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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

3 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Ann Malmberg

Let’s go back in time. Think about when you were a kid. Are there things your family did that you were later surprised to learn was not how everyone else did it?

Did you keep butter in the fridge or on the table? Were birthdays a week-long celebration or not that big of a deal? Did you sit down at the dinner table every night at 6:00pm on the dot? Are there things you do a certain way today simply because that’s how it was always done in your home growing up?

The fact is, what we experience in our family of origin (which is the people who raise us and who we spend most of our childhood with) often does show up in your couple relationship in one way or another. How so? The following scenarios demonstrate three ways family of origin experiences can manifest in your relationship:

How strongly you adhere to traditions
Scenario A: On Christmas Eve, you always drink hot chocolate out of your special Christmas mug and open one present, saving the rest for Christmas morning, when you practice patience and build your anticipation by always opening stockings first. It’s just how things are done—it wouldn’t feel like Christmas otherwise.

Scenario B: On Christmas Eve, sometimes you celebrate at home, some years you travel to your aunt and uncle’s house a few hours away, and a couple years you even got to celebrate in Florida with your grandparents! Your family went with the flow – being together was the main goal.

Whether you identify more with the first or second scenario, chances are you’ll carry these tendencies with you as an adult and into your relationship. As you begin to form your own family unit, you’ll likely think about the role traditions will play and how important it is to you to carry on the ones you grew up with or create your own. If you grew up in a more go-with-the-flow family, you’ll probably have a similar attitude.

How you handle a major stressful event
Your grandfather was just admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Your mother needs to go to see him and be with your grandmother at the hospital – she’ll be gone for three days.

Scenario A: Your family goes into emergency mode. You and your siblings each have specific chores you’re in charge of, and everyone is expected to step up and help out. There are specific “dad’s-in-charge” rules that everyone knows and is expected to follow.

Scenario B: Your family goes into chaos mode. The house is a mess and homework isn’t getting done, but hey, McDonald’s for dinner! (You never get that when Mom’s home.) Dad just does his best making sure you’re getting off to school in the morning fully dressed.

It might not have been this black or white, but you likely have a general sense of how your family reacted to out-of-the-ordinary events. You might have actually felt a sense of rigid order or disorganized chaos during those times, or you just felt like this is how it must be for everyone.

Have you gone through stressful life events with your partner? What tendencies do you fall back on? If they are the opposite of your partner’s, you might experience some conflict, especially if you don’t have an understanding of where each other is coming from (and sometimes even if you do.)

How you deal with conflict and emotions
Your older sister has been skipping school – and your parents just found out about it.

Scenario A: The dinner table is icily silent except for the clinking of silverware on plates. You look nervously from your parents to your sister as both sides seethe silently. Your mom says, “Please pass the rolls,” and with those four words you know your sister is so in for it later.

Scenario B: The dinner table is silent for exactly one minute before the yelling begins. There is no mistaking the fact that your parents are pissed, and your sister is defiant. Punishment is dealt out amidst tearful protests and the whole thing ends with a dramatic stomping exit and slamming bedroom door. “Please pass the rolls,” your mom says chipperly.

What is your natural inclination when handling high emotions or addressing a conflict? Do you display your emotions clearly and confront the issue/person head on in the heat of the moment? Or do you maintain a reserved exterior subscribing to the notion that emotions are best tempered and kept to yourself while conflict is dealt with quietly? Neither is really ideal, but the behavior you were accustomed to growing up has likely etched itself into your psyche in some way. Perhaps you’ve learned to lower your voice instead of yelling when you’re angry or your logical side knows not to bury your emotions, but when you’re tired or stressed, these natural, knee-jerk tendencies can still bubble up.

So what does all of this mean for your relationship?

Takeaway #1: Your family of origin experience does have an effect on your couple relationship, whether you’d like it to or not.

Takeaway #2: Understanding differences and similarities between you and your partner’s family of origin can give you a lot of insight into certain dynamics of your relationship.

Takeaway #3: Communication is key. Talking to each other about your family of origin experiences not only increases intimacy and mutual understanding, it also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what each of you wants to carry forward or leave behind. What is most important to you? What are possible benefits and pitfalls of your similarities and differences? Where might you have to compromise? Discussing expectations now can prevent conflict and hurt feelings later.

The 5 Don’ts of Dysfunctional Family Communication

SOURCE:  Eric Scalise, Ph.D.

Every family has its own unique set of rules.

They are typically established by parents and set the tone for communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution, as well as defining the parameters for how relationships are supposed to function within the home environment. Sometimes these rules are written, perhaps even posted; however, in most cases, they are of the unspoken variety, yet clearly understood as the “norms” of the household.

Here are five such rules I have seen over the course of working with hundreds of families—rules that often create chaos, hurt, and confusion—though you will never see them attached to the refrigerator with a magnet. Their impact often leaves family members, especially children, too afraid to try anything, too hurt to love anybody and too angry to obey.

Let’s unpack them one at a time:

Rule #1 – Don’t Talk

This rule implies that you are not really allowed to share your thoughts, concerns or ideas on almost any matter.

Conflicts, differences of opinion, problem behaviors, etc., are all either completely ignored or quickly silenced. There are no “family” conferences or pow-wows whenever a crisis occurs and avoidance is the name of the game. Take for example, a father who drinks too much. Everyone knows Dad is drinking. Everyone knows Dad comes home drunk sometimes, gets rough with Mom or the kids, but no one talks about what’s going on. It’s like having the proverbial elephant right in the living room. Everyone clearly sees it; everyone can smell it and everyone knows what it’s doing to the carpet. Yet, no one talks about the elephant. Instead, they tiptoe around it, pretending there are no obstacles in the way. Of course, the big “no-no” is that you are not permitted to talk with anyone outside the family circle. This is viewed as being disloyal, even treasonous. Maintaining the “secret” becomes the status quo. Kids who grow up with this rule often have difficulty being open and honest or are timid and unsure of themselves whenever a decision needs to be made.

Rule #2 – Don’t Feel

With this rule, family members are not permitted to express their true feelings and if they attempt to do so, their efforts are usually met with resistance and disdain.

Feelings are shut down, excused away, minimized, made fun of, misinterpreted, or simply discarded as illegitimate. After a while, family members just give up, concluding others don’t honestly care anyway, so why bother putting forth the necessary time and/or emotional labor. Their feelings don’t count in the long run and the thought of transparency becomes too large of a risk, especially when combined with Rule #1. This dynamic results in people who grow up more defensive, suspicious and guarded in their relationships. When asked how they are doing in life, the answer is almost always, “Fine… everything is fine,” even when the world is falling apart all around them. Suffering in silence feels less disappointing or traumatic than rejection by someone who once again may be saying all the right words and using socially acceptable protocols, but isn’t truly interested in having an authentic relationship.

Rule #3 – Don’t Touch

In some families, there is no healthy sense of touch, or the touch that is experienced is hurtful and abusive.

Statistics indicate one out of every 3-4 girls and one out of every 4-5 boys will suffer some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. However, this rule is not exclusively the domain of physical touch. Emotional and verbal forms of touch are just as critical. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never kill you.” Baloney! Long after the physical bruises are gone, the emotional devastation of hurtful words and emotional responses can linger well into adulthood. The research on this subject reveals that for every negative, critical or abusive message someone takes in on a personal level, he or she needs 17 positives before “balance” is perceived once again. Imagine how buried in negativity some people really are. Numerous clients have told me things like, “I can’t ever remember my Dad or my Mom hugging me or saying they loved me. We just didn’t do that in our home.”

Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve

This rule typically leaves individuals stuck in a crisis mode or with the hurtful aftermath of a confrontation that did not play out very well.

Over time, family members become convinced there are no helpful or significant resolutions for family “business.” Forgiveness over hurts, heartaches and misunderstandings, are nonexistent or fleeting at best. The issues keep getting dragged back into the forefront, often used to shore up an accusation, defend a point of view or bludgeon someone into silence or submission. In other words, problems are not only avoided and left unaddressed in most cases, they are rarely—if ever—solved. Like a scab that keeps getting picked, the desire for healing and restoration is shoved to the back burner. The wound bleeds once again and eventually, leaves a scar; only in this case, the consequences are potentially carried into the next generation. This difficulty in navigating the daily pressures of life using core problem solving skills, impacts a person’s emotional, psychological, relational and spiritual well-being.

Rule #5 – Don’t Trust

The last rule is based on the previous four.

If you are never allowed to talk about anything of substance; if you are never permitted to share or display your feelings, if there is no healthy sense of touch; and if problems and issues are never fully resolved…then the sad conclusion is that you cannot and must not trust anyone. No one is deemed to be safe or trustworthy, not even God. Trust, along with honesty, represents the glue that holds any relationship together. Without them, the trials and pressures of life, even everyday stress, may result in the relationship being torn asunder, leaving it ripped and shredded in small detached pieces. Ultimately, and when combined with the first four rules, a person’s journey through this kind of family system weakens and compromises the formation of a well-adjusted self-identity.

So what then is the antidote to these dysfunctional family rules?

The first step is to have an honest conversation with yourself—especially if you are a mom or dad—and determine if any of these describe the unwritten rules of your home. If so, here are a few brief thoughts worth considering:

Do Invite – Send the message to your children that they are welcome (and expected) to be fully engaged in the life of the family, encouraging them to take ownership and personal responsibility. Their opinions matter, their ideas will be given a fair hearing and they can do so in an atmosphere of safety, mutual love and respect. There is nothing they should ever be anxious, embarrassed or too afraid to talk with you about—“Come now and let us reason together” (Is. 1:18).

Do Express – Model your feelings with honesty, genuineness, transparency, and in such a manner that honors Christ. God gave us emotions, even the strong ones, and they are what make us human. Teach your children balance and decency when it comes to self-expression. If they are never allowed to show emotion, they will dry up. If they only show emotion, they will blow up. However, if there is a healthy balance between the two, they will grow up—“The Joy of the Lord is your strength” – (Neh. 8:10).

Do Affirm – Love can be communicated in many ways and forms—physically, verbally, spiritually, etc., in word and in deed. Employ all of them—frequently, consistently and with a determined initiative. The blessing of affirmation has the power to touch deep into the soul and releases our children with confidence to a future that is more secure—“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” – (2 Cor. 2:8-9).

Do Forgive – Closure is an important element in moving past relational pain and the hurts and disappointments that are normal within any family. The goal is not the avoidance of all conflict, but how to effectively resolve issues and restore relationships that is essential. Helping family members work through a problem, employing Christ-like forgiveness, is better in the long run than simply letting them work their way out of a problem—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” – (2 Cor. 5:17).

Do Empower – When a home is filled with the invitation to be engaged, with consistent expressions of love and affirmation, and a strong belief problems can and will be successfully addressed and resolved, then an environment of trust is created, one that brings hope and empowers family members. Children understand and experience what it means to be given a blessing for a hopeful future, to step out in faith and embrace all that God has for them—“Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” – (Ps. 9:10).

9 Tips For Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety

SOURCE:  Helena Negru/Lifehack

Parents want nothing more than to see childhood remain a time of carefree wonder and joy for their children, an age of innocence wherein the troubles of the wider world are kept at a safe distance by caring adult oversight.

As such, the parents who have anxious children are faced with a difficult dilemma: How do they protect their children from the multitude of relatively “normal” activities (e.g. going to school, socializing with friends) that provoke anxiety and fear while also ensuring that they experience life fully and develop properly? How do they help their child manage anxiety?

There are no easy answers to the above question. Psychologist Tali Shenfield, PhD suggests that parents first evaluate the level of child’s anxiety with a free child anxiety screening test and then, depending on test results, use the following anxiety management strategies:

1. An “empathy first” approach

When most parents hear their child expressing irrational fears, their first response is to assure their child that, logically, there is nothing to worry about. While this act is well-intentioned, it’s usually ineffective; the brain of any anxious individual – young or old – is too engaged in the “fight or flight” response (wherein activity in the prefrontal cortex, the “logical” part of the brain, is suppressed) to properly process new information.

What an anxious child therefore really needs is a parent who simply feels with him- one who pauses with him, joins him in taking a few deep breaths, and then validates his emotions as being acceptable.

Once you have empathized with your child and he has visibly calmed down, then and only then should you look for possible solutions. Do this while engaging your child: Ask him what he thinks would help him to feel better and overcome his fears.

2. Avoid making your child feel like a problem to be fixed

Children – even children without chronic anxiety – frequently struggle with fears of being “different” from their peers or unacceptable to their parents. If your child feels like his anxiety means something is “wrong” with him, his issues with worry will only increase as he will be plagued by constant self-doubt.

To prevent the above from happening, avoid labelling your child (i.e. don’t call him an “anxious person” or a “worrier”); instead, explain to him fear’s historically beneficial role in protecting us from harm (i.e. our instincts once helped us to avoid predators in the wild).

Ideally, you should teach your child to see worry like a tool: It’s useful in some situations, but in others, our brains are simply reacting to “false alarms” due to instinct. Tell your child that it’s possible to learn a few simple methods for recognizing these false alarms and for dealing with them effectively.

3. Consider using play to help your child understand his anxiety

Role playing exercises, such as having your child create a character which embodies his worry, can help your child learn how to dismantle his anxieties. Use a toy (such as a doll or stuffed animal) to represent the character your child creates, then you and your child can sit together and practice talking the character out of his misplaced fears. Make sure that every time the character succeeds in overcoming his anxiety during the stories created for him, he ends up with a “happy ending” as a result.

4. Teach your child how to centre himself in reality

Our fears have a way of distorting reality, making situations appear much scarier than they actually are. To help your child overcome the mind’s innate tendency to exaggerate objects of worry, teach him to:

  1. Recognize worried thoughts as they happen. Visualization is useful here: Tell your child to imagine thoughts floating above his head in “thought bubbles,” then ask him to practice catching the fearful thoughts as they pop up.
  1. Deconstruct the thoughts he catches using factual evidence. Emphasize to your child that feelings are not facts. When faced with a worry, tell your child that he should weigh up factual evidence for and against what his mind is telling him (for example, if he fears failing a test, he should review the many times he has passed tests over the years and remind himself that he has studied thoroughly, making failure unlikely).
  1. Debate with his thoughts (if necessary). Using the facts he has just gathered, you child can debate with the worried thoughts his mind is producing until he eventually wins and overcomes them.

5. Allow your child to worry

The more your child feels as though he should be able to simply shove his worries away, the more he will believe he is somehow failing when he cannot. You should therefore avoid saying things like, “There’s no reason to be afraid” and instead encourage your child to express his worries.

Creating a “worry diary” is an excellent strategy for getting your child to vent what’s bothering him; have him spend 15 minutes a day writing down any worry that is weighing on him – no matter how small – and allow him to share those worries with you if he wishes. At the end of the 15 minutes, have him literally close the book on his worries and set them aside.

6. Affirm the importance of remaining in the present moment

Like anxious adults, anxious children spend a lot of time preoccupied with “what ifs.” Instruct your child to try to catch his “what if” thoughts and replace them with “what is” thoughts. For example, if he’s thinking, “What if my new friend stops liking me?” he should pause, focus on nothing but his breath for a few moments, then look around and take in “what is”: The sun shining as he waits for the bus, the sound of the birds in the trees, the feeling of the warm air.

Intentionally returning one’s focus to the present in this way (by focusing on sensory perceptions) is a form of Mindfulness, a popular therapeutic practice which has been repeatedly shown to lessen anxiety.

7. Help your child take “baby steps” in order to overcome fearful situations

It is usually impossible – and always unhelpful – for an anxious individual to avoid everything that is causing him anxiety. Instead, your child should try the “ladder” approach: Overcoming fearful situations by working up to them in a succession of small steps.

If your child is afraid of dogs, for instance, have him start by observing a familiar dog (one that belongs to a friend, for example) from a distance, then have him walk closer to the dog while it’s safely leashed, then have him try to pet the dog while another person is still holding the leash, and then finally, let him interact with the dog briefly while it’s off its leash. If this process is repeated a few times with a few different friendly dogs, your child will likely overcome his terror.

8. Have your child create a “calm down” checklist

Ask your child to write down a series of steps to take when he needs to calm down (e.g. pause, breathe deeply, count to ten, evaluate the facts of the situation, etc.), so that he has something clear to refer to when he begins to feel panicky and confused. Make sure that your child carries a copy of this checklist with him until he memorizes the steps.

9. Don’t blame yourself for your child’s anxiety

Many parents of anxious children wonder if they have somehow “caused” their child to become excessively fearful, but this is usually not the case: Genetics and environmental factors over which parents have limited control (bullying at school, for example, or a traumatic accident) often lie at the root of childhood anxiety – not “bad parenting.”

It’s important to avoid blaming yourself for your child’s anxiety; the more you do so, the more emotional you will become about the situation and the less able you will be to help your child stay calm (your own worry will eventually cause you to become reactive, which will affirm your child’s idea that there is something to be afraid of). Instead, see yourself as your child’s ally, a member of his team as he fights against anxiety.

Remember, being compassionate to yourself, as well as to your child, is essential when creating a calm, loving, and healthy home for your whole family. If you find yourself struggling to cope with your child’s anxiety, don’t go it alone – seek the aid of friends, family members, and if necessary, a mental health professional. With the right support, you and your child can triumph over irrational fears and live full, happy lives.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Addictive/Compulsive Families

SOURCE:  Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

An addictive or compulsive family member troubles the whole family, just as an injured part of the body affects the whole person.  So too family members will compensate for an addicted/compulsive’s erratic and unreliable conduct by behaving in ways that might worsen the situation.  This may shock spouses and children who thought all their problems would go away once the alcoholic stopped drinking or the workaholic took more time off.  They were not aware that the whole family, not just the addict, would need to be fixed.

Dysfunctional Family Organization

Typically a troubled family organizes itself around the troubled person with the person becoming the center around which family members orbit.  Families need leadership, the kind that empowers its members to express themselves and mature.  The kind of control discussed here results in demoralizing family members and stifling their growth.  When family life is regulated by such persons, their chaotic, unpredictable, unmanaged life creates a chaotic, unpredictable, unmanaged household.  Individual family members’ behavior becomes tied to the troubled person.  The tension family members feel makes them describe living at home like “walking on eggshells.”  The family’s adjustment to the addiction or compulsive behavior of one of their members is similar to their accommodating themselves to a parent’s working schedule.  The effort to make these adjustments is what family systems experts call a process of homeostasis.  The family adjusts itself to keep things stable when circumstances disrupt family life.  When one person’s behavior changes drastically, the family will adjust to that.  They’ll do this for addicts because they care about them and because his or her welfare is tied to their own.

Because the family members are bound together with the abuser, they cannot simply ignore him or her.  The troubled person’s erratic, irresponsible behavior becomes unsettling, serious, even traumatic, and family members feel they must do something to get the person to gain control of himself or herself.  They will try any commonsense thing to get the person to stop – plead with or threaten him or her, cry, and tell the person how badly they feel.  And if those tactics don’t work, they pour the person’s liquor down the drain or send someone to the bar to tell the drinker to come home.  Some of these strategies may work, especially in the case of someone whose addiction problems are not terribly out of control.  But if these efforts don’t work and the problem persists, the family will make subtle, slow adjustments to accommodate the addict’s behavior, even though they don’t approve of it.

These families will alter their life in a number of areas including:

*Routines – through routines families maintain some stability and order.  A strong family is one where these routines are consistently carried out.  When families allow their routines to be determined by someone who is out of control, like an addict, the family behavior will become as inconsistent and chaotic as the addict’s life.

*Rituals — Rituals are routines with an added ingredient – significance.  Rituals govern the way the family carries out important activities, like praying together, celebrating special occasions, etc.  For an example, a mother with an anger problem, under stress of preparing a Thanksgiving Dinner, might lose control of her temper, dampening the family’s holiday mood.  If these become regular holiday occurrences, families will begin to expect them and do what they can to lessen the impact.  When rituals are modified, their significance may be greatly diminished.  Rituals are ruined when the emotions and meanings associated with them are supplanted by the anger and disappointment of having to deal with the problem behavior.  It should be noted that all of these alterations in the family are designed to deal with the troubled parent’s behavior not by ignoring it or continuing in spite of it but changing to accommodate it.  Families least likely to reproduce addicts were those who did not permit the troubled person’s presence to disrupt the family’s routines and rituals.  They distanced themselves instead of accommodated themselves.

*Problem-Solving Procedures – Besides routines and rituals, the family also tries to regulate itself by modifying its problem-solving procedures.  These modifications involve doing things to bring a member back into line if that person threatens the family’s stability.  Troubled families may use two distinct problem-solving methods.  First, they vigilantly guard the status quo, because they tend to be unusually sensitive to any destabilization of the family.  Once the family has stabilized around the out-of-control person, they appear to be uncommonly threatened by any other change.  Dysfunctional families are generally rigid.  Strong families are flexible.  As children get older and conditions change in the family, the family needs to adjust.  Many of these changes are related to the family’s life phases.  All change (good and bad) is stressful, and it can be both good and bad at the same time – like the birth of a child, for example.  Arriving at a life stage may trigger a crisis in the family if it is too rigid to handle it properly.  The second distinct feature of the troubled family’s problem-solving procedure is using the problem person’s behavior to assist the family in dealing with problems.  If this happens, the addictive problem becomes a part of the family’s normal functioning.  This has major implications when, for example, an addict stops drinking.  The alcohol that has become necessary for the family to function is now gone.  Learning how to operate without it may become very difficult for all of them.

*Family Devastation – These changes are especially devastating because the family’s stability now depends on the continued behavior by the addict.  This insight helps us understand why it is crucial that the family system change when treating an addictive/compulsive behavior.  Otherwise, the system will continue to pressure the troubled persons to stay as they are.  Despite the conscious wish to see the troubled person change, family members may have an unconscious desire to have the person continue as he or she is.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

SOURCE:  Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*Enmeshment – This means family members become too closely bonded with each other.  Strong families connect in a balanced way.  They have a strong sense of togetherness, but it’s tempered by allowing members to be independent.  They feel close and committed to each other, but their closeness empowers them as separate persons.  Enmeshed families, in contrast, allow their connectedness to stifle individuality.  They may also swing to the opposite extreme and be so independent that the members are disengaged.

Under the control of a parent, cohesiveness is often forced on the members.  In an effort to overcome family shame, efforts are made to keep the family together.  Members are expected to be loyal – being together is not necessarily desired; it is required.  Members of strong families may get together for Christmas because they want to, but dysfunctional family members do so because they have to.  Members of strong families enjoy each other; those of troubled families tend to endure each other.  Enmeshment is often referred to as co-dependence, and it manifests itself in number of harmful ways.  Family members sometimes feel too much, depend too much on, or do too much for each other.  While some sacrifice is o.k., sacrifice can be harmful, not just to the one who is sacrificing but also to the one for whom the sacrifice is made.  Jesus, by His crucifixion, is the greatest example of sacrifice, but His sacrifice was with purpose.

*Inadequate Communication – Dysfunctional families are notorious for their poor communication.  They have the now-famous rules:  “Don’t trust; don’t feel, and don’t talk.”  A functional family has no such rules.  The rules that keep dysfunctional families from talking come from the “elephant in the living room” phenomenon. The large beast represents the family’s problem.  Fear and shame keep family members from discussing it. Initially their feelings may be so overwhelming that they deal with them by trying not to feel.  Ignoring the most important family matter causes them to ignore other feelings and thoughts as well.  Communication is superficial because of the threat of talking about their shame, fear, and depression.  The family avoids healthy conflict and urges members not to rock the boat.  Their desire for peace at all costs inhibits any authenticity, vulnerability, or transparency.  Since they are unable to talk, family members struggle to adapt and survive, employing numerous defenses to ward off the pain.  One of those defenses is denial.

*Denial and Reality Shifting – People in dysfunctional families usually have a distorted view of reality.  They see the terrible things happening in their homes, yet they don’t recognize them for what they are.  This denial takes any number of forms.  They may minimize the problem.  They may consider themselves normal.  They may delay doing anything about it, thinking the problem will eventually solve itself.  Being in denial causes people to experience what is called “reality shifting.”  This is when there is a major discrepancy between what is said and what a child experiences.  Forcing children to disregard what they experience distorts their sense of what is true and normal, causing them to live in doubt and confusion.

*Wet – Dry Cycle – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde often come to mind when referring to addicts.  They have a sober personality and an addicted one – and their families do too.  This sobriety-intoxication cycle deprives them of one of the major traits of strong families – consistency.  What is so amazing about these cycles is that the family members tend to behave like the addict.  Families are not all alike when one of the members is an addict.  While some families may feel close to each other, others may feel isolated from one another. Some may be tranquil, others combative.  Yet they definitely exhibit two states.  During the sober period, the home atmosphere may be very tense with children fearing the addict may move to his/her addiction.  The contrast between the two states can be extreme:

Dry                                                     Wet_________________

Promises Made                              Promises Broken

Overpunitive                                  Overcaring

Rigid                                                  Adaptive

This unpredictability and inconsistency can exact a toll on family members.

*Role Reversals — When one family member becomes increasingly disabled, other family members will begin to carry an extra load to keep the family going. Unlike the teamwork that exists in a healthy family, these responsibilities are unfairly distributed.  As a result, the family members bearing the burden begin to feel resentful, angry, and frustrated.  But the “don’t talk rule” keeps them from confronting the troubled member about his or her irresponsibility.  They may also suffer their hard feelings to avoid arguments and uncomfortable scenes.

*Isolation – Troubled families often lack a key factor of healthy family life – contact with those outside the house.  They are cut off from the many benefits people receive by being linked to the wider community and their contact with growth-producing relationships is limited.  Because the family members are so enmeshed with one another, outsiders threaten the precarious “balance” of co-dependency.  Also, because of their rigidity, they reject others whose ideas and practices may challenge theirs. Keeping the family secret of addiction or abuse makes them shun outsiders.  Shame about that secret inhibits their getting close to others.  In some cases, this isolation is a contributing cause of the family’s problems as well as a result.  Physical and sexual abuse can more easily happen where it is unlikely to be detected by members of the community.

Whose Dream is it Anyway: Damaging Parenting Styles

Source:  Tim Elmore/Growing Leaders

My son loves participating in a community theatre program here in Atlanta. He is a true thespian. He loves the drama of a Broadway show. He loves the drama of television or movies. He loves the drama of musical theatre. Unfortunately, he’s seen a little too much drama from the adults in his life. If a parent in this community theatre program feels their child wasn’t’ cast appropriately, or if someone doesn’t affirm their child’s talent when her self-esteem is low, or if they don’t spotlight their son’s abilities when the talent scouts are present, these parents can turn into terrorists. There’s nothing more intimidating than a mom or dad who’s determined to fight for their kid’s rights. I cannot tell you how many times the parents in this community theatre program have embarrassed me by their immature behavior. They fail to lead themselves well, much less their kids. I find myself thinking: “Please…let’s keep the drama on the stage.”

And it’s not just the parents. It’s the teachers and staff as well. There is a general lack of healthy leadership and maturity among the adults, period. There are actually times when I’ve felt the kids are more mature than their adult teachers or parents. I consistently watch parents who behave like spoiled children, yet when they’re confronted by a leader for their behavior, they cry foul, or act hurt, like they’re the victim. It’s a sad commentary on the most educated generation of parents in U.S. history.

But the real issue is not the education of these parents or teachers. They have sound minds. Our problems are issues of the heart. In my last “Leadership Link”, I shared four damaging parenting styles. The truth is-these damaging styles can also be found among teachers in our schools today. Highly educated faculty can have emotional issues that prevent them from leading well in their classrooms. For that matter, these issues can surface in a corporate executive or a youth pastor. Let’s examine these damaging styles and explore what we can do to correct them.

WHAT TO DO WITH HELICOPTERS, DRY CLEANERS AND MONSTERS…

The Helicopter Parent or Teacher
These parents hover over their kids, working to make sure they get every imaginable advantage. This parenting style has been written up most widely in journals. They are the parents who want to ensure that doors open for their children and no negative incident affects their self-esteem or diminishes their chances of being accepted at an Ivy League school. Helicopter parents are committed to helping their children make the grade, make the team and make the money. When teachers become helicopters, they hover over students and create unfair environments and unrealistic scenarios that students must recover from when they enter the real world as adults.

The Problem: They don’t allow their kids the privilege of learning to fail and persevere.

The Issue: It is very possible parents and teachers can be “helicopters” because they possess a controlling spirit. Adults who struggle with being “out of control” or who find it difficult to trust others to deal with items they hold precious tend to be “hovering” and micromanaging in style. They mean well-but they feel it is up to them to make sure life turns out well for the kids. These adults, quite frankly, must learn to trust the process. I must face this issue from time to time myself. I must realize I am not in control and one day my children will enter a world where they cannot ask me for advice. Control is a myth-and the sooner we acknowledge that fact the better we’ll act as parents.

The Karaoke Parent or Teacher
Like the karaoke bar, where you can grab a microphone and sing like Barry Manilow did in the 1970s, these parents or teachers want to look and sound like their students. They want to dress like their child, talk like their child, even be cool like their child. They hunger to be a “buddy” to their kids and emulate this younger generation. They somehow hope to stay “cool” and “hip” so they can relate to their children all through their young adult years. They don’t like the thought of being out of style-and work to maintain an image. Sadly, these karaoke parents and teachers don’t offer their kids the boundaries and authority they desperately need. Last month, I read about a mother who allowed her daughter to have a house full of friends over-all minors-then allowed them to drink alcohol and even bought it for the kids. Several got completely inebriated; damaged the house and neighborhood; the police were called and a mess had to be cleaned up. The reason? Mom reported she wanted her daughter to feel like she trusted her. Mom didn’t want to be disliked by her daughter and was willing to take big risks to accomplish that goal. The children of these adults often grow up needing a therapist at 28, angry at their impotent parent.

The Problem: They don’t provide their kids the clear parameters that build security and esteem.

The issue: Frequently, parents and teachers become karaoke in their style because of their own emotional insecurities. Adults may have an extremely high I.Q., but if their E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) is low, smart people begin to do dumb things. These adults will rationalize why they do what they do, but in the end, the only remedy is for them to embrace their own age and stage, and relate to the students in an appropriate manner. I remember when I began to teach students in 1979, I related to them like an older brother. Within a few years, I realized I needed to change the way I was relating to them if I was to stay “real.” I moved to the role of an uncle. Some years later, I remember moving to the role of a dad. I could be a father to the students I teach today. I must embrace this and give them what they need, not necessarily what they want.

3. The Dry Cleaner Parent or Teacher
We take our wrinkled or soiled clothes to the dry cleaners to have them cleaned and pressed by professionals. It’s so handy to drop them off and have them handed back to us looking like new. These “dry cleaner” parents don’t feel equipped to raise their kids so they drop them off for experts to fix them. Although the home environment has spoiled or damaged their child’s character, they hope a school, or counselor or soccer team or church youth group can fix them. Sadly, these parents forget that none of us are “pros” at raising kids. It is a learning experience for all of us, but we must recognize it is our most important task. Yesterday, I met with a teacher who reported the mothers of her young students are nearly all stay-at-home moms but drop their kids off (with a tennis racket in their hand) because they aren’t ready for the responsibility of caring for their child. They leave them at the school for ten hours each day.

The Problem: Dry Cleaner parents don’t furnish their kids the mentoring and authentic face to face time they require.

The issue: For some of these teachers or parents-connecting with kids is just not their specialty. There may be an inadequacy and identity issue. They don’t feel adequate for the task, or they just don’t believe it is part of their identity. Sadly, this parent or teacher has kids staring them in the face. It’s time to be what they need. Sadly, it is too much work for them to connect with the student. Consequently, they hide behind the fact that they are busy with so many other priorities-even work-which enables them to pay for their child’s interests. These teachers or parents need to run toward the very challenge in which they feel they’re weak.  Relationships make it all happen. Parents and teachers must build bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth.

4.  The Monster Parent or Teacher
These parents can transform into a rage, like the Incredible Hulk if they are backed into a corner. They often will write papers for their children, do homework, apply for jobs or colleges just like the helicopter parent-but for a different reason. They do the work of their kids attempting to live out their unlived life through their child. When their child receives a poor grade on a paper, they have been known to storm into a principal’s office and argue over the grade. Why? They actually wrote the paper. It has been a bad reflection on them! They want so much for their child to make it because their child is their last hope of leaving some sort of name or legacy themselves. They have unrealized dreams or baggage inside they never dealt with in a healthy way. Sadly, they don’t provide the model or the healthy environment young people long for.

The Problem: These parents still have some unrealized dreams from their past-sometimes an unhealthy past.

The issue: The child represents the best way for the adult parent or teacher to accomplish the dream they gave up on years earlier, even if it is vicariously done. Their behavior is often the result of baggage from their past. The best step this adult can take is self-care. They must address their own emotional health; deal with their own issues, so they don’t further damage a child in their wake. Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents (or teachers) have done so first. The best way we can help kids become healthy leaders is to model it for them.

I should be clear on the fact that I believe there are millions of healthy parents and teachers around the U.S. and across the globe. Yet, each of us lean toward one of these styles above to some degree. I simply wish to address the issues preventing us from authentic leadership and mentoring in the life of our children. I believe healthy leadership from healthy parents and teachers produces healthy students who become healthy leaders themselves. I am haunted by the truth that James Baldwin once penned: “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Adult Children Dealing With Toxic Parents

SOURCE:  Based on an article at Psychology Today/Karyl McBride, Ph.D

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming the debilitating impact of maternal narcissism.

The most frequently asked question from adult children of narcissistic parents is whether or not to remain in contact with that parent and/or the rest of the dysfunctional family nest.

It goes deep and is difficult to know what’s best.

Your family roots, your very beginnings, and subsequent history are all a significant part of you. We are who we are based on where we’ve been. Juggling decisions for sound mental health can be packed with arduous cognitive and emotional machinations that create distress. Sometimes these imminent decisions become paramount to every day life. Our hearts can be wrapped with it. The question and the struggle are not to be underestimated.

In loving recovery with self, decisions can be made that feel right to the heart. Without recovery work, however, those decisions may steer in wrong directions. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your narcissistic parent without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that you desire. As Dr. Murray Bowen reminds us in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, “Less-differentiated people are moved about like pawns by emotional tensions. Better-differentiated people are less vulnerable to tension.” If you take yourself out of the situation without completing your internal growth, you have accomplished less and can remain troubled.

It is important for adult children of narcissistic parents to know that there are truly some parents who are too toxic and are what I call the “untreatables.” If someone is abusive and cruel and continues to be without remorse or empathy, it cannot be healthy for anyone to be around that person. That’s ok and important to know. Full-blown narcissists do not change, do not realize the need to change, are not accountable or receptive to input from their children.

Because narcissism is a spectrum disorder on a continuum, there are many people who have narcissistic traits but are not full blown narcissists. Many of these people can move in therapeutic directions if they choose. Your decision regarding contact with the toxic untreatable or the highly-traited narcissist can best be made by working your own recovery and taking adequate time to allow the healing to happen. When developing my five-step recovery model, I found that the decisions about contact should not be made until step four. That means you are working acceptance, grief, separation, and building a stronger sense of self before deciding what kind of contact you will continue to have with your narcissistic parent. The five-step model can be found in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and is too complicated to fully explain in a blog post.

In short, however, I usually recommend taking a temporary separation to work your own recovery first. This means you simply explain a need for some space from the parent so you can sort out the issues and keep the clear focus on self. When you get to step four, you will know if it is best to make a decision of Therapeutic Resolution, No Contact, or Civil Connection with that parent.

Let’s take a look at each possible decision.

Therapeutic Resolution:
Some parents with less narcissistic traits are open to family therapy and this can be very effective with the right therapist. It can only be done if the parent is accountable and wants to work through family issues and childhood pain. For those who are lucky to have parents like this, a seasoned family therapist can provide wonderful healing for the entire family.

No Contact:
The decision to go “No Contact” is a big one but is made when the parent is too toxic and never accountable and continues to be abusive to the adult child. It’s a sad but necessary solution in many cases. This decision can only be made in sound mind when the adult child has really worked the internal recovery model. Without this internal healing, guilt may be over-burdensome to the adult child and pain not diminished. Sometimes, with recovery, the decision becomes a desire for a civil connect instead.

Civil Connection:
A decision to have a civil connection is really the most common. This is an educated place where the adult child knows and accepts that the connection with the narcissistic parent will not be an emotional bond or relationship. It will be civil, polite, light, and not emotionally close. Because of the internal work done by the adult child, this place of understanding allows the superficial relationship to be ok without expectations. Because the adult child has completed separation, acceptance and grief, and has developed sound boundaries, it is possible then to be “apart of and apart from” at the same time. It is possible to keep your solid sense of self and not get sucked into the family dysfunction that has not changed.

If you are struggling with contact decisions regarding your narcissistic parent or family, please know that recovery does work and makes it all so much easier.  We are accountable for our own growth and it takes time and effort to accomplish. As the late child psychiatrist, Margaret Mahler points out, “Insofar as the infant’s development of the sense of self takes place in the context of the dependency on the mother, the sense of self that results will bear the imprint of her caregiving.” That imprint of maternal or paternal narcissism can be re-drawn when the authentic self is brought to the surface and given proper nourishment for re-parenting and growth.

What could be more important? This newfound self is what we joyfully give back in the form of true love. The legacy of distorted love is then uprooted and authentic unconditional compassion takes its place. I remain a “hopeaholic” for the sisterhood and brotherhood out there.

Love restored that begins within is worth the journey.

Where’s Mom?

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

It hurts to watch a child suffer rejection from an uninvolved parent. Or from an inconsistent parent who promises time together and repeatedly breaks the promise.

One of the great tragedies of divorce is when one biological parent disengages from a child. For example, as is reported in my book The Smart Stepdad, 10-15 percent of nonresidential fathers drop out of their kids’ lives.

Watching your child suffer rejection from an uninvolved and uninterested parent is heartbreaking. Even worse, I’ve observed that an inconsistent parent who promises time together and then repeatedly breaks the promise can be even more heartbreaking to children. Their hopes are raised, only to be dashed on the rocks of disappointment again and again. Of course, this leaves the other parent to explain their absence.

Broken promises

Jennifer’s mother, Pamela, lived across the state. Pamela had remarried and had a new son. Jennifer lived with her father, Roger, and stepmom, Amy. Pamela’s new marriage and blended family, together with a growing career, took a lot of her time. However, her guilt for not making time to be with her daughter led her to (with good intentions) promise Jennifer special weekend visits that never happened.

As Jennifer entered adolescence she constantly wondered if her mom would finally keep her promises. She became increasingly oppositional toward her stepmother and father and unmotivated in school. Though previously a good student, her grades were failing fast and so was her father’s tolerance of her behavior.

A complicating issue was Pamela’s constant invitation to Jennifer to come live with her. She conveniently blamed her ex-husband for Jennifer’s trouble in school and implied everything would be better when they could finally be together. This kept Pamela and Jennifer pseudo-connected, sharing an empty fantasy.

Eventually, Jennifer began to ask why her mother didn’t care to be with her. Her increasing age and cognitive abilities gave her a new ability to see through the empty promises her mother repeated numerous times. When she finally admitted her mother’s deception, she sank into depression and self-blame. Her father, Roger, asked me what he should say to help Jennifer.

Coping with reality

I first reminded Roger that no explanation would take away Jennifer’s pain and nothing he or his wife could do would stop the longing in Jennifer’s heart. Parents cannot take away a child’s grief; they can only help them cope with reality. I also suggested that it was okay for Roger to share his anger toward his ex-wife as it related to Jennifer’s pain, but that he should then redirect conversations back toward Jennifer and her feelings.

In response to Jennifer’s statement, “Does Mom think paying child support is enough?” Roger might say, “This is extremely hard for you. It feels like your mother just doesn’t care. My heart is so sad for you; I wish your mother would keep her promises. Tell me more about how you’re feeling.” Such a response communicates an understanding of her pain and validates her experience.

Jennifer’s father should not openly criticize Pamela (“she is selfish”) or make excuses for her (“she’s just so busy at work”). Focusing on Jennifer’s feelings and helping her to develop a plan for how she will relate to her mother is the best approach. In addition, finding a therapist for Jennifer might offer her a safe outlet to talk about her loss, anger, and sadness.

A stepmom who wanted to fill the gap

Jennifer’s stepmom, Amy, wanted desperately to fill the gap in Jennifer’s life. In some ways, she could, but in other ways could not. I encouraged Amy to pray for her diligently and to keep a respectful tone when talking about her mother. (The trap in this situation for stepparents is joining the child in their frustration only to have the child turn on you.)

I encouraged Amy to look for opportunities to discuss what Jennifer says and does, but not to become overly emotionally invested in her decisions or conclusions. For example, when Jennifer is crediting her mother with being responsible even though she isn’t, Amy should engage the conversation gently. “I can tell you are certain your mom will show up as promised this weekend. (Now shift the focus to the child, away from your critical opinions of the parent.) You really are hoping to see her, aren’t you? I hope you get to. You are a great kid and deserve to spend some time with her.”

The trick is not getting caught in the trap of trying to change Jennifer’s fantasy about her mother. That is, unfortunately, something she has to teach herself (and it will be a sad day when she does).

Finally, I promised Roger and Amy that these suggestions would feel grossly inadequate to help Jennifer. And they are. In such circumstances, we cannot get rid of a child’s pain, but we can hug the hurt. “Reinforce your love for her over and over,” I suggested. “And hold her when she cries.”

Should you make the children go see a disengaged parent?

Frequently a parent and stepparent will ask if they should make a child go see their disengaged mother or father if the child doesn’t want to. Some children grow calloused toward an undependable parent and prefer not to be around them (and you can’t blame them). What should parents do?

  • Young and pre-teen children should be encouraged to keep the visitation schedule, even if the withdrawn parent pawns them off on grandma.
  • Teens can consider the decision more thoroughly and should have a stronger say in whether they visit and how often.
  • Consider the custody agreement. You don’t want to be accused of not honoring court orders. Consult an attorney to discuss the implications of letting the child stay home.
  • Never stand in the way of reconciliation of a disengaged parent and child, but do become an advocate for the child. For example, you might say, “I’ll tell Johnnie you are taking him on Saturday when you arrive, but not until then so he’s not disappointed again.”

Why I Do What I Do

SOURCE:  Living Free

“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” 

1 Peter 1:17 NIV. Suggested reading 1 Peter 1:17-23

When a family is struggling with the life-controlling issues of one or more members, it usually becomes dysfunctional. In other words, there are relationship problems in the family that keep it from being an emotionally healthy environment.

When we grow up in a dysfunctional family environment, we live with pain and chaos. We see destructive behaviors modeled before us, and we often carry these learned behaviors into our adult lives, recreating the type of environment we grew up in by repeating the mistakes of our elders. These behaviors handed down from generation to generation are what we call hand-me-downs.

Hand-me-downs are behavior patterns that have their roots in the family system and can help us understand why we behave as we do. A child growing up accepts the behaviors they observe every day at home as normal because they have no other reference. And then as adults, they tend to create the same type of family relationships they knew as children.

Consider This . . .

Are you weighed down with hand-me-downs that are having a negative effect on your life? Today’s scripture reading offers you hope.

First, God is fair (v. 17). Children raised by an abusive or neglectful father often have an incorrect view of God, picturing him as their earthly father. The good news is that our Heavenly Father is perfect and fair. No matter what your background, he loves you and wants you to be his child.

It is also important to recognize that God’s impartiality does not take away our personal responsibility. Although we are influenced by genetic inheritance and social surroundings, we still have a personal responsibility to God. To choose him. To make him Lord of our life.

Prayer

Father, I thank you that I can count on you to be a loving and fair father. Help me not to use my past as an excuse for my behavior. I want to turn my life—and all the hand-me-downs—over to you. To receive your healing. And to serve you.
In Jesus’ name …

Family Wounds Are Slow to Heal

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

Family wounds are slow to heal.

I hope your childhood was a happy time when your parents kept everyone fed, safe, and chuckling. I hope your dad came home every day, your mom tucked you in bed every night, and your siblings were your best friends.

But if not, you need to know you aren’t alone. The most famous family tree in the Bible suffered from a serious case of blight. Adam accused Eve. Cain killed his little brother. Abraham lied about Sarah. Rebekah favored Jacob. Jacob cheated Esau and then raised a gang of hoodlums.

The book of Genesis is a relative disaster.

Joseph didn’t deserve to be abandoned by his brothers. True, he wasn’t the easiest guy to live with. He boasted about his dreams and tattled on his siblings. He deserved some of the blame for the family friction. But he certainly didn’t deserve to be dumped into a pit and sold to merchants for pocket change.

The perpetrators were his ten older brothers. His brothers were supposed to look out for him. Joseph’s next of kin were out of line. And his father? Jacob was out of touch.

With all due respect, the patriarch could have used a course on marriage and family life.

Mistake number one: he married a woman he didn’t love so he could marry one he did. Mistake number two: the two wives were sisters. (Might as well toss a lit match into a fireworks stand.) The first sister bore him sons. The second sister bore him none. So to expand his clan, he slept with an assortment of handmaidens and concubines until he had a covey of kids. Rachel, his favorite wife, finally gave birth to Joseph, who became his favorite son. She later died giving birth to a second son, Benjamin, leaving Jacob with a contentious household and a broken heart.

Jacob coped by checking out. Obstinate sons. Oblivious dad. The brothers needed a father. The father needed a wake-up call. And Joseph needed a protector. But he wasn’t protected; he was neglected. And he landed in a distant, dark place.

Initially, Joseph chose not to face his past. By the time he saw his brothers again, Joseph had been prime minister for nearly a decade. The kid from Canaan had come a long way.

Joseph could travel anywhere he wanted, yet he chose not to return to Canaan. He knew where to find his family, but he chose not to contact them.

He kept family secrets a secret. Untouched and untreated. Joseph was content to leave his past in the past. But God was not.

Restoration matters to God. The healing of the heart involves the healing of the past.

So God shook things up.
All countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands. — Genesis 41:57


And in the long line of folks appealing for an Egyptian handout, look what the cat dragged in.

Joseph heard them before he saw them. He was fielding a question from a servant when he detected the Hebrew chatter. Not just the language of his heart but the dialect of his home. The prince motioned for the servant to stop speaking. He turned and looked. There they stood.

The brothers were balder, grayer, rough-skinned. They were pale and gaunt with hunger. Sweaty robes clung to their shins, and road dust chalked their cheeks. These Hebrews stuck out in sophisticated Egypt like hillbillies at Times Square.

They didn’t recognize him. His beard was shaved, his robe was royal, and the language he spoke was Egyptian. It never occurred to them that they were standing before their baby brother.

Thinking the prince couldn’t understand Hebrew, the brothers spoke to him with their eyes and gestures. They pointed at the stalks of grain and then at their mouths. They motioned to the brother who carried the money, and he stumbled forward and spilled the coins on the table.

When Joseph saw the silver, his lips curled, and his stomach turned. He had named his son God Made Me Forget, but the money made him remember. The last time he saw coins in the hands of Jacob’s older boys, they were laughing, and he was whimpering. That day at the pit he searched these faces for a friend, but he found none. And now they dared bring silver to him?

Joseph called for a Hebrew-speaking servant to translate. Then Joseph scowled at his brothers.
He acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. — Genesis 42:7


The brothers fell face-first in the dirt, which brought to Joseph’s mind a childhood dream.

“Uh, well, we’re from up the road in Canaan. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”

Joseph glared at them. “Nah, I don’t believe you. Guards, put these spies under arrest. They are here to infiltrate our country.”

The ten brothers spoke at once. “You’ve got it all wrong, Your High, Holy, and Esteemed Honor. We’re salt of the earth. We belong to the same family. That’s Simeon over there. That’s Judah… Well, there are twelve of us in all. At least there used to be.
The youngest is now with our father, and one is no longer living. — Genesis 42:13


Joseph gulped at the words. This was the first report on his family he had heard in twenty years. Jacob was alive. Benjamin was alive. And they thought he was dead.

“Tell you what,” he snapped. “I’ll let one of you go back and get your brother and bring him here. The rest of you I’ll throw in jail.”

With that, Joseph had their hands bound. A nod of his head, and they were marched off to jail. Perhaps the same jail where he had spent at least two years of his life.

What a curious series of events. The gruff voice, harsh treatment. The jail sentence. The abrupt dismissal. We’ve seen this sequence before with Joseph and his brothers, only the roles were reversed. On the first occasion they conspired against him. This time he conspired against them. They spoke angrily. He turned the tables. They threw him in the hole and ignored his cries for help. Now it was his turn to give them the cold shoulder.

What was going on?

I think he was trying to get his bearings. This was the toughest challenge of his life. The famine, by comparison, was easy. Mrs. Potiphar he could resist. Pharaoh’s assignments he could manage. But this mixture of hurt and hate that surged when he saw his flesh and blood? Joseph didn’t know what to do.

Maybe you don’t either.

Your family failed you. Your early years were hard ones. The people who should have cared for you didn’t. But, like Joseph, you made the best of it. You’ve made a life for yourself. Even started your own family. You are happy to leave Canaan in the rearview mirror. But God isn’t.

He gives us more than we request by going deeper than we ask. He wants not only your whole heart; He wants your heart whole. Why? Hurt people hurt people. Think about it. Why do you fly off the handle? Why do you avoid conflict? Why do you seek to please everyone? Might your tendencies have something to do with an unhealed hurt in your heart?

God wants to help you for your sake. And for the sake of your posterity.

Suppose Joseph had refused his brothers? Summarily dismissed them? Washed his hands of the whole mess? God’s plan for the nation of Israel depended upon the compassion of Joseph. A lot was at stake here.

There is a lot at stake with you too. Yes, your family history has some sad chapters. But your history doesn’t have to be your future. The generational garbage can stop here and now. You don’t have to give your kids what your ancestors gave you.

Talk to God about the scandals and scoundrels. Invite Him to relive the betrayal with you. Bring it out in the open. Joseph restaged the hurt for a reason.

Revealing leads to healing.

Let God do His work. The process may take a long time. It may take a lifetime.
Family pain is the deepest pain because it was inflicted so early and because it involves people who should have been trustworthy.

Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. — Romans 12:2


Let Him replace childish thinking with mature truth (1 Corinthians 13:11). You are God’s child. His creation. Destined for heaven. You are a part of His family. Let Him set you on the path to reconciliation.

Joseph did. The process would prove to be long and difficult. It occupies four chapters of the Bible and at least a year on the calendar, but Joseph took the first step. After three days Joseph released his brothers from jail. He played the tough guy again. “Go on back. But I want to see this kid brother you talk about. I’ll keep one of you as a guarantee.”

They agreed and then, right in front of Joseph, rehashed the day they dry-gulched him:
Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us’. — Genesis 42:21


Again, they did not know that the prince understood Hebrew. But he did. And when he heard the words, Joseph turned away so they couldn’t see his eyes fill with tears. He stepped into the shadows and wept. He did this seven more times. He didn’t cry when he was promoted by Potiphar or crowned by Pharaoh, but he blubbered like a baby when he learned that his brothers hadn’t forgotten him after all. When he sent them back to Canaan, he loaded their saddlebags with grain. A moment of grace.

With that small act, healing started. If God healed that family, who’s to say He won’t heal yours?

For Reflection

Listed below are several words and phrases that characterize some of the hardships and dysfunction evident in Joseph’s family. Which issues have marked your family?

❑ abandonment
❑ troubled marriage(s)
❑ premature death
❑ hatred
❑ sibling rivalry
❑ favoritism
❑ severe grief
❑ disregard for others
❑ parental abdication
❑ guilt
❑ deception
❑ betrayal
❑ infertility
❑ resentment
❑ abuse
❑ extramarital relationships
❑ harsh treatment
❑ brokenness
❑ self-absorption
❑ secrecy
❑ neglect

Part of the healing process includes unearthing the details — the specifics of how you were hurt — and inviting God to relive those experiences with you. What help do you need from God? How do you want to experience His presence, comfort, or guidance?

Coming face-to-face with old hurts can be disorienting. When Joseph first encountered his brothers again, he withheld his identity, spoke harshly, made false accusations, jailed them, released them, put conditions on their departure and return, held one of them hostage, concealed powerful emotions, and was secretly generous to them (Genesis 42:6-28). What conflicting thoughts and emotions surface when you consider the possibility of engaging old hurts and the people connected with them?

Joseph’s path to reconciliation with his family was long and difficult, but it began with a small act of mercy and grace — he loaded his brothers’ saddlebags with grain and quietly returned the silver they had paid for it. A gift, free and clear.

What small act of mercy and grace do you sense God inviting you to extend to someone in your family?

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Excerpted from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Thomas Nelson.

How to Not Lose It on Your Kids After a Stressful Day at Work

I shudder at the times I’ve acted irritably toward my kids because I was still stressed from work.
How do we come home as the loving parents we want to be?

Any working parent knows the struggle of bringing frustrations from work straight into the house at the end of the day. Most of us have been guilty of this.

Sliding from work to home carrying baggage is too easy to do—it’s the default mode of operation. I shudder thinking of the times I’ve acted irritably toward my daughters when it was really a work problem irking me.

So how do we consciously interrupt our thoughts and come home as the engaging, loving, calm parents we want to be?

1. Maximize your commute time by using it as a “third space.”

Adam Fraser coined the term “third space” to describe the transition between work and home. He says your third space doesn’t need to be a physical location, but a mental shift. Fraser suggests giving closure to your workday by contemplating the high point and low point of your time at work. Then consciously deciding what kind of attitude you want to bring home.

Use this time to pray for patience as you enter your home. Pray for excitement when you greet your children. Ask God to provide you the ability to shift your mind and attitude away from one priority to another.

“How you show up determines what sort of evening you have,” Fraser said in a Ted Talk. “And how you transition home determines how you unwind, relax, and socialize—or obsess and worry about the day.” Another way to transition in a healthy way is to listen to inspiring podcasts, worship music, or thought-provoking audio books during your ride home to shake off any lingering concerns about work. If schedule allows, a trip to the gym could serve this purpose also.

2. Maintain boundaries by leaving work at work.

Most people would agree that spending your entire day at the office texting your spouse, browsing social media, or shopping online would be an egregious abuse of your employer’s trust and time. Plus, using your hours for personal matters is a waste of a workday because you would not be accomplishing a thing for your company.

In the same way, spending your evenings responding to business emails or tackling work projects is an egregious abuse of your family’s trust and a waste of your precious (and few!) hours with them. Leave work at work so you can be fully present with your family! Our time is the very best gift we can offer our kids and spouse.

My husband confronted me about this early in our marriage. I frequently picked up my Blackberry (remember those?!) after dinner to respond to emails for my nonprofit job. One night when he asked me what I was doing on my phone, I told him I was dealing with an emergency—without even looking up from my device.

Calmly and lovingly he responded with, “Leigh, the police handle emergencies. Emergencies involve 911, the law, and sometimes blood. Is that what you’re dealing with?” Talk about perspective! That really stuck with me.

Sometimes we have busier seasons at work that require putting in supplemental hours at home. On those occasions, I talk to my husband about it in advance. If we communicate, we can make a plan that will allow me to steward my responsibilities at work well without totally neglecting my family. This plan usually involves him taking our girls out for ice cream so I can knock out my project undisturbed and efficiently. And they still feel cherished!

3. Make a plan.

The evenings I know what we’re doing for dinner and am aware of our evening extracurricular activities are much less chaotic than the nights I try to “wing it.” As much as I wish I loved cooking, I’ve accepted that it doesn’t come naturally to me or “spark joy,” in the words of Marie Kondo. However, I still try to serve my family by having some kind of plan for dinner—and one that’s easy to execute.

I’m a fan of one-dish meals and my crockpot. I’m an even bigger fan of kids-eat-free nights at our favorite restaurants. We also have a whiteboard on the refrigerator where I write down our evening commitments one week at a time. We post our soccer game times, homeowners association meetings, and everything else to keep us all straight and set expectations for our time outside of work. I include our dinner plans on the whiteboard, too.

4. Keep the house tidy.

love coming home to a neat house. Dirty dishes, papers, and toys strewn about make me tense. We try to get our home in order before we leave for the day.

I’d be lying if I said this happens every single morning. But my husband and I try to stay on top of things and ask each member of the family to participate in this effort. One way we set ourselves up for success in this area is by straightening up, starting the dishwasher, and packing lunches before bed the night before.

One final thought: Give grace.

Give it to yourself, your colleagues, and your family.

None of us are perfect.

We all have days that require us to stretch. Try to be honest and communicate when it’s “been a day” and you may need an extra measure of that grace.

Your family will thank you!

The Wrong Reason to Say “Yes”

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

If anyone had it together, it was Jason. He had a good job, beautiful wife and two children whom he loved. He exercised regularly and looked it, and he was always one to keep in touch with friends and family members.

But one day out of the blue, a deep depression hit Jason so heavily, he could hardly get out of bed. It made no sense to him. He came to see me.

We talked for awhile about Jason’s snug and untroubled life before his breakdown. We gradually uncovered that Jason’s structured lifestyle was basically a way to send off a lifelong depression. He had grown up in an alcoholic and abusive family, where he’d lived through all sorts of chaos and crises.

His activity and responsibility saved Jason. Because no one else in the house washed his clothes, prepared meals and budgeted money, Jason learned to. He became a 30-year-old at the age of 9.

Jason did the right thing, not because he was selfless and loving, but to stay alive. The depression inevitably caught up with him.

Not that it’s unhealthy to be responsible. The reasons behind the responsibility are the problem. Jason has lived a lifetime of sacrifice. Fearful of falling apart inside, he stayed busy and active to ward off a breakdown. He was driven by fear and panic.

A truly responsible lifestyle is the product of being loved just as we are, with our imperfections, our wounds, our weaknesses. Then as we are loved in that state, we learn to give back and love. Jason had not been so loved, and so it was impossible for him to obey love.

Some people lead highly functional lives not so much to keep their depressions away, but to keep from being shamed by others. I knew a woman who kept her weight in check by being around critical people who would come down on her for gaining weight. When her critical friends moved away one year, this woman put on 70 pounds in several months. The shaming external control hadn’t solved the problem — it had postponed it. She finally lost the weight for the right reasons, but she first had to learn mercy and sacrifice: She had to receive mercy in order to sacrifice her longing for food.

When we do the right thing reluctantly or under compulsion, not freely, we live in fear. It may be fear of loss, of falling apart, of guilt, or of others’ disapproval. But no one can grow or flourish in a fear-based atmosphere. Love has no place there, for perfect love drives out fear.

6 Tips to Reduce Stress for the Working Mom

SOURCE:  Lisa Lakey/FamilyLife Ministry

When my youngest started preschool, I took my first job outside the home in nearly 10 years. I was frazzled, guilt-ridden, and late everywhere I went.

I was in the school drop-off line one morning when the license plate of the car in front of me caught my eye. “L8AGAIN” it read. My first thought was, That should be mine. Those seven characters summed up most of my days as a working mom.

When my youngest started preschool, I took my first job outside the home in nearly 10 years. I was frazzled, guilt-ridden, and late everywhere I went. (Okay, maybe I’m still working on all three of those.) After spotting a shirt in a local boutique with the phrase “World’s Okayest Mom” emblazoned on the front, I joked with my kids and husband that that was me. The best mom ever at just getting by.

But behind the laughter of the moment, there was something else. Fear, doubt, and a hefty dose of self-pity overwhelmed me. I didn’t really want to be an “okay” mom. I wanted to be the absolute best mom. You know her. The mom who has it all together—perfect hair, perfect smile, perfect kids. She probably only feeds her family made-from-scratch, organic, non-GMO meals. She would hate to know how often I drive through Chick-fil-A. I can’t even remember what GMO stands for right now.

To be honest, I just want my kids to get the best of me, although that isn’t always what happens. But I have learned that trying to be the perfect mom will always backfire. I might not always be the best mom, but I am always the mom my kids need—me.

Thanks to some loving reminders from other working moms, I have picked up a few helpful tips along the way:

1. Plan, plan, plan.

I am a terribly late person. Punctuality is not my strong point. So naturally, one of my greatest struggles as a working mom is getting myself and everyone else where they need to be on time.

I’ve had to extend myself a bit of grace in this area more than a few times and completely reevaluate my routines. I take a planner with me everywhere I go, and I jot down appointments, parties, deadlines, etc. as soon as I can. I plan a week’s worth of meals at a time (usually) and thank God for the stores in town that offer online grocery ordering.

2. Let go of the excess guilt.

Forgot to send your daughter to school in red for spirit day? Toss that guilt to the curb. Shamed over sending a bag of cookies and juice boxes for your son’s snack day at preschool? Let yourself enjoy the fact that for one brief moment you were just a tad cooler than Luke’s mom who always sends organic carrot sticks and overpriced bottled water.

My point is, there will always be moments where our best inner mom just doesn’t shine through. We’ll mess up, make our kids mad, forget stuff, and so on. But we’ll also get so much right.

Like loving our kids. Moms, we are great at that. So don’t let the less-shiny moments bring you down. Learn from the moment if you can, then shake that guilt off, pick up your “Supermom” cape and move on. Just be intentional in the moment you’re in.

3. Ask for help.

Yep, I feel you. This tends to be a hard one for us moms. We like to sport our bedazzled capes and fool only ourselves into thinking we can do it all. But the hard truth is that we can’t. We weren’t meant to.

So don’t feel any shame asking for a little help when you need it. Ask your husband for help getting the kids to bed. See if another mom could give your daughter a ride to dance. In a culture that has all but destroyed the proverbial “village” it was supposed to take to raise our children, it’s time to rebuild it.

4. Find a working mom friend.

I adore all of my friends—working in or out of the home, kids or no kids. No matter what your life stage is, the following will always be true: We need someone who gets where we are and who won’t judge our struggles.

I need close connections with other working moms who are struggling with the dilemma of taking off for sick days and field trips. Those who can understand the horror you feel coming home to a meal you intended to slow cook all day, only to discover you didn’t plug the darn thing in. No judgment, ladies. Back to Chick-fil-A we go.

5. Stop with all the comparisons.

You can’t be Luke’s mom, so get over it. You weren’t supposed to be. I tell my daughter all the time she was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). I don’t want her to think she has to be anyone other than the amazing girl God created her to be. So why should I?

God made you with a purpose, mom. He knew just what your future kids would need when He created you. Trust that He knows what He is doing. Just be you.

6. Find time in your busy schedule to connect with God.

When I neglect to set aside time to read Scripture or pray, all of the above points are harder. If I don’t go to God in prayer, I try to carry all my burdens myself—every ounce of guilt, all the comparisons I hold myself to, all the ways I will never measure up.

Connecting with God is the most important thing I can do not just for my family, but for myself. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” He tells us in Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest.”

One day not long ago, I was fishing through my purse for my keys before leaving the office. I found an M&M, an earring I thought I had lost, and something sticky that I didn’t waste time on identifying (it’s probably for the best).

But amid these small pieces of my life, there it was. Attached to a tangle of keys was a purple butterfly my daughter had given me—“#1 Mom,” it read. I’ll take that over “World’s Okayest Mom” any day.

Parenting a difficult child

SOURCE:  Julie Lowe/CCEF

Some of the most burdensome moments for a parent are when it is clear to those around you that your child is defiant or difficult. What are other people thinking? What does this say about me as a parent? They might assume your child’s behavior is a result of inadequate parenting or something else amiss in your home. People may even be bold enough to share their views, without any sense of the shame they are heaping upon you. Those of you with a difficult child understand. You feel marked, and even judged, by your child’s personal struggles. You hang your head around people who “know” about the problem. You assume they see you as a failure. If you were a good parent, surely your children would be well-behaved, love God, and have good manners. After all, their children are not so insubordinate.

If this is how you feel, you may have bought into the belief that good parents produce good children and bad parents produce bad children. At times, this seems downright biblical. If you raise a child in the way he should go, he won’t depart from it, right? So it follows that if you were godly enough, wise enough and patient enough, your child would not be so rebellious. It seems that the right formula is: love plus discipline plus godly instruction = “good” kids. And because, at times, the formula does seem to work, you determine the error must be in your parenting.

I’ve heard many a parent say, “We’ve exhausted all options, all approaches, all forms of consequences… and nothing worked. I tried being calm; I tried consistent discipline; I tried appealing to their conscience and praying with them and for them. Nothing helped. Nothing changed.” What the parent means is that it did not produce the desired behavior change or a visible heart change. The assumption is that, once again, the formula was applied, and it proved useless.

But this is a faulty, unbiblical approach. Good kids come out of horrific family backgrounds, and rebellious, willful kids come out of good, Christian homes. Children do not come to us as blank slates, but with their own personalities, strengths, weakness, desires, and temptations towards particular sin. They are born with hearts that are wooed by their own desires, and they exercise volition to choose for themselves the type of person they will become. There is an active moral responder on the other end of your parenting—one who chooses whom they will serve. And there is no way a parent can ensure the outcome.

Of course, a parent does play a significant role in a child’s life, but don’t buy into the belief that assumes good parenting will produce well-behaved children. It incorrectly places all the ownership and blame on you. And the burden of it might tempt you to want to give up or resort to poor or ungodly parenting (anger, yelling, harshness, despair, backing down, or backing away completely) because it might appear to work in the short run.

What then are you to do? Let me suggest two things that might help.

First, evaluate your motivation. Though you are not responsible for your child’s bad choices, could it be that, without realizing it, you are adding to the problem? If you are frustrated, despairing, or angry because your child is difficult, you need to ask yourself: What standard do you judge yourself by? Whose agenda is dictating your parenting? Is it a worldly, self-centered agenda, or a Christ-centered one? You can desire good things that become driven by very bad motives. Do you care too much about your own comfort or reputation? Do you desire a well-behaved child with few problems, or struggles? Children that make you look good, that are productive, smart, and kind? Are you embittered because you have invested yourself in this child and see no results? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, consider confessing the desires that grip your heart. Ask God to give you the grace, fortitude, and wisdom to parent your challenging child. Ask him to show you how to respond to your child out of love and concern for his or her wellbeing, not your own.

Second, remind yourself of what God calls you to as a parent—no more, no less. He calls you to love your children, to model a Christ-like character and lifestyle, and to respond wisely and thoughtfully to their struggles. You are to foster a personal relationship with the living God, and, to the best of your ability, shape your child’s strengths and weaknesses in his image. Though God expects you to parent with consistent love and wisdom, he does not hold you responsible for results that are driven by the child’s sin or rebellion.

Stop “trying” to make things turn out a particular way and just do the hard work of godly parenting. Do not judge its effectiveness by your child’s response. Simply wrestle with this:

Is my parenting loving?
Is it consistent?
Is it wise?

That will be challenging enough. You will fail, be convicted, and need forgiveness on those fronts alone. The rest must be left to the work of the Spirit in a child’s life. You will find much freedom from judgment, less care for the opinions of others, more hope and less despair when you commit your parenting to the Lord. Let him do the rest. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good.”

Asking Forgiveness From My Kids … Again

SOURCE: FamilyLife Ministries

My kids need to grow up with the knowledge that I require a Savior just as much as they do.

I yelled at my kids tonight.

It started before the mouthwash spilled all over the floor, my jeans, and my new shirt.

That I have an issue with anger and emotional control is not something I’ve kept secret. But it’s still painfully destructive in my own home: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down” (Proverbs 14:1).

So when my blood pressure had returned to an appropriate range and I determined the mouthwash only minimally soaked my front, I called all of my kids to our little loveseat. Some of them crawled out of bed. They piled around me like puppies. And I took the time—again, like I have to do so often—to apologize to them and ask for forgiveness.

Then, I led us in praying and repenting to God. It was duly needed for all of us.

I thanked my kids for forgiving me—also not so bad a quality to practice—and ended with tickling them into screaming laughter.

As I backed out of their room in the dark later, I yowled in pain after stepping on an electrical plug someone had left in the doorway. My second son was quick on the draw: “Still love me?” He collapsed in giggles.

None of this, I’m afraid, undoes what I did.

I wish I could take away my eruptive lack of self-control, or the way I morphed instantly into a drill sergeant. I wish I could subtract what I modeled for my kids. But what still remained in my power were two words: “I’m sorry.”

Their sin doesn’t justify mine

A family that practices repentance keep short accounts with each other, apologizing quickly and sincerely. The point of apologizing to my kids even when they’re in trouble isn’t at all to detract them from their sin. They need to grow up with my willing confession as the norm, to give them the knowledge that Mom requires a Savior as much as they do. An awareness of the log in my eye—even when my children or spouse are the offenders—is biblically commanded (Matthew 7:1-5).

So take it a step further, even, than those two critical words. Deliberately ask for forgiveness, and then humbly and verbally extend forgiveness: “I want you to know that I completely forgive you, and that I believe God forgives you, too.”

I guess it can sound a little hokey when we’re not used to using such language in our homes, but that’s my point. Should it be?

Call me an idealist, but I’d like this replication of Christ’s words to become the norm, a chance to apply the gospel to myself and to my loved ones daily.

My Big Flaw: I’m an Impatient Mom

SOURCE:  Kelsie Huffstickler/Family Life

When I’m in a hurry, I tend to plow over my children.

Here we are again, all buckled in and driving down the road. I’m at the wheel. My two girls are behind me strapped in their car seats. The music playing on my Christian radio station is uplifting, but my heart—it’s heavy. I’m weighed down by my own actions, not five minutes before.

Getting ready and out the door is a chore, as any mom of littles will tell you. No matter how much extra time you allot yourself, it’s never enough. It seems those last 10 minutes before leaving are pure and utter chaos.

It never fails. Somebody poops right as I step out the door. Did I get the paci? Oops, I forgot to water the dog.

It’s enough to drive someone mad—at least if that someone is me.

I like to think I am a good mother. But I know for a fact I have one motherly flaw that protrudes like a plank from my eye: I lack patience. At no time is this flaw more evident than when my girls and I are trying to get out the door to go somewhere.

The problem is, I’m an “arrive on time” kind of girl. Or at least I used to be. Now, with two kids, I rarely reach my destination on time. But the drive to do so still pushes me to run over any obstacles in my path.

Even if those obstacles are often my children.

Today my 4-year-old, finally strapped down behind her five-point-harness, crying in the back seat, asked me, “Why are you being so mean to us?” I was buzzing down the road, my eye on the prize of my destination, but in that moment my heart stopped, and I knew I was in the wrong.

At the next stop sign, I turned around, looked her straight in the eyes and asked her to please forgive me. She said she did, as she always does, and we kept on driving. But my heart couldn’t move on because I knew the truth—this wasn’t the first time this had happened. In my determination to get out the door and to wherever we’re headed, I tend to plow over those I love. (I know my husband’s been in the line of fire plenty of times too!) The fact is, my actions show that I place more value on the opinion of whoever is waiting for us than on that of my own family.

I decided right then and there that enough was enough. I don’t want my children to remember their mother always in a hurry or always about to burst from frustration. I want them to remember examples of patience and love.

Lord, please help me remember the power of my words and attitudes on my children’s hearts. And in those moments of frustration, help me reflect on Your Word and remember that my character is more important than them perfectly meeting my expectations.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2, NLT).

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1, NIV)

Parenting: Making “Getting Ready For School” Work

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

First-day Blues

It’s 7:00 AM on the first day of school for your kindergartner. She is sound asleep, it’s still dark outside and you have to wake her up to prepare her and yourself for the adventure this day will surely bring.

You’re anxious. Let’s face it; you are terrified to let your baby leave your sight. She is not getting out of bed as fast as you would like and even though she picked out her outfit for the day, the weather changed overnight and you clearly cannot send her to school in shorts and sandals.

She finally awakes, and much to your surprise, she isn’t hungry for breakfast; you can’t let her leave the house on an empty stomach. You’ve read all the studies about fueling the brain and body. In typical childlike fashion, you can see the temper tantrum that will erupt and the tears that will certainly follow.

What is that noise? Is the bus at the curb already? Oh no, you wanted to take a picture of her stepping up to the bus waiving back at us with her cute, smiling face.

Drat! We missed the bus!

Time to pack up the car. You drive your child to school late, hungry, cold, and with a red nose and swollen eyes from crying. You are a wreck and now you have to go to your job.

That first day of school commemorative picture of her will not be anyone’s fondest memory.

But wait – it doesn’t have to be like this.

Here are some helpful ideas to make getting ready for school a win-win for all whether it’s the first day or well into the semester.

Do whatever you can the night before:

Plan out two outfits, using the weather forecast as your guideline (maybe even special new jammies the night before the first day of kindergarten).

Provide a special bed time snack, along with a bedtime story. No scary stories on this night.

Offer, then plan to serve healthy breakfast items – ones that can be easily prepared in the morning. Check and then re-check the backpack.

The week before school starts, set an alarm a tad earlier than usual to get her used to the fact that it may be dark when the alarm goes off.

After that first day of school, talk about what you both can do to get ready for the next morning. You might have her help you make a “getting ready for school” chart to hang on the fridge or place on her bedroom door or bathroom mirror. Include all the tasks, step-by-step.

Have a Family Meeting

Family meetings are beneficial in times of change, such as the first day of school.  There are many websites devoted to the idea of family meetings with content to guide you.  Use your planned family meeting ideas life-long.

Need some help deciding the format for a family meeting?  This is how we, at PREPARE/ENRICH, define a family meeting:

A family meeting is a time for all family members to get together and to share and re-connect with each other.  Spend­ing time together helps family members feel supported and it can become an important family ritual.

Guidelines:

Includes all family members who are old enough participate.

Establish a regular time and place when the entire family is together, such as after a family meal.

Encourage discussion by everyone. Do not criticize and critique.

Allow the speaker to finish their thought before offering your comments, observations or input.

Ice Breaker Questions: (use age-appropriate terminology)

What do you feel was the best thing that happened to you or our family today (this week or recently)?

What was the worst thing that happened to you or our family this week?   What could we have done differently to resolve the issue?

Have conversations that encourage, support, and offer solutions. You might be surprised at how close you become as a family on many levels at any age for any of the daily issues that surface.

Unfortunately, your job as a parent is to prepare her to leave you. Start her off with the best possible skill set, because before you know it she will be grown and out of the house – on her way to an adventure of her own.

Lastly, remember to celebrate your accomplishments.  For your first family meeting, go out for ice cream!

Don’t Let Toxic Family Members Shame You into Compliance

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Holly was one of the angriest women I had ever seen in my office. She was angry at her family’s excessive expectations of her. Her mother expected her to call her every week and to accompany her on shopping trips. If there was a family function, Holly had to be there. Her father expected her to come home for Sunday dinner. Her brother expected her to come to all of his sporting events.

And if she didn’t, Holly’s family shamed her into submission.

I agreed with Holly that her family’s expectations were extreme, but when I suggested that her family wasn’t going to change and that she had to free herself from their expectations by changing her attitude, she became angry with me. She felt that if I didn’t see her as a victim, I didn’t care. I assured her that while she had indeed been victimized growing up, she had to stop allowing herself to be victimized by freeing herself from both her family’s expectations and her expectations of them.

“I don’t have any expectations of them,” she replied. “They are the ones with the ‘shoulds.’ “

“On the contrary,” I said. “you’re just like them. They say that you should come over for dinner every Sunday, and you say that they should stop pressuring you to come.” In other words, her expectation was that they should not have any expectations.

Over the course of many sessions, I tried to help her see that until she took responsibility for her own attitude that her family “should” change, she would never be free. Since I would not agree with her that her family needed to change in order for her to get well (which was out of her control), we hit a stalemate.

She could feel I was on her side if I would agree with her that her misery was their fault and not hers. I could agree with her that they had deeply injured her and were the source of much of her pain, but they were not the ones who were continuing it in the present. She was now an adult who had control over what she did and what she allowed others to do to her. But, because she felt that I was “on their side,” she quit.

When I saw her three years later, she was still stuck, still blaming her family for their attitudes toward and expectations of her.

Whenever we feel pressured by someone to do something, it is our problem [rather than] the one who is putting the pressure on. In reality, our, “feeling pressured” is our tendency to agree with the pressurer’s attitude instead of setting forth our own. We must get in touch with how we are getting hooked into saying yes and not put the blame on the other person.

Are You a “Mean Mom”?

SOURCE:  Joanne Kraft/Family Life

The definition of the word mean is to be unkind or malicious. But a good mean mom defines the word quite a bit differently.

Call me crazy, but moms are becoming nicer. There used to be a time when kids could spend hours regaling one another with mean mom stories. I know it used to be a favorite pastime of mine.

“My mom is the meanest. Listen to this …” I brushed aside my big ‘80s feathered hair for emphasis. “She wouldn’t let me come over today until after my homework was finished and after I cleaned the kitchen,” I complained to my girlfriend.

“If you think your mom is mean, Joanne, listen to this one …”

Legendary stories have gathered over time—too many to recount. My parenting style has been molded and shaped by them. As far as I was concerned, my mom was the meanest of all. She wanted to know who my friends were and what I was watching on TV. She upheld curfews, expected me to do well in school, and paid close attention to what I wore.

Mean mom flashback

I was hoping to slip out the front door before my parents caught a glimpse of my outfit. I was a typical 16-year-old, and I just knew they wouldn’t be able to hear the whisper of “cool” announcing my presence. Nor would they understand that my black stretch pants made a statement.

Unfortunately, I had never learned the art of Navy SEAL stealth operations, and my mom intercepted my exit. “Sweetheart, what are you wearing?”

Questions asking the obvious are the bane of every teenager’s existence. “Black pants,” I blurted, searching for an escape route.

“Those are not black pants. Those are skintight.” She called for backup. “George!”

Dad is a former U.S. Marine, so I knew he would be up for a battle. I would lose this skirmish. Mom would make sure of it.

“What in the world are those?” He looked down at my legs, his face scrunched up as if he were in the presence of something extraterrestrial.

My earlier confidence squeaked out as a pathetic question hoping for approval. “Black pants?”

With Dad as her wingman, my one-and-only “mean mom” began her rant: “No daughter of mine …”

Yep, here we go. The “no daughter of mine” speech.

As you can imagine, my response was predictable. I stomped off to my room and whimpered over my shoulder, “Mom. You are so mean!” Needless to say, I never left the house in those skintