None of this is how your family interacted. That’s what makes it seem so weird to you. What do they do? How do they interact? What do they believe that makes them different and more stable or healthy?

4. Do Google searches on:

  • The rules of dysfunctional family systems
  • Family roles or scripts
  • Read up on what it means to be the: Addict, Enabler, Hero, Scapegoat, Clown or the Lost Child. Which one sounds like you?
  • Codependency/enabling
  • Adult attachment pain
  • Adult children of alcoholics — even if there was no alcohol in your house
  • Boundaries in relationships
  • Signs somebody may be manipulating in a relationship

As you read, identify the things that fit your life story. Take notes on ways to change the unhealthy things you learned as a child. Ask yourself:

  • What is healthy in a friendship?
  • What is an accurate way for me to see me?
  • How am I supposed to treat a person of the opposite sex?
  • What is my belief system? How do I think? What do I think?
  • What assumptions do I have, and what perceptions do I cling to so tightly?

5. Evaluate your present relationships. Are they going smoothly and benefiting both parties? Do you know what healthy boundaries are, and do you keep them? How would the other party answer these same questions?

6. Read Proverbs. It identifies many healthy — and unhealthy — ways of living and relating. Ask God to open your eyes and mind to what true and healthy living looks like and what changes you need to make.

Do all these things with the goal of becoming aware of and changing the dysfunctional ways you learned as a child.

7. Practice. Healthy living is learned experientially. Awareness and understanding is your starting place. Now it’s practice, practice, practice. It’s not natural, yet it will be.

With practice comes “trial and error” which means there will be some “errors” in your practicing. That’s normal; it’s OK. This brings us to the last point.

8. Be patient with yourself and others. Patience is one of the functional ways of dealing with the world.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17, emphasis added).

You’re not condemned to repeat how your parents parented. You don’t have to be a 25-year veteran of healthy living before you pass functional relationship patterns on to the next generation. All you need to be is one step ahead of where they are.

It takes one generation to turn the tide from God’s punishment to one of God’s love being passed down. That’s all — just one. Start here. Start now.

It’s never too late to move from dysfunction to function.

Never.


REFERENCES

19 Lasting Effects of Abandoning or Emotionally Unavailable Parents

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

Dysfunctional families and parents come in many styles and carry out many different dynamics. One of the most damaging styles or dynamic is one where as a child you are abandoned or you live in fear of abandonment. This can be actual physical abandonment or emotional abandonment. Threats of abandonment are damaging also and are also common in these families. You may have lived in fear of being abandoned if you did not please your parent or caregiver.

This fear often manifests itself as depression as you feel helpless to control the impending abandonment. You may have suffered stomach-aches or headaches as a child, signs of anxiety. You may not have known if the threats were real or if your parents were using these threats as a disciplinary technique. As a child you really shouldn’t have to think about that. You ideally would be in a safe and nurturing environment where your behavior was corrected in a constructive manner.

This parenting dynamic can be carried out by one parent or both. When parents fight with each other and one then threatens to leave all the time it creates fear and uncertainty. When a parent storms out of the house in anger you wonder if they are coming back.

If you are adopted or are from a step family or divorced family where one of your parents did not uphold contact or care with you after leaving you may suffer from attachment disorders or other emotional difficulties having to do with abandonment. You may have blamed yourself for the parent not sticking around. You feel if you had been “better” your parent would still be there.

Even the death of a parent can trigger symptoms, as well as the loss of a parent who is hospitalized for long periods. Even though this situation was not deliberate by your parent, it may have felt like you had been abandoned. If everyone in the family was focused on the ill person, your emotional needs and fears may not have been addressed.

When actually abandoned, the idea or core belief is established that you are unlovable or unwanted.

If your parents used this technique to discipline it is likely that they suffered from an attachment disorder or other emotional difficulty themselves, starting in their own childhood. It was imprinted on them also that if you don’t please the parent, love may be withheld. A belief that they then passed on to you.

If you grew up under these conditions you may not handle separation well, as you expect to be abandoned. That pending abandonment feeling can be fueled by very subtle things, like your partner being distracted or non-attentive. When in relationships, there is a pervasive feeling and belief that the other person will eventually be gone. These trust issues tend to hang on for life if not addressed.

Here are some examples of the kinds of statements heard in these dysfunctional households:

  • I am going to call the orphanage and give you away if you don’t behave
  • I am going to call the snake farm and see if they’re hungry today.
  • I don’t care what you do; I give up on you.
  • Do you want me to stop this car and put you out?
  • You can all stay here, I am leaving. Fend for yourselves.

Below are 19 emotional difficulties commonly experienced by adult children of abandoning/emotionally unavailable parents:

  1. Abusive relationship
  2. Anxiety Disorders or symptoms
  3. Attachment Disorders
  4. Borderline Personality Disorder
  5. Care-taking and Codependency
  6. Chaotic Lifestyle
  7. Clingy/needy behavior
  8. Compulsive behaviors may develop
  9. Depression
  10. Desperate relationships/relationships that happen too fast
  11. Disturbances of mood, cannot self-regulate and experiences emotions in extreme
  12. Extreme jealousy and possessiveness
  13. Lack of confidence, self-esteem issue
  14. May be poor at self-soothing
  15. People-pleasing behaviors to detriment of self.
  16. Poor coping strategies
  17. Promiscuity
  18. Relationship problems
  19. Trust issues

If any of these describe you or if you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions it is likely that you feel bad about yourself. You may be being treated for a biochemical disorder or feel you have a mental illness. The sad part is that given what you experienced, how your brain dealt with it is normal. That is the way anyone would feel when abandoned. It does not mean something is wrong with you. It means something was wrong with your caregivers care-taking abilities and it created emotional distress for you.

Your brain developed coping mechanisms designed to protect you. It developed distrust in order to not be hurt again. It developed anxiety to be watchful for the same reasons and so on. It told you to develop strategies for hanging on to people so you wouldn’t be left alone. Even if those strategies might not be great for you in the long run. Remember, the underlying powerful emotion driving these developments is fear. Fear can make us do funny things. Not funny ha ha but funny as in hard to explain.

Understanding this is critical to your well-being. It does not mean you have to reject, confront, blame or punish your parents in some way. It just means you have to gain insight into what was the true starting point of your current emotional difficulties in order to develop a clear path to feeling better. As a child you couldn’t do much to escape your distress but as an adult you can conquer it by understanding its roots and putting it in it’s place.

When Your Children Have Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Diane Ramirez

Keeping your stressed marriage healthy

After 35 years of marriage, serious thoughts of divorcing my husband took me by surprise. I never thought I would ever consider leaving James, as divorce is contrary to our Christian values. But when our contention over difficulties with our adult children escalated, I started to entertain thoughts of separation, and so did he.

Let me be real with you. I suffer with depression; it runs through my genes. Our son is diagnosed with mixed bipolar disorder, and our adopted daughter suffers with severe separation anxiety. Throw in a spouse who is an A-type personality, and you have a recipe for conflict.

The crisis peaked when our youngest daughter moved back home with an infant and a 5-year-old. Her husband was deployed overseas. Not only was she experiencing debilitating separation anxiety, she was making unhealthy choices and spending much of her time with old friends. Her checking out caused a lot of clashes. My mental and physical health disintegrated. Many times I had to leave our home for days just to get rest, as she expected me to pick up the slack of caring for her kids.

I felt alone, fatigued, and mad that my husband was not there for me. I discovered, through our many “talks,” that he didn’t like the way I was acting. He wondered why I couldn’t rise above the madness. He didn’t grasp the emotional and physical strain of day-to-day life at home because he escaped by going to work, school, or other activities away from us.

Differences Can Create Wedges

In a crisis, it’s typical to want to escape. The mayhem created by constant appeals for help from both of our adult children created a vacuum in our relationship. This is how my husband described it on our blog, “Not Losing Heart”:

“[My wife] seemed to have a different understanding than I at first. Our beliefs were at odds and it was putting a wedge between us. I believed that if our children would do this or that, or do things my way, they would get it right. When my wife challenged my thinking, I became angrier inside. I felt she was coddling them.”

A wedge is a good way to describe what can happen to a marriage when mental illness raises its ugly head. Parents tend to think a change in a child’s behavior is due to the normal developmental challenges of adolescence. Disagreements on what causes these behaviors or what should be done can create a wedge. These differences are even more apparent when dealing with an adult child who should be living independently.

A wedge creates a gap and a gap can create a chasm if a couple will not stop and assess what is happening. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that mental illness causes.

In our marriage, these factors created our wedge:

• We had different perspectives on solutions. My husband wanted our children to be more independent. He wanted a “quick fix”; I wanted to nurture and stay engaged with them. Both of us felt we were supporting them, but with totally different styles.

• Our communication broke down. A difference of opinions is expected, but when those opinions keep a couple from reaching a solution, anger, anxiousness, frustration, and loneliness set in. It’s like a tug-of-war over who is right. Each is working against the other, and it’s exhausting.

• We neglected our marriage. When we were caught up in our separate whirlwinds of emotion, focusing on our marriage was impossible. Resentment, snapping at each other, and being easily annoyed were a few indicators that we had lost touch with each other. Our relationship suffered.

• Our emotional responses were different. My husband withdrew to escape the chaos and stuffed his emotions. I resented him for his lack of involvement and became overcome with sorrow and depression, which affected my physical health.

What happened to our desire to live as one in Christ? To allow the Lord to live through us, to be a godly wife and husband? The unexpected super-storm sucked away our purpose as a Christian couple, because we let down our guard. We prayed, but we each had choices to make about where we were going.

As you contend with the difficulties surrounding a child with a brain disorder, there is no “easy button” to push. The truth is, it will feel like pushing a 10-ton boulder up a slippery slope. Perseverance is a key. And awareness of what is happening can be a catalyst in the meeting of the minds.

“Should Haves” to Do Now

My husband and I are healing now, thank God. In looking back, we discovered our “should haves”—a little late, perhaps, but still in time to save our marriage and to shrink the gaps developed by our ever-increasing differences. I’m including them here for you, to help your marriage stay healthy while you weather the storm of your adult or young child’s life with mental illness.

  1. Acknowledge you and your spouse are on different wavelengths. You might find more clarity if you write down what you think are the points of disagreement concerning your child
  2. Seek help. Find a trusted counselor to help mediate your differences.
  3. Be honest with how you feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
  4. Respect how your spouse feels, even though it may upset you. (This is not easy.) And don’t make assumptions about the ways he/she is reacting.
  5. Make up your minds that your relationship is a priority no matter what is happening around you. Set boundaries, which can guide you in which crises really demand your time.
  6. Talk and listen. Don’t assume your partner is wrong in his or her assessment of the situation.
  7. Get a diagnosis for your child, or if he or she is an adult, encourage the adult child to get a diagnosis. Knowledge is power.
  8. Most important, educate yourselves on what that diagnosis means for your child (adult or not) and for your family.
  9. Breathe.
  10. Pray.
  11. Don’t forget humor; it really helps.
  12. Above all, give each other grace to work through the crisis. God has a separate timetable for each of us. He makes all things beautiful in his time.

Again I’ll quote my husband: “I remember when my wife began to look for information and searched the Internet, the library, and any resource she could find, and then shared that information with me. Something clicked inside. To our relief, we eventually found NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was as though someone had thrown me a lifeline and given me the tools to make a difference in the life of our children, my marriage, and others. My wife and I needed to be on the same page as it came to giving compassion and finding empathy for what they were going through. She needed my support and I needed hers.”

It is my hope and prayer that if you’re in the kind of upheaval my husband and I experienced, these suggestions will aid you in getting a grip much sooner and arrive at the place where you can support each other. Don’t forget love. Love is the ultimate ingredient to stepping outside yourself. Love and perseverance will rekindle your marriage and reestablish your bond—keeping your connection intact no matter the how fierce the raging storm mental illness can cause.

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Diane Ramirez is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three adult children, and grandmother of five. She volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-facilitating a support group and the NAMI Basic classes for parents, and she blogs about this topic at NotLosingHeart.com.

How Loving Parents End Up With Selfish Adult Children

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Sometimes the most loving parents end up with the most selfish children.

How can that be?

We have all heard people say things like, “You know how Kaitlyn is. She only thinks of herself.” And many times, Kaitlyn comes from a nice family. But Kaitlyn’s parents did not set boundaries that required her to respect the feelings of others. This lack of boundaries led to egocentrism, which affected Kaitlyn’s ability to love. Having no boundaries in childhood can also lead to impulse problems, addictions, or irresponsibility, which is always unloving.

Eric sat in my office, despondent. His wife, Jennifer, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, Eric seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Jennifer had had enough.

“I love her so much,” Eric said to me. “Doesn’t she see that?”

“I believe that you love her,” I said. “But in reality, I don’t think that she does see your love. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children, and she asks herself, ‘How can he love us and treat us this way?’ You cannot just love someone and not deliver. Love without the fruits of love is really not love in the end. She feels very unloved because of what you have put her through.”

If Eric was to have a chance of winning Jennifer back, it would not come through one more empty promise. He needed to develop boundaries to gain the self-control that would make him a responsible person. Jennifer was only going to believe in action, not just talk about love.

Eric had never been required to deliver the fruits of love when growing up. His parents were fine, hardworking people. But having gone through financial strain and a lifetime of hard work, they did not want Eric to have to struggle as they had.

As a result, they indulged him and required very little work from him. When they did give him chores and responsibilities and he did not deliver, they would not discipline him, thinking that they wanted him to have “positive self-esteem” rather than the “guilt” with which they grew up. Consequently, he did not see any negative effect on his loved ones when he did not perform.

But marriage was different. He was now in a relationship in which the one he loved also had requirements for him, and things were falling apart. For Eric to become a truly loving person, one whose love actually made a difference in the lives of others, he was going to have to become a responsible person. In the end, love is as love does.

Loving people respect the boundaries of others. Have you ever been in a relationship with a person who could not hear the word no? How did you feel? Typically one feels controlled, manipulated, and resentful instead of respected and loved. A controlling person steps over the line and tries to possess the other. This does not feel very loving, no matter how much the offender says he cares.

Loving people are able to control their impulses. Many alcoholics, for example, have great love for their families. Their drinking greatly troubles them, and they feel horrendous guilt. But still they drink, and although, like Eric, they love, the effects of their lack of ability to say no to alcohol ends up destroying the relationships they care about. Many other impulse problems – such as sexual acting out, overspending, food or drug abuse, and rage attacks – end up destroying love as well. A lack of boundaries keeps these behaviors going, which reveals how “loving” parents can wind up with selfish kids.

Tips for Giving Advice to Your Adult Children

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

For years, I’ve marveled at how good my mom is at giving advice.  She has a knack for knowing when, and how, to do so.

And as my kids have entered adulthood, I’m even more impressed by her example.  But it can be so hard, with all my years of experiences and hard knocks, to keep my parental opinions to myself.

Giving advice well starts with knowing when the conditions are right for our older children to hear, and really think about, our advice.  Giving advice well also requires some artful actions.  Here are some tips to consider:

The Best Times to be Giving Advice:

  • Give advice when you’ve been asked for your advice.  I’ve noticed through the years that my mom, as well as my dad and Susan’s parents, were patient with their advice. And that patience made me more willing and interested in seeking their advice. For the most part, they only gave advice when they were asked to do so, plain and simple.
  • Give advice when you recognize something that could potentially harm them physically, emotionally or spiritually, and you’re not sure they see it. Generally speaking, my mom keeps her thoughts to herself and lets us work through things on our own.  But when she believes she sees a landmine in our lives that we might be blind to, she isn’t afraid to speak up.  She risks being viewed as nosy because she cares more about us than about her own feelings.
  • Give advice when you are in a frame of mind to be gentle with your advice. Whether I asked for my mom’s advice or not, she has always been gentle in her delivery. She understands that a parent should want not only to be effective in expressing advice but in getting that advice to be grasped. If you are in a highly emotionally-charged state of mind, that’s not the best time to share your advice.  Be sure you can maintain control of your emotions.  Wait for a better time, with a cooler head, rather than forcing the issue.

  The Best Ways to be Giving Advice:

  • Give advice by being clear about the difference between opinions and facts. When you give advice, you can use both facts and opinions. Either way, let your child know whether your statement is fact or just your opinion based on your wisdom and experience.
  • Give advice by thoroughly listening to them. Don’t just wait for their lips to stop moving so you know when to shower them with your insights. Listen well and repeat back to them what you heard them say. Being a great listener is key to your relationships.  And as your kids get older, they need to know they can just express themselves without getting lectured.
  • Give advice by asking thought-provoking questions instead of making blanket statements. When giving advice, my mom always uses great questions to get me to think, which inspires me to use a sort of “Socratic method” with my kids, even when they were younger.  I like to ask them questions that stimulate their critical thinking and leads them to the conclusion I had in mind in the first place. When they get more active in the discussion and do some thinking as well, they’re more likely to receive your advice.

Adult Children: Bless Your Grown Children

SOURCE:  Debra Evans/Focus on the Family

Sometimes memories seem clearer than reality. Today as I watched my oldest daughter back her car out of our driveway, the grown woman she has become seemed to suddenly vanish, leaving in her wake the image of a giggling, towheaded toddler climbing into her car seat.

From our first days as parents, we know that our children won’t always be living with us. But when they actually venture out on their own, we step into a new area in our relationships. And many of us must relearn how to affirm our grown children as independent adults and establish new boundaries in our relationships, while still trusting that God will continue to work in their lives.

Adjusting expectations

We bless our children when we let them go, but we still stay connected. By communicating clear expectations, parents and children can learn new relationship patterns that don’t revert back to early parent-child interactions. To do this, parents and adult children need to take time to define their expectations of each other so their relationship can be healthy and respectful.

This can become complicated if adult children need to move back into their parents’ home. One mother, Pam, imagined what life would be like once her two boys grew up and left home. Yet her 30-year-old son lives at home with them now, following a business setback and college expenses.

To assist children returning home, parents might set boundaries while still recognizing their child’s independence. Regardless of where adult children live, they need to be recognized as adults. In Pam’s case, she and her husband provided clear ground rules in advance — regarding chores, bill repayment, etc. — that would eventually result in their son being on his own again. (If children move back home because of an illness or other tragedy, the parents might be more concerned about their children’s stability or having their physical and mental needs met, before addressing other matters.)

Affirming and respecting choices

My friend Amy and I recently discussed an ongoing dilemma she has been facing with her daughter Nina. Before Nina was married, Amy said, “We often got together for lunch, talked on the phone, dropped by each other’s houses for coffee and attended church activities together.”

Amy expected the amount of time they spent together to change when Nina got married, and it did. She is no longer able to see her daughter as much as she would like. Other parents experience this same type of separation when their children decide to make decisions that are contrary to their parents’ beliefs, such as children living with a boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage or quitting school before graduation. Parents have a choice whether to support their children’s decisions, but they must realize they no longer get to make those choices for their children.

Parents bless their grown children when they accept the fact that their children are now responsible for their own decisions. Parents can no longer prescribe the course of their children’s lives nor manage the events and experiences that come their way.

Establishing boundaries

To truly bless our children, we respect not only their independence, but we also let them manage the consequences that come from their choices. Of course, our prayers can always beg God for the best for them, but our response to them should not be one of picking up the pieces all the time. They get the joys and problems that come from their choices. Additionally, we should tread lightly when offering advice that our children haven’t asked for. We shouldn’t tell them where to spend their money, to whom and when they should marry, whether they should attend church and whether to have children.

Too often I wanted to plunge in and fix things in my grown children’s lives that only God can fix. I gave advice when listening would have been better, said “yes” when saying “no” could have produced greater growth, or disputed their need for privacy when I wanted to know something that wasn’t any of my business.

Simply put, parents are no longer in charge of their grown children. That time has passed. But we remain their parents — which requires wise discernment regarding how we will stay connected and what we say to encourage them, when we can. We need to recognize that they are now adults, accept that they make their own decisions without trying to control them. And when we do that, we become a blessing to them.

How to Love Your Kids Unconditionally

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

One of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them that God loves them unconditionally.

It’s extremely important that we teach our kids that they are loved, not because they earned our love or are good enough to be loved, but that they’re loved because God put them into our families to be loved.

This is hard for many of us because we have had a hard time receiving God’s unconditional love ourselves. God wants us to spend some time with him, letting him love us, and in turn giving that unconditional love to our kids.

How can we show God’s unconditional love to our families? Here are two practical ways:

1. Forgive your kids as God forgives you.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ” (NCV).

I love that God forgives me, but I’m not always ready to give that same kind of forgiveness to other people. Parenting requires massive doses of forgiveness. You’re in a position all the time to forgive your kids for things that they do.

2. Never give up on your kids.

We’re told in 1 Corinthians 13:7a, “If you love someone . . . you will always believe in him, and always expect the best of him” (TLB).

From the Phillips translation, that same verse says, “Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.”

We can face just about anything if we know somebody believes in us. Families are supposed to do that. We’re to give that kind of love to our kids.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s unconditional. It’s a forever bond. No stupid mistake on our part, no dumb decision, no period of rebellion, no overwhelming doubt — nothing can separate us from that forever bond with God, our Father.

As parents we are to develop that same kind of love for our kids. No matter what stupid thing our kids do, no matter how many times they walk away, we believe in them.

God wants you to treat your kids the way he treats you.

Parenting is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’re so proud of them, you can hardly wait to squeeze them. The next minute you’re frustrated with them and fed up with their behavior.

You may be worried about your kids. You may be frustrated with your kids. You may be fearful about the direction one of them is going. You may be discouraged. If the truth were known, you may be disappointed in one or more of your kids.

Maybe the deepest hurt in your life is when you think of your child or your children. You feel like giving up sometimes, but you can’t resign as a parent. You signed on for life.

If you try to parent in your own power, you’re going to fail. It takes God’s love. Human love runs out. There is a limit to how much you can handle. There’s a limit to how much you can take.

There are days and there are nights when you don’t have any more to give, and you know it. You want to say, “Take care of yourself!” Because human love does run out.

What you need to do is get plugged into God. God is love. He’s the source of all love. When you’re plugged into him, he’ll give you power and energy and love that you didn’t know you had.

God will also give you the wisdom you need. So no matter how you feel emotionally about your kids today, Jesus is ready to help.

The key to becoming a great parent is to become a godly person. How?

First, you invite Jesus Christ into your life. “Lord, become the manager of my heart.”

Second, you pray and say, “God, I need your help daily. I need the wisdom and the love and the patience to be a wise parent.”

Third, you ask your kids to pray for you. I pray for my kids so I ask them to pray for me. Say, “I want you to pray that I’ll be a good parent.”

It may have to start with an apology. There may have to be a little reconciliation first. You may have to contact them, call them on the phone and say, “I wasn’t always the parent I should have been. I feel bad about that. But I want things to change. I want to be the kind of parent God wants me to be and that you need, so I’m going to ask you to forgive me. I apologize.”

It’s never too late to start showing God’s unconditional love and forgiveness to your kids. God never gives up on us. So never given up on your kids!

Divine Words for Desperate Parents

SOURCE:  Nancy Guthrie/The Gospel Coalition

I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but almost as soon as we visit the doctor to confirm we’re pregnant we start getting coupons for formula and diapers and magazines that include all kinds of articles about how to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. All of these “five steps to . . .” and “ten ways to get your child to . . . ” articles can fool us into thinking if we try hard enough and do everything right, our child will become and do what we want.

But anyone who’s been a parent for long knows parenting requires a lot more than simply following the right steps to success. To raise a child toward godliness, we need much more than the good advice parenting experts have to offer. We need what only the Scriptures have to offer.

We need the commands and expectations of Scripture to keep us from complacency, and the grace and mercy of Scripture to save us from guilt. We need Scripture to puncture the pride that rises up in us when our child is doing well and we’re tempted to take the credit. And we need Scripture to save us from the despair that threatens to sink us when our child is floundering and we’re tempted to take all the blame.

While we have influence and responsibility, we don’t have control over our child. We can teach our child the Scriptures, but we can’t be the Holy Spirit in our child’s life. We can confront sinful patterns that need to change, but we can’t generate spiritual life that leads to lasting change. Only the Spirit can do that.

What we can do is pray for and parent our child the best we know how. We can keep trusting God to do what we cannot.

But how or what do we pray? The Scriptures help us with that, too. In particular the Psalms—divine words God has given us to talk and sing to him—provide us with not only wisdom and perspective for parenting, but also with words for prayer.

In His Grip, Not Ours

From the time they’re newborns, we’re concerned about our children’s progress. We want to know what we can do—what we can feed them, what we can teach them, how we can train them—to keep them moving toward a bright future.

During the school years, our parental fear or confidence rises and falls on how well our children are progressing in school and sports, as well as physically and socially. As they emerge into young adulthood, we can’t help but set mental timelines for them to finish their education, find a mate, and establish a career. And all along the way, we often think and act and feel as if it’s up to us and our children to chart out a path for their lives—and to make it happen.

But King David knew otherwise. He recognized he wasn’t ultimately in control of where he came from or where he was headed. Nor did he want to be.

I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!” My future is in your hands. (Ps. 31:14–15)

Our child’s future is not in our hands. It’s not under our control. It’s not in their hands either; it’s in God’s.

Meditating on Psalm 31 helps us to pray: Lord, I find myself obsessing over many aspects of who my child will be and what he will do. But I know my child’s future is not in my hands. And deep down I don’t want it to be. The safest place to be—the place of favor and blessing—is in your hands.

In His Strength, Not Ours

As parents we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. We’re well aware of our deficiencies and our hypocrisies. We’re determined not to raise our own children in some of the ways we were raised, yet we instinctively repeat similar patterns. We want to listen, but we’re distracted. We want to play, but we have so much work to do. We want to engage helpfully, but so much of what we throw out there doesn’t seem to stick. Even our most brilliant efforts at parenting don’t always work well.

In Psalm 103 we find good news for those of us who have failed our child, good news for those of us who have been angry, impatient, or cold.

The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust. (Ps. 103:13–14)

We have a Father who is tender and compassionate toward us. He’s not pointing fingers or putting us on trial. He is mindful of our limitations and frustrations. He knows how weak we are in faith, in discipline, in consistency, in wisdom, and in relational skills. He remembers we are dust, doing the best we can in a world we don’t control to raise kids we don’t ultimately control. We have a Father who works in and through our weaknesses to put his own power and strength on display.

Meditating on Psalm 103 helps us to pray: Father, we need your tenderness to release us from our regrets, and we need your compassion to assure us of your long-term commitment to see us through all the seasons and struggles of parenting.

By His Voice, Not Ours

When we read Psalm 29, we get the sense that David is looking up at the sky, watching the progress of a storm sweeping over Israel. But he’s not just watching it. He’s hearing what the Lord is saying to him through it.

The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders.
The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars; the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon. (Ps. 29:3–5)

The Lord’s voice is shattering. The same voice that splits the mighty cedars of Lebanon can cut through any resistance our children have toward God.

The Lord’s voice is striking. It can speak to our children like a gentle rain of gradual understanding or like a lightning strike of life-changing insight.

The Lord’s voice is shaking. It can jolt our children out of their apathy and comfort.

The Lord’s voice is stripping. Just as it leaves the forest bare, it can peel away negative attitudes and arguments from our children’s hearts and minds.

Meditating on Psalm 29 helps us to pray: Lord, we long for our child to hear you speaking. Won’t you sweep down over our home in the way David saw you sweeping through Israel? Come and let your mighty, majestic voice be heard.

In His Timing, Not Ours

How hard it can be to wait on God. When we’ve prayed for months or years and see no visible signs of change, no tangible evidence of God at work, we can begin to lose hope. We wonder not only if heaven is closed to us, but if there’s really anyone there, listening and able to act.

I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me? (Ps. 6:3)

When we’re sick at heart over the direction of or difficulty in our child’s life, we can be sure God will restore us to a healthy confidence that he is at work. When we’re worn out from sobbing over the pain in our child’s life, we can be sure the Lord has heard our weeping. He has heard our pleas and will answer. It may not be today or tomorrow. In fact, God may not accomplish all the healing and restoration we long for in this lifetime. But we can be sure the day will come when his work in our lives and in the lives of our children will be brought to completion. And in light of eternity, it won’t seem it took very long at all.

Meditating on Psalm 6 helps us to pray: Lord, I am impatient for you to accomplish all you intend in my child’s life. But I am not hopeless. Even when I don’t see you working, I will trust you are. Even when it seems it’s taking too long, I trust you to accomplish all you intend to accomplish, and I have faith you will complete it on time.

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Adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s The One Year Book of Praying Through the Bible for Your Kids.

Hope for Hurting Parents When Kids Rebel

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

As a pastor, more than other people, I see the hurt and the heartbreak that happens in a family when a child makes rebellious and destructive decisions. And thankfully, there’s a story in the Bible that offers us a lot of insight.

What has often been called “the story of the prodigal son” is really a picture of how God shows his holiness, his goodness, and his kindness to his children — each son in this story was rebellious in his own way. Some of the insights we learn about parenting from this story might surprise you.

The story, found in Luke 15:11-32, unfolds in three stages.

Stage 1: Rebellion.

Beginning in verse 11, “Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.’”

Stage one is rebellion. In every parent-child relationship, there’s going to be a struggle. It’s a struggle for control, a power struggle.

At birth, as a parent, you are 100 percent in control. But as your child grows, the power gets transferred. Your control is not permanent. Kids want control sooner than we want to give it. They think they deserve it sooner than we’re ready to give it out. Kids have a sin nature. If you don’t believe that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” you’ve never been a parent.

So what do you do when a child is legally independent and you can’t control them anymore?

  1. Let them go.
  2. Let them make their own mistakes.
  3. Let them experience the consequences of their own choices.

There is a price tag for rebellion. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (NIV).

How do you as a parent feel when your child rebels? Guilty? Embarrassed? We tend to practice a lot of self-condemnation when our children rebel, but you are not the only influence in your child’s life. Your child has choices that he makes. She has friends that she chooses. He has teachers that you don’t control. She has books and movies that she sees. He has all kinds of influences and choices.

Stage 2: Regret.

Back to our story. Verse 17 says, “When he came to his senses…” You might be praying for that sentence in your child’s life. When is my kid going to wake up? When is he going to come to his senses? When is he going to see that he’s ruining his life? You’re praying for that.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.””

Notice the change in attitude. He goes through a process of re-evaluation, regret, and repentance.

What do you do during this stage, while you’re waiting for your child to come to repent? Three things.

  1. Pray for your child, non-stop.
  2. Commit your child to God’s hands.
  3. Wait patiently.

Stage 3: Return.

Verse 20 says, “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Remember that in this story, this is the ideal father responding. This is God. This is not a typical human being. This is what God would do.

In fact, it is what God does to you in your rebellion. It’s a model for us.

  1. Love them faithfully, stubbornly.
  2. Accept them unconditionally and affectionately. (This doesn’t mean you approve of their actions.)
  3. Forgive them completely.

Verse 22 says, “But the father said to his servants.`Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate!’”

What I like about this father is he didn’t rub it in. He didn’t keep reminding his son, holding it over his head the rest of his life. The father gave him a second chance. He forgave him completely.

This story shows how God deals with our rebellion. That’s the primary purpose of it. We’ve taken matters into our own hands. The Bible says that we’ve all sinned and we’ve all done our own thing. We’ve messed up our lives. But God says, “Come on home!” God gives us another chance.

The 9 Unwritten Rules of Grandparenting

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Kristen Sturt/Grandparents.com

Abide by these handy guidelines, and your grandparenting experience will always be a breeze.

Rule #1: You’re responsible for staying in touch.

Whether they’re halfway through college or just starting kindergarten, one of the biggest complaints we hear about grandchildren is that they just don’t reach out. It’s a kid thing, not necessarily exclusive to the current generation. Either way, the onus is on you to stay in touch.

“The ticket to keeping ties with your grandchild strong is maintaining open lines of communication,” says writer Jodi M. Webb. To do that, you need to reach out to kids in ways they’ll respond to. Learn to text! Communicate on social media! Make the occasional phone call! Ask about their interests, and try to keep things light and loving.

Rule #2: The favorite grandparent is the one who is the most fun.

They might not admit it to your face, but secretly, grandkids have a favorite grandparent. (Admit it: You did, too.) The favorites are willing to try new things, suggest kid-friendly activities, and go with the flow. They’re the ones who laugh freely and hug closely, who—cliché as it is—have the most cookies on-hand.

Rule #3: Offended? You gotta move on.

At some point, when it comes to your grandkids, you’re gonna feel left out, guilty, confused, frustrated, or worse. Your son and DIL might not invite you for Thanksgiving. Your grandson might disrespect you. Your granddaughter might forget your birthday! (Oy. That kid.) In these inevitable instances, you can air your feelings and even expect an apology. But unless it’s something irreversibly hurtful, you can’t harp. Grudges damage relationships. Forgiveness and communication strengthens them. Go high and be the bigger person.

Rule #4: Pitch in up front.

Grandbabies are a blessing, not to mention a ton of work, and new parents may need help during those first hectic months. (You did, right?) If your kids are amenable, lend a hand any way you can:cleaning, cooking, babysitting, etc. It’s a great way to get off on the right foot with your family, and—bonus!—you’re sure to get quality time with your new favorite infant.

Rule #5: Share the grandkids with others.

When a grandchild is born, you want that baby all to yourself, and probably always will. But there are other grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more to think about. Sharing can be hard. Head off problems by planning ahead and keeping lines of communication open. Try creating ground rules when appropriate (take turns visiting, switch holidays yearly, etc.), and be welcoming, flexible, and understanding. Oh, and wine helps, too.

Rule #6: Bite your tongue.

Disagree with your grandson’s sleep schedule? Think your daughter is too strict with sweets? Unless you’re asked directly or believe your grandbaby is in danger, keep your child-rearing opinions to yourself. Too often, a grandparent’s unsolicited advice comes off as veiled criticism, which can breed resentment and drive a wedge between family members. If you need to vent, your partner, friends, and coworkers are ready and waiting.

Rule #7: Act like your grandchildren are always watching (because they are).

“Saying we want good behavior from children can be vague for them, especially when they are young,” says children’s advocate Kathy Motlagh. In other words, if you want well-behaved grandkids with good values, talking isn’t enough; you have to practice what you preach. Model kindness and respect through your everyday actions. Resist impulses driven by anger and fear. Be the good in the world, and those babies will follow your example.

Rule #8: Get the gear.

To paraphrase a famed author, it is a truth universally acknowledged that grandparents in possession of good fortune must spend a little on stuff for visiting grandchildren. When the grandkids are young, a few books, toys, diapers, activities, bottles, and dishes are simple enough to acquire and store, and ensure parents don’t have to haul extra belongings. If overnight stays are in your future, you might consider a highchair, small stroller, or even a crib. Space and income will play a factor in your equipment list, but really, any effort will be appreciated.

Rule #9: There are no rules.

Grandparenting changes from generation to generation; you’re different from your grandparents, and your grandchildren will differ greatly from their own grandchildren. And while experience and history offer some guidance, all we can ultimately do is confront the challenges in front of us at any given time. Heed good advice, do your best, and love and enjoy your grandkids. It’s all anyone can ask for.

How to Repair a Distant Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship

SOURCE:  Kristen Sturt/Grandparents.com

You wanted to be a hands-on grandparent, but things have worked out very differently. Here’s how to fix it.

You had every intention of jumping in with both feet. The minute that baby was born, you wanted to see her, hold her, and be around for every milestone, major and minor.

Instead, her parents—your child and his spouse—have relegated you to a sometime visitor. You get together on holidays and birthdays, but you’re not part of your grandchild’s everyday life. You receive an occasional update or maybe even a photo, and that’s about it.

Carol R. knows the deal. The New Jersey native is grandmother to a two-year-old girl she rarely sees. “They’re very good parents to her,” she says of her son and daughter-in-law. “There’s no problem there. I just wish I felt a little more warm, fuzzy feeling with all of them.” She cites the lack of communication as her biggest issue. “I would love to get pictures once in a while. I would love to have an email or voicemail returned to me. It could be days. It could never be responded to [at all].”

Carol’s situation isn’t uncommon. One of the biggest complaints we hear at Grandparents.com is that the cozy expectations of grandparenthood frequently don’t match up to the distant reality. Some GPs complain bitterly about the perceived coldness and lack of contact. Others, like Carol, have learned to live. “I’m just accepting it for what it is, because I’ve beaten myself up over it,” she says. “It’s just different. It’s not wrong. It’s just not my way.”

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Whether you’re a new nana or a veteran grandpa, you can improve your state of mind and bridge the distance to your grandchildren by taking two important steps.

Step #1: Adjust Your Expectations

“A grandparent has all these fantasies about how they’re going to be as a grandmother,” says Deanna Brann, Ph.D. the author of Reluctantly Related—Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law. “They have their own concept and idea of how they’re going to be involved in the child’s lives.” When parents fail to indulge that vision, either because they can’t or don’t want to, tension inevitably occurs.

The key, then, is creating a grandparent-grandchild relationship that everyone can live with. Instead of grandparenting on your own terms, ask parents how they see your role. “Do it in the form of a question so it shows respect for the parents,” suggests Dr. Brann. “Say, ‘Would you ever consider having me babysit if you want to go out to dinner?'” An informal approach is important. “Do it over dinner when you’re chatting and you’re talking and it’s much more casual. You don’t want it to be intense.” Respecting parents’ wishes goes a long way towards creating trust and warmth.

For new grandparents, it’s especially important to keep expectations in check during the first few months of a grandbaby’s life. “The parents are going to be very overwhelmed and self-absorbed,” says Dr. Brann. “Give it a few weeks so they have the chance to adjust.” If you must be involved, do so in a strictly supportive manner. “Offer to come to the home and help. This isn’t about you coming to take care of the baby. This is about you doing the laundry, the housework, the grocery shopping, so [mom] can take care of the baby.” You’ll ingratiate yourself to the new parents, and most likely nab some time with the newborn, either way. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Step #2: Improve Your Relationship With Mom

While Dad plays a role, more often than not, the gatekeeper of the grandparent-grandchild relationship is Mom. “If you don’t get along with her, it does impact your ability to see your grandkids,” says Dr. Brann. Consequently, it pays to endear yourself, even if you think she’s in the wrong: “Sometimes, certain daughters-in-law are so off they’re not even willing to give you a chance, but it’s not that common, even though some mothers-in-law think it is. You need to try.”

The best way to warm your MIL-DIL relationship? Show interest in her as a person, and not just as the mother of your grandchild. “Call to find out what’s going on with her, and don’t talk about the baby. Be interested in her, and what her day is like,” recommends Dr. Brann. Even if you are tremendously different people, “find one thing and focus and build the relationship on that.” Writing a letter of appreciation is another helpful tactic. Express your admiration and tell her what she means to you, without asking for anything in return.

Don’t forget: Turnabout is fair play.

In addition to engaging your daughter or daughter-in-law more, you should examine your own behavior, “because there’s probably something you’re doing that she’s reacting to.” Perhaps she’s misinterpreting your baby advice as disapproval of her parenting, or thinks your cleaning offer means you believe she’s a poor housekeeper. When you pinpoint a possible trigger, quietly change your ways. “The reason is, when you change your behavior, they can’t respond the same way. It just doesn’t fit,” says Dr. Brann. It’s a confrontation-free way of improving relations. “It’s more subtle, it’s non-threatening, and it’s just easier for both people.”

What Not to Do

If you want to reduce emotional distance, it’s crucial to avoid certain negative behaviors, the biggest of which is playing victim. “It’s easy to be the victim, but you really have to get yourself out of that victim perspective, because it will not help you,” says Dr. Brann, who believes that empowerment is key. “Changing your behavior is about empowering yourself.”

Another classic error: raising a ruckus when you’re not getting the relationship you want. “The way we do it is usually wrong and we end up creating a bigger mess,” says Dr. Brann. Though it’s not suggested, if you feel you absolutely mustair your feelings to your daughter or daughter-in-law, do so calmly and non-judgmentally: “You have to be very careful, and you have to be willing to not get defensive, rationalize, or explain—just listen to her perspective.”

Finally, never, ever give up. “MILs give up too soon and throw up their hands in the air,” says Dr. Brann. “Always keep trying. You might just have to try different things.” Because when it comes to your grandchildren, communication is a lifelong effort.

Adult Children: 8 Steps for Parenting a Prodigal

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

All of us stumble a time or two on the journey to adulthood; after all, no one is perfect. One of the challenges of parenthood is gradually letting go of our children, giving them more freedom and responsibility as they grow. But what do you do when it’s not just a slip or a slight detour but your older child goes completely off the rails?

There’s probably no greater heartache for a parent than when their dream for their child dies, when someone they have poured their life and love into for so many years seem to reject everything they have ever wanted for and taught their child. My wife, Susan, and I have discussed this in our podcast, Loving Your Child Thorough Teenage Rebellion.

If you are facing this kind of difficult situation, take heart. Consider these eight lessons that are to be found in one of the most famous stories about rebellion ever told: The Prodigal Son.

You may recall how Jesus told of the young man who asked for his father’s inheritance, took off for a place far away where he squandered everything on wild living and finally came to his senses in a pig sty. The son returned home to ask to be put on his father’s payroll as a hired hand. Instead, to his great surprise, he was welcomed with a big hug and big party.

But beneath the happily-ever-after surface of the parable of the prodigal son are some steps to help you—and your child—through a time of rebellion.

1. Let them go.

Putting your foot down and locking them up won’t change their heart. The young man in the story realized the foolishness of his ways as he was allowed to follow his choices to their conclusion. The father didn’t try to shield his son from the law of cause and effect. That can be a scary thing, especially when there is risky behavior involved. Obviously, you may need to step in if they are younger or are seriously endangering themselves or others, but don’t be too quick to try to protect them from all that may follow as that could just prolong their waywardness.

2. Face your feelings.

Parents feel a great loss when children willfully turn their backs on all they have been modeled and taught. Take time to grieve the loss—and allow room for the anger that may surface too. Don’t bottle it all up inside. Here are 3 things to do when a dream dies.

3. Keep your head up.

Adding to the heartache of a child gone wild can be the sense of shame and failure. You think everyone else sees you as a failed parent. It can be healthy to reflect on the ways you may have contributed to your child’s decisions by your own mistakes or inadequacies so that you can change moving forward. You may even need to seek your child’s forgiveness. But your child is still ultimately responsible for his or her own choices. So don’t go into hiding; the father in the story continued about his business and waited out in public for his son to return.

4. Let them fail.

The prodigal only came to his senses when his life was in the dumpster and he was in great need. In that sense, the greatest gift the father gave his son was to let him become desperate. He didn’t keep bailing him out. Had he forced his son to stay home he may have simply nurtured a low-grade resistance for the rest of his life. Sometimes people need to be allowed to realize the poverty of their decisions.  How to Create Healthy Boundaries for Rebellious Teens looks at some ways of establishing rules and consequences appropriately.

5. Remember the other kids. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and the troublesome child can draw most of the attention. In the parable, the older brother certainly resented his father, to a degree. Ensure your other children know they are loved and accepted for who they are. Reading Attitudes: Steps to Opening Your Child’s Spirit may be helpful.

6. Be expectant.

Waiting, wondering, and worrying about a child is hard. A friend whose son disappeared into drugs and alcohol abuse told me how he feared every phone call from an unknown number, wondering whether it might be the police calling to tell him his boy had been arrested—or worse. But remember that while your child may be beyond your reach, he or she is never beyond God’s. Hold onto hope, just as the father looked down the road for his returning son.

7. Don’t rescue them too soon.

They may need to stew in their own juice for a little while to really come to understand where they have gone wrong. There’s a difference between remorse and repentance. It’s one thing to feel bad about something in the moment; it’s another to demonstrate a serious desire to change over time. The son did that by walking all the way home from the far place he has gone to. He didn’t just say he was sorry and have his dad FedEx him an airline ticket. It’s important to know that your child really wants to change and isn’t just uncomfortable.

8. Offer grace.

They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the purity of your love for your child will never be more apparent than when they come home with their tail between their legs and find open arms and forgiveness rather than folded arms and a lecture. The prodigal son knew he’d messed up; he didn’t know until he got back the full extent of his father’s love.

They call all this tough love. Not just because it’s firm for the one to whom it is offered but because it is a hard balancing act to manage for the ones extending it. But being firm does not mean being harsh.

4 Things I’ve Learned About Parenting Adult Children

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Susan and I learned a lot of good things about parenting adult children from our own parents. Looking back, Susan and I agree that they did this very well with us. So we hope that we can build on what they taught us as we move into a season of parenting our five adult children.

Here are a few things we’ve learned about parenting adult children as we are working hard to follow what was modeled for us.

1. Be Involved, but not Intrusive.

There’s a fine line between giving our grown children advice versus giving them orders. And when any of my kids call and ask for my counsel on something, I try to ask them questions that will help them to come to their own conclusions rather than just telling them what to do. I want to be very involved in navigating them through life without them feeling like I’m being intrusive.

2. Be Caring, but not Crowding.

Cell phones, texting, and FaceTime help us stay connected with our children who are in college or working in another city. Susan and I are partial to Face Time because we not only get to hear their voices, but also see their faces. We love to love on them! Even though we’ve got this technology, we know it’s important not to overuse it and crowd our kids. Instead of calling or texting every hour, we try to call when we know they’re out of class or off of work and driving home. And when we do speak, we try avoid asking a million questions about who they’re with, what they’re doing, how late they’ll be out, and where they are. That’s harder for me than Susan! I’m learning to ask general questions like, “How is your day going?” and to be content with however long or short their answer may be.

3. Be Encouraging but not Enabling.

Encouraging and helping our children is really important to us. But it’s sometimes hard to determine when encouraging becomes enabling. There are no formulas that clearly guide us on this issue. For example, when your child graduates from college and gets their own apartment, should you pay the first month’s rent to help them get on their feet? That might be a very nice thing to do. But when paying that first month turns into paying the second and third month, that may be moving into the enabling category absent extenuating circumstances. Of course, being there for them in times of emergencies or times of need is part of being a parent.

4. Be Initiating, but not Isolating.

Soon enough, your kids will move into the next season of their lives, get married, and begin having children of their own. As they find themselves in this time of busyness, be sure not to isolate yourself by only offering to let them come visit you. Initiate time together with them by buying that plane ticket or making that drive down to see your kids and grandkids at their home. Make it easy by coming to where they are and build new memories at times that are convenient for them.

How to Help Your Young Adult Build Their Own Life

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Carey Casey/Charisma Magazine

You know that fatherhood doesn’t end when a child turns 20, right?

We recently heard from a distraught mom. She and her husband have a son in college who lives at home, and he basically takes the approach that since he’s an “adult” now, he can pretty much do what he wants. And he isn’t doing much, which makes things very tense.

This son is lazy and sloppy and doesn’t show any respect when his dad asks him to help out around the house. Mom and Dad don’t want to upset him or make things worse, so they pretty much put up with it. This mom says she cleans up after her son because she wants her home to be orderly for the rest of the family.

These are such difficult situations because all parents want their children to be happy. But sometimes doing what’s best for them will cause some discomfort and unhappiness, at least for a while. But bottom line, parents can’t let their adult children wreck their households. When they are irresponsible and living at home, it puts strain on everyone. They should not be allowed to act like children when they need to be transitioning to adulthood. If a child in his 20s isn’t forced to take on more responsibility for his own life, there’s no motivation for him to become an independent, self-reliant adult who can handle the “real world.”

If he’s disrespecting his parents along with it, there definitely needs to be a change. He needs some motivation to step up and take on responsibility.

How does that look, exactly? Well, let me warn you: The ideas I have might sound a lot like “tough love,” which can leave a child angry and upset for a time. In some scenarios, he may leave and say he never wants to see you again, and you might not hear from him for weeks. But chances are good that eventually he’ll come around, and maybe even thank you for giving him the “kick” he needed to get going.

Think about birds teaching their young to fly. Often they nudge them out of the nest. And in some cases, that’s how it is with young adult kids.

So how can parents handle this?

One suggestion is to draw up an agreement with your young-adult child in writing. The details depend on the specifics of the situation, but a good general rule comes from the authors of the Love and Logic books. It’s called the “good neighbor policy.”

If a friendly neighbor needed a place to stay for a while, you’d probably help him out. But if he wanted to stay longer, you would likely draw up an agreement. He’d need to obey your house rules and pay something for room and board—on time, each month. Of course, if he didn’t like the rent amount or the rules, he’d be free to find another situation.

If necessary, you would take action to move him out of your home.

That might sound cruel. Maybe you could never imagine doing that to your own child. But that might be exactly what he needs to get his life on track.

Let me quickly add, while pushing, it’s important to communicate in several different ways, “We love you, and we want you to learn to be responsible, independent and content.” That could include encouraging words, regular invitations for home-cooked meals back home and financial help related to the transition itself. For example, you may want to help cover the security deposit on an apartment lease. Or something like a gift certificate to a men’s clothing store for your son to pick out a new interview suit.

Also, understand that even a bird doesn’t do this until the young one is ready. So, not all situations call for the same approach.

But if you’re in this situation, get with your wife and do some research, maybe talk with other parents, and figure out an approach you both believe in. You need to be on the same page and not let any issues with your child come between the two of you.

13 Signs Of A Toxic Parent That Many People Don’t Realize

SOURCE:  HOLLY CHAVEZ/Lifehack

Most parents genuinely do their best to provide their children with a happy and healthy upbringing, but even these individuals can accidentally make mistakes that may result in future therapy appointments.

Unfortunately, some parents go beyond the occasional mistake and veer into the toxic category. Regardless of whether or not a parent is purposefully being toxic, there are several behaviors that can cause so much emotional and mental damage to a child that it ends up greatly affecting them even after they have grown up.

If you experienced any of the following situations as a child, the odds are high that one or both of your parents were at least slightly toxic.

  1. They Fail To Provide You With Affirmation And Security

Some people believe that showing tough love is an important way to ensure that their children are able to take care of themselves in the future. If you were the recipient of this approach on a regular basis, you might even believe that this has had a positive impact on your life. However, if you practically fall apart now because of any perceived failure or rejection, then this most likely stems from a parent’s toxic refusal to provide you with the right amount of security and affirmation while you were young. Tough love might work sometimes, but it cannot be the only approach a parent takes if they want their child to become a well-rounded adult.

  1. They Are Overly Critical

Everyone’s parents criticize them from time to time. Without this component, we might never learn how to do numerous things properly, such as everyday chores like washing laundry. A toxic parent takes this to extremes by being overly critical about everything their child does. Parents can make the mistake of believing that they do this to make sure their children avoid making costly mistakes. Unfortunately, what this behavior really does is cause the child to develop a harsh inner critic that can be borderline crippling during adulthood.

  1. They Co-Opt Your Goals

Did one of your parents become interested in everything you were doing to the point where they took over or even duplicated you? This can seem like the actions of someone who is interested in their child’s life, but what it often does is make it harder for the child to actually meet their goals. For example, if you have to sell 50 boxes of cookies at the same time that your mother decides to make cookies and pass them out to the neighbors, it is going to be a lot harder to hit your sales goal. This behavior can derail you throughout your entire life if you allow your parent to keep getting away with it.

  1. They Cause You To Justify Terrible Behavior

Did you grow up believing that your parent was physically or emotionally abusive to you because you deserved it? If so, you may still be justifying the terrible behavior of others at your own expense. Toxic parents can twist any situation to suit their needs, and this leaves children with two choices: accept that their parent is wrong or internalize all of the blame. In most cases, children, even those who are adults now, choose the latter option.

  1. They Demand Your Attention

Toxic parents often turn their children into their own parental substitutes by demanding their attention at all times. This can be seen as bonding between the parent and child, but it is really a parasitic relationship that requires too much of the child’s time and energy when they should be focused on learning other skills. Although it may be difficult at times, a well-rounded parent will allow their children enough space to grow and be kids without demanding constant interaction to suit their own needs.

  1. They Use Guilt And Money To Control You

Every child has experienced a guilt trip from their parents, but toxic individuals resort to this tactic on a regular basis. Even as an adult, your parent might still be controlling you by giving you expensive gifts and then expecting something in return. If you fail to do as they want, they will then try to make you feel guilty about it because of “everything they have done for you.” Healthy parents know that children do not owe them a specific response in exchange for money or gifts, especially when these items were not asked for in the first place.

  1. They Make Toxic “Jokes” About You

All parents occasionally pick on their children, but when the so-called jokes become commonplace, this can be a huge problem. You do not need to accept this type of behavior just because your parent has always joked about something such as your height or weight. Ultimately, this is an undermining tactic that can make you feel very badly about yourself. If a parent has a legitimate concern to address with their child, they should be honest and non-critical, as opposed to making mean jokes.

  1. They Give You The Silent Treatment

It can be hard to talk to someone when you are angry, but shutting out a child with the silent treatment is very damaging and immature. Dishing out this passive-aggressive treatment hurts any type of relationship and makes the recipient feel pressured into fixing the situation, even when they didn’t do anything wrong. If a parent is too mad to have a rational conversation, they should excuse themselves for a few minutes instead of blatantly ignoring their child.

  1. They Scare Even Their Adult Children

Respect and fear do not need to go hand-in-hand. In fact, children who feel loved, supported, and connected are much more likely to be happy as adults. Although discipline of some sort will inevitably be necessary from time to time, non-toxic parents do not use highly fearful actions and words that are permanently damaging to the human psyche. Children should not need to be afraid to be respectful, and adults should not need to end up feeling anxious each time their parent calls or emails.

  1. They Always Put Their Feelings First

Parents may believe that their feelings should come first during family matters, but this is an antiquated way of thinking that is not going to foster positive relationships. Even though parents do need to make the final decision about everything from dinner to vacation plans, it is necessary to consider the feelings of every family member — including the children. Toxic individuals constantly force children to suppress their own feelings in order to appease their parents.

  1. They Ignore Healthy Boundaries

Parents can justify keeping a close eye on their children and, in certain situations, it may even be necessary to do a bit of snooping to keep them safe. However, everyone needs to be able to set boundaries for themselves, especially teenagers. Parents who are toxic override these boundaries at every turn, and this causes numerous problems. For example, a toxic parent will open their child’s door without knocking first. This sets up a pattern that makes it hard for their children to properly recognize and understand boundaries later in life.

  1. They Do Not Allow You To Express Negative Emotions

Parents who refuse to nurture their child’s emotional needs and make light of their negative emotions are setting up a future where the child will feel unable to express what they need. There is nothing wrong with helping children see the positive side of any situation. However, being completely dismissive of a child’s negative feelings and emotional needs can lead to depression and make it more difficult for them to appropriately handle negativity as adults.

  1. They Make You Responsible For Their Happiness

If one of your parents spent a lot of time telling you how much they gave up for you in connection with their unhappiness, then they were placing unrealistic expectations on your role in their life. No child should be held accountable for their parent’s happiness. Also, parents should never demand that children give up things that make them happy in order to even out the score. Being forced into this situation will make it difficult for adult children to understand that we are all responsible for our own happiness.

Removing toxic people from your life may seem impossible, especially if one of them is a parent. Unless you take action, though, it will be much harder to correct the emotional and psychological damage that was done to you during your childhood. On the plus side, any toxic parent who recognizes themselves within the 13 points in this article can turn to a trained counselor for assistance with breaking their negative behavioral patterns.

Adult Children: The Main Problem is US !

SOURCE:  Excerpted from a book by Allison Bottke

Assuming Responsibility for Our Choices

Although it’s high time many of our adult children begin to accept the consequences of their choices, the plain truth is that we must first accept the responsibility for our choices—past choices, present choices, and future choices.

Our biggest problem isn’t our adult children’s inability to wake up when their alarm clocks ring, or their inability to keep a schedule, or their inability to hold down jobs or pay their bills. It’s not their drug use or alcohol addictions. It’s not the mess they’re making of their lives. The main problem is the part we’re playing in stepping in to soften the blow of the consequences that come from the choices they make.

The main problem is us.

Ouch.

It’s also the excuses we make to ourselves (and others) for our enabling. Excuses like these:

  • “It’s just so hard for kids today.”
  • “If I don’t help, who will?”
  • “But I’m only trying to help.”
  • “No one understands my Larry [or Sally].”
  • “He [or she] just needs to find the right treatment program.”

Excuses like these keep us in pain—and further from any real resolution for our children or us. What must stop are the ongoing (and often useless) discussions we continue to have with our adult children, who clearly know how to push our buttons, how to control us and thus control the outcome, be it consciously or subconsciously.

The excuses must end.

And as difficult as it may be to hear, we may be somewhat responsible for whatever part we’ve played—large or small—in the dysfunctions of our adult children. For some of us, the responsibility may be large. We have surely played a part—perhaps unwittingly—in raising disrespectful, irresponsible, ungrateful, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and debilitatingly lazy adult children. We have played some part in raising excuse-ridden sluggards—“The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4).

Does this sound harsh? It was meant to. I know some of you may be saying, “Allison, please don’t make me feel even more guilty about my parenting choices. I feel bad enough already.”

I totally understand. However, if we really want things to change, it’s time to stop feeling guilty, take the spotlight off our adult children, and focus ownership of the issue on ourselves. The reality of what we’ve done and why we’ve done it may be ugly, but underneath it all is something beautiful: well-meant intentions. And it’s those well-meant intentions that cause us grief today.

For years some of us have focused our attention (and worries) on our adult children. We’ve not only taken on the role of director in the drama of their lives, but the roles of producer, stage manager, dresser, caterer, financier, and scriptwriter as well. We’ve done countless things for them that they are more than capable of doing for themselves. No matter whether it’s a comedy, a tragedy, or a melodrama, it’s time for the curtain to come down on this act.

This show is over.

But a new production is on the horizon!

We must replace our enabling behavior with something else.

Ending Enabling Behavior

From experience I’ve learned four life-saving truths about changing enabling behavior:

  1. We can pray for the power to change ourselves.
  2. We can help (not enable) adult children of any age develop wings to fly on their own.
  3. We can find comfort in knowing we are not alone on this journey.
  4. We can take back our lives!

In the book of James, we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (1:2-3). In place of “perseverance,” the New American Standard Version uses the word endurance. Either way we look at it, the lesson is clear: we are being instructed to hang in there, to stay the course, to persevere and endure.

What are we really made of? It’s been said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I’ve always understood the second part of that quote to mean that when we’re faced with trials, we must proactively do something. We must get going, as in get up off the couch and make some positive changes. It seems others have interpreted this quote as justification to retreat, to run away from the trial, to get going—as in I’m outta here!

Many of our adult children have retreated from the trials and tribulations that not only test their faith but would also stretch them in ways that would develop their character, prove their mettle, and give them a sense of achievement. Consequently, many adult children have no idea what they’re truly capable of accomplishing. They’ve never really tried to move ahead with confidence and be all they can be.

Remember, God knows when to discontinue a trial because its purpose has been fulfilled. And He gives us two great promises concerning our trials: First, His comforting presence:

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD, your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

(Isaiah 43:2-3)

And second, the assurance that He won’t permit more pressure than we can handle:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The apostle Paul wrote from his experience:

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

True, he wasn’t a parent of a dysfunctional child, but these verses apply to any Christian who is “hard pressed on every side” and “struck down.”

And we have certainly been struck down countless times, but like the Energizer Bunny, we keep getting up. Yet we’re so weary of living with the ongoing crisis that we return to the same behaviors and habits—and our adult children have us pegged. They know what to expect from us. They know that eventually we will “help” them yet again.

The bitter truth for many of us is that we haven’t been helping; we’ve been enabling.

So instead of praying to God to stop the pain, remove the difficulty, or change the lives of our adult children, we must rise up and pray for something entirely different. We must pray for the courage to look deep in our own hearts and souls. We must pray for the strength to begin a journey that quite possibly may change our own lives—and pray for the wisdom to make new choices.

Making new choices won’t always be easy. We’ve been repeating the same patterns for years, but now we need to ask ourselves what rewards we’re getting from enabling our adult children. What need is this fulfilling in our lives?

Quite simply, we must identify our own issues.

It took me years to get to the bottom of my own issues, but once I did, things began to change.

I was 16 years old when my son was born, living a nightmare, trying to stay alive. I had run away from home at the age of 15 to marry my prince charming, except he turned out to be anything but. The first year of my son’s life was like any number of Lifetime Movie of the Week scripts in which violently abusive husbands stalk their wives, making their lives a near hell on earth. One horror story after another had me looking over my shoulder for years as I tried to make sense of my world.

As a toddler, I had been brutally beaten and molested by a foster parent, which left me scarred in ways that would take me decades to sort out. I was an emotional mess before I met my first husband, then after what he did to me, I was even worse. I was only 16 years old; I had no business being a mother. I was too young, too immature, and too unstable.

But, oh, how I loved my son.

You may argue that babies have been having babies for centuries. It wasn’t unusual in many cultures for girls to leave their homes as young as age 13 to begin families. However, in most of these instances, the babies were raised in households where extended family resided. Thus, a young woman learned how to become a mother from older women who were far wiser and more experienced.

Not so today. Families are spread out all over the country, and young parents are thrown into the fray with very little preparation.

Plus, the young mothers of yore seldom had the severe emotional baggage young mothers carry today. In my case, I didn’t just carry baggage; I had a truckload of dysfunctions.

  1. Suzanne Eller is a speaker, parenting columnist, and author of The Mom I Want to Be. Responding to my questionnaire, she wrote,

Poor parenting skills are a contributing factor to the enabling epidemic. I often talk to parents whose intentions are positive, but their methods keep their adult children in a state of limbo. One parent complained that she felt her adult son would never leave home. “Why don’t you tell him it’s time to go?” I asked. She said that he was financially unable to support himself. This son had a nice vehicle, a Jet Ski, and trendy clothing, and he went out to eat or play often. Mom and Dad paid the mortgage, the food bills, and the utilities, and they didn’t have the financial means to “play.” It simply didn’t make sense. This mom had no clue that they were not only teaching their adult son that others would care for him and his “needs” while he spent his money on “wants,” but they were also setting him up for future relationship disasters. One day he will step into marriage, and the chances are, he will expect those he loves to continue the pattern.

It’s time we break the pattern. It’s time we find out what kind of parents we are and do what it takes to become the parents our adult children need.

Self-awareness of the part we play in the enabling dynamic is a major success step. When we become aware of our heart issues, we are one step closer to being healthy. And it’s our own lives we must make healthy, not our adult children’s lives, no matter how much we want to help them.

How they live their lives, the choices they make or don’t make, and what they inevitably choose to do or not do with their future is up to them, not us. It’s amazingly empowering when we begin to define and clarify our own issues as parents.

Pointing the light at ourselves is the powerful first step to changing our lives, and God willing, our adult children’s lives as well.

Forgiving is good. Helping is good. Being there for our adult children is good. However, when living in constant need, crisis, or trouble becomes the rule and not the exception for our adult children, we must step back and take a look at our own lives. We must recognize our own problems with enabling and change our own patterns of behavior.

I know the idea that you may have contributed to your adult child’s poor choices is uncomfortable. Perhaps some of you really haven’t done much to bring about your adult child’s present crisis. You may not be a chronic enabler. But keep reading. There is much for you in these pages.

Whether or not you can identify enabling behavior in your treatment of your adult child, you will still need to set boundaries in your relationship with him or her. In either case, it’s no longer about your adult child; it’s about you.

I know because I’ve been there.

And deep in your heart, you know it too.[1]

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[1] Bottke, A. (2008). Setting boundaries with your adult children: Six steps to hope and healing for struggling parents. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

Adult Children: ARE YOU AN ENABLING PARENT?

SOURCE:  Excerpted from a book by Allison Bottke

Following are a few questions that might help you determine the difference between helping and enabling an adult child. It’s interesting to note that these questions are not unlike those often asked in Al-anon meetings when defining the behaviors of an alcoholic or drug addict with whom someone lives.

  1. Have you repeatedly loaned your adult child money, which has seldom, if ever, been repaid?
  2. Have you paid for education and /or job training in more than one field?
  3. Have you finished a job or project that he failed to complete himself because it was easier than arguing with him?
  4. Have you paid bills he was supposed to have paid himself?
  5. Have you accepted part of the blame for his addictions or behavior?
  6. Have you avoided talking about negative issues because you feared his response?
  7. Have you bailed him out of jail or paid for his legal fees?
  8. Have you given him “one more chance” and then another and another?
  9. Have you ever returned home at lunchtime (or called) and found him still in bed sleeping?
  10. Have you wondered how he gets money to buy cigarettes, video games, new clothes, and such but can’t afford to pay his own bills?
  11. Have you ever “called in sick” for your child, lying about his symptoms to his boss?
  12. Have you threatened to throw him out but didn’t?
  13. Have you begun to feel that you’ve reached the end of your rope?
  14. Have you begun to hate both your child and yourself for the state in which you live?
  15. Have you begun to worry that the financial burden is more than you can bear?
  16. Have you begun to feel that your marriage is in jeopardy because of this situation?
  17. Have you noticed growing resentment in other family members because of your adult child?
  18. Have you noticed that others are uncomfortable around you when this issue arises?
  19. Have you noticed an increase in profanity, violence, and /or other unacceptable behavior from your adult child?
  20. Have you noticed that things are missing from your home, including money, valuables, and other personal property?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, chances are that at some point in time, you have enabled your adult child to avoid his own responsibilities and to escape the consequences of his actions. Rather than helping him grow into a productive and responsible adult, you have made it easier for him to become even more dependent and irresponsible.

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, you have not only been an enabler, but you have probably become a major contributor to the problem.

It’s time to stop.

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Excerpted from:

Bottke, A. (2008). Setting boundaries with your adult children: Six steps to hope and healing for struggling parents. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

Adult Children: What Is the Difference Between Helping and Enabling?

SOURCE:  Excerpted from a book by Allison Bottke

Helping is doing something for someone who is not capable of doing for himself.

Enabling is doing for someone what he could and should be doing for himself.

An enabler is a person who recognizes that a negative circumstance is occurring on a regular basis and yet continues to enable the person with the problem to persist in his detrimental behaviors. Simply, enabling creates an atmosphere in which our adult children can comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior.

Sadly, though, the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is blurred for many enabling parents. Not only are we often unaware of what it means to enable, but we’re equally fuzzy when it comes to what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. For instance, in the example I mentioned earlier, it should be unacceptable behavior for a child to ask to borrow 10 dollars and not return the change when given a 20-dollar bill. As you’ll remember, the mother told me this had happened repeatedly.

When we continue to allow these behaviors, we are setting up a pattern with our children that will be hard to change. We’re enabling their repeated inappropriate behavior. Then when we repeat the enabling pattern year after year—accepting what should be unacceptable behavior and instilling bad habits—it eventually becomes as natural to many of us as breathing. Yet all the while, a nagging feeling deep in our hearts and souls tells us something very wrong is happening. Take a moment now and look at the following sidebar. It will help you determine the extent to which you have or haven’t been enabling your dysfunctional child.

By the way, a word of caution is appropriate here.

In clarifying the difference between helping and enabling, I’m not saying that we can never loan our kids cash or help them out. We simply must know the difference between a responsible adult child asking Mom or Dad to loan them a few bucks when an unexpected expense pops up and an adult child who habitually asks for money and seldom, if ever, repays it.

What I’m saying is that we need to be aware of when an adult child gets into a habit of asking for money and not repaying it, or when an adult child exhibits a sense of entitlement to his parents’ money. Typically, a responsible adult child repays a loan, and the habitual borrower seldom, if ever, repays it.

The key to remember is, are we helping or enabling our adult children?

Make no mistake about it: If you have been an enabling parent, it may not be easy for you to change. Nor will any resulting changes in your adult child be easy for him to make. Learning to choose to do things differently isn’t easy after a long-term pattern has been established.

Years ago I founded an outreach called God Allows U-Turns. A key part of that ministry is a series of true, short-story compilation books focused on ways faith can help us find new direction in life. The subtitle of that book series is The Choices We Make Change the Story of Our Life. Never is that statement more true than when deciding to change the choices we make in how we relate to our adult children who are creating pain in our lives. Equally true is that for adult children who have been consistently enabled throughout their lives, it’s the choices they don’t make that will eventually tell the story of their lives.

In her best-selling book Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World, author Jill Rigby writes,

Respect was paramount when we were kids. But somehow over the years we substituted self-esteem for self-respect and lost our manners. Slowly, but surely, children became the center of the universe, spoiled, egotistical and disrespectful. I often refer to them as “aristobrats.”

As a result of this emphasis on self-esteem, twenty-somethings are returning home rather than facing the world on their own. College kids are flunking out because they don’t know how to manage their own schedules. Kids are growing up without problem-solving skills because many of their parents think love means solving all their problems for them. Many adolescents have no respect for authority because their parents didn’t command their respect. Instead, these parents gave too much and expected too little.1

Could this be true? Have we given too much and expected too little?

As long as we continue to keep enabling our adult children, they will continue to deny they have any problems, since most of their problems are being “solved” by those around him. Only when our adult children are forced to face the consequences of their own actions—their own choices—will it finally begin to sink in how deep their patterns of dependence and avoidance have become. And only then will we as parents be able to take the next step to real healing, forever ending our enabling habits and behaviors.

1 Jill Rigby, Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World (West Monroe, LA: Howard Books, 2006), 7.

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Excerpted from:

Bottke, A. (2008). Setting boundaries with your adult children: Six steps to hope and healing for struggling parents. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

Respectfully Leaving Your Parents

SOURCE:  Dennis/Barbara Rainey (Family Life)

You may have moved out from your childhood home, but have you really left your parents behind?

God did not mince words when instructing a married couple to leave their parents. The Hebrew words used in Genesis 2:24, which states that “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife,” mean “to forsake dependence upon,” “leave behind,” “release,” and “let go.”

Later, Jesus addressed the issue when he said that no one was ever intended to come between a husband and a wife (Matthew 19:6). No one! No in-laws, no mother, no father was meant to divide a couple who had made a covenant with each other to leave, cleave, and become one flesh.

This pointed instruction is needed. Psychologist Dan Allender says in the book Intimate Allies that “the failure to shift loyalty from parents to spouse is a central issue in almost all marital conflict.” God knows that leaving parents will be a difficult transition, especially in homes where the child-parent bond has been solid and warm. Unfortunately, many (if not most) couples do not cut the apron strings—they lengthen them!

After our wedding ceremony, Barbara and I walked down the church aisle together, symbolically proclaiming to all those witnesses that we had left our parents. We had forsaken our dependence upon them for our livelihood and emotional support and were turning to each other as the primary relationship of our lives. The public affirmation of our covenant to each other meant, “No relationship on earth, other than my relationship with Jesus Christ and God, is more important than my relationship with my spouse.”

If we do not leave our parents correctly, we will be like a couple I knew who were dependent financially on the wife’s family. The situation was robbing the husband of his family leadership potential. The wife kept looking to her dad to bail them out after poor choices. Her husband wasn’t able to grow up, face his responsibility to make correct choices for his family, and live with the consequences of his decisions. He was losing self-respect as a man, and it was undermining his wife’s respect for him as well.

It can be equally destructive to continue to be emotionally dependent on a parent. This dependence will hinder the Super Glue-like bonding that must occur between husband and wife.

How to leave, yet still honor, your parents

Leaving your home does not mean you permanently withdraw and no longer have a good relationship with your parents. That’s isolating yourself from your parents, not leaving. The commandment in Exodus 20:12 to honor your parents means that when you leave them, you need to go with respect, love, admiration, and affirmation for their sacrifices and efforts in raising you. But you must make a break from them and sever your dependence on them. As time passes, you must be diligent to prevent any reestablishment of dependence at critical points in your marriage.

Leaving certain kinds of parents requires special sensitivity. For example, if your mom or dad is a single parent, she or he may no longer have anyone at home to lean on and may feel terribly alone. Or perhaps you left behind a parent who endures a lifeless marriage devoid of passion. In either case, your leaving has created a big void in the home. So it’s important to make your love and commitment clear to them while also switching your primary allegiance to your spouse.

You can honor your parents and also reap benefits by seeking their wisdom on certain issues. When you ask them to offer their insights, you must make it clear that you are seeking information and advice, not surrendering your right to make final decisions. A tip: Always try to consult your spouse before seeking input from parents. Give yourselves some time to become good at this. You may have depended on your parents for 20 years but have been married only one!

When parents want to reattach

Sometimes without realizing it, we may allow our parents to reestablish the severed connections. It could occur during a Christmas visit. It might happen during a phone call when the child mentions to the parent some disappointment or failure experienced in the marriage relationship.

I remember how, early in our marriage, I shared a weakness about Barbara with my mother. Now my mom was a great mother, but I was astounded at how she rushed to my side, like a mother hen coming to aid her wounded little chick. Her response startled me. I told Barbara about it and apologized. I promised I would not again discuss negative things about her with my mom.

You must not allow parents to innocently (or not so innocently) drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Some parents may seek to manipulate and control their child. For example, a father won’t stop telling his “little girl” what to do. The husband may need to step in and explain to his wife how destructive this is to the health of the marriage. Boundaries limiting the amount of communication between father and daughter may need to be installed for the long or short term.

Or a mother may be trying to call the shots with her son. The wife needs to explain carefully to her husband what she is observing. If the situation doesn’t improve, there may need to be a cooling-off period where the husband minimizes contact with his mother and directs his attention toward his wife.

These showdowns may be intimidating for either spouse, but boundaries need clarification. You may need to call on an older mentor for advice before you take action, but your allegiance must first and foremost be to your spouse.

At this point, I want to encourage you husbands to be the man and protect your wife. Sometimes you may need to graciously but firmly step in and shield her from a manipulative parent. I implore you to gently guard your wife’s heart and your marriage from a dad or mom whose intentions may be good but counterproductive.

If you are having trouble maintaining a clean break as a couple, you may decide to spend less time at home for out-of-town holiday visits. Instead of a week, perhaps the stay should be shortened to two or three days. Or skip a holiday altogether, just as a way of clarifying where your primary commitment lies.

A way to forestall some misunderstandings and help with decision making is to determine your family’s values early in the marriage. For instance, one value may be establishing your own family’s Christmas traditions as your children leave infancy. It will make it easier to explain your choices to your parents if you have a clear idea of what you are doing and why you are doing it.

As your parents grow older, they may need your assistance. Again, approach this issue prayerfully as a team. Take as much time as you can to make decisions, especially those with long-term ramifications. Some choices will be very difficult, but in most cases, the health of the marriage must take precedence. Although you must consider the financial implications, a parent may need to live at a retirement center instead of with you, if the parent’s presence will adversely affect your marriage.

One final thing to keep in mind: Leaving is not a one-time event or limited to the early years of marriage. The temptation to reconnect some of the old bonding lines will continue as long as parents are alive. For example, when grandchildren come along, most parents want to share from their vast stores of experience on how to raise kids.

Both parents and their children need to remain on guard so that leaving remains just that—a healthy, God-ordained realignment of the parent-child relationship.

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Adapted from Starting Your Marriage Right,© 2000 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

Marriage Q&A: Choosing To Live With A Very Difficult Spouse

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

How Do I Live With A Basically Good Man Who Is A Tyrant?

QuestionMy husband is basically a good man.   He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church.  He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.

He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them- never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety.  He expects our older children- living away from our home with lives of their own- to always be at his beck and call.  If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc.  He refuses to be told no.  And, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.

While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer- just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be.  Whose fault is that?  His parents. His father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career.  The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.

He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life.  He doesn’t seem to have any concept that not everyone’s life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions.  He is negative in all aspects of his life- except, of course, if it relates to music.   While I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining.   He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he’s challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him.  It’s to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be.  Want his opinion?  Just think of the most irrational response, and go with that.

He is like a petulant two-year-old who demands his own way and nothing is ever right for him.  Even if you do something considerate to try and make life easier for him or take care of something that he hadn’t time to do, his reaction is never one of gratitude- there is always, always, always a negative reaction.  Things are still done or taken care of for him, but it’s never brought up to him and, if he does notice, it’s never mentioned.

While we all love him, he is driving a wide and very deep wedge between himself and the rest of our family.  It is very difficult to live with someone when you are walking on eggshells at all times.  I am not looking to leave him or my marriage.  I am looking for help in how to live with him and how to help my children live with him.  I do not want my children to grow up like their father.

Answer:  I feel a little confused. You say that your husband is basically a good man, patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual.  Perhaps what you mean is that your husband can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants.  When that doesn’t happen, (which is real life) watch out!

Now your question, how do you live with someone like that and how do you help your children live with someone like that?  The best answer I can offer you is you can only live with this (if you choose to) with a good support system and lots of grace and truth, with no expectations of a meaningful relationship or mutual give and take.

I am reluctant to put a label on anyone but your description of your husband’s behavior is typical of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  A craving for admiration, an attitude of entitlement and lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs are usually the big red flags.   You can google it and read more information on it if you want to see if it fits.

Let’s start with grace. In order to live with someone like this you will need to learn to lean hard into God’s loving grace, knowing that when your husband doesn’t treat you well or love you like you wished he did, you are still deeply loved and valued by God.  You will need God’s grace to continually forgive your husband and keep a clean slate of the wrongs he does against you so that you don’t become hardened by bitterness and resentment. Your husband will never apologize or take responsibility for the wrong’s he’s done which makes it that much harder to forgive and let things go so your strength must come from outside yourself. It can only be from God.

You will need God’s grace to biblically love your husband when you feel like screaming at him and grace to not repay evil for evil. Jesus calls us to love our enemies but we rarely have to live with our enemies day in and day out.  To live in a relatively conflict-free relationship with your husband you will need to accept that you will always be more the giver. God sees how much you give whether or not your husband notices or appreciates it.  You will need His eternal perspective on your marital loneliness and suffering because you will feel unheard, unloved and unvalued much of the time, which may tempt you to seek other male companionship.

You will need grace to not judge your husband and have contempt for him as a man or as a person, even though truth tells you his attitudes and actions are sinful.  Grace keeps us humble, reminding us that we too are sinful and have our own brokenness.  Grace keeps us mindful of the logs in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in our spouse’s.

You will also need to stay focused on God’s truth to stay healthy emotionally, spiritually and mentally.  Your husband blames and shames everyone around him and it’s tempting to believe his harsh words.  Don’t do it. Listen to what God says about who you are and not your husband’s words.  You will need God’s truth to explain to yourself and even your children that sometimes their father acts selfishly and it’s not wrong of them to say “no” or to ask him to consider their needs, and not just think of his own (Philippians 2:4).

Truth will help you know when boundaries are important and how to set them. For example, when he begins his angry tirade you might stop talking, turn around and walk away. If he continues, leave the house.  When you return you can say something like, “I can’t listen to you when you scream at me. You would do the same if I talked to you that way”  Keep it short and simple.  Or “I don’t want to feel angry and hateful toward you so I’m leaving until you can cool down.”  Then do it.

You will also need truth to guide you when to confront your husband’s sinful behavior and how.  There may be a strategic or teachable moment where you could say something that may cause him to press pause and think about his actions and you want to look for those moments and ask God to give you an anointed tongue.

We are to speak the truth in love to one another but it’s tempting to either to placate this kind of person or eventually get sick of it and blow up, only to later feel guilty, regretting your reaction which only adds more fuel to his fire.  Wear truth as a necklace and she will teach you when the time is right to speak. Hard words need not be harsh words.

For example, when he’s inconsiderate of your needs or your schedule, you could say, “I know this is important to you, but this is important to me so I have to do this first.”  Your goal in this kind of statement is to remind him that you are a separate PERSON with your own needs, feelings and thoughts.  You are not just a slave or a robot or a “wife” but a person and even if he doesn’t value you, you are going to value yourself.

You said you don’t’ want your children growing up to be like their father.  Children do learn a lot from their parents, but their father isn’t their only influencer.  You have a huge impact on your children and the way you interact with their father will say a lot to them about not only who he is, but who you are.  If you act as if he’s right and he’s entitled to act this way, they get the picture that men (fathers, husbands) get to have their way all the time that’s “normal”.  Therefore it’s important to speak truthfully to your children about things such as, “I think sometimes your father can be self-absorbed and not realize that you have your own plans. It’s okay to remind him that you can’t always accommodate him and stick to what you need to do for yourself.”

You say your husband is deeply spiritual. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about the person who lives in the spirit and one who lives in the flesh.  Perhaps in a moment when your husband seems open or more in tune with God, you could ask him which one he inhabits most often?  Or when he is most negative or critical say, “You don’t seem to experience God’s joy or peace very much.  Why do you think that is?”  Your words will have little impact on him but God tells us that His words are powerful and don’t return void. They have the power to cut right to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to use His Word, even those in the lyrics of the music he plays each week at church, to cause him to see the truth about why he is so critical, so miserable and so unhappy.

Lastly, don’t forget you do need good relationships, even if it’s not in your marriage. Seek out healthy girlfriends that can encourage you, love on you, pray for you and hold you accountable to be the kind of person you want to be while living in this difficult marriage.

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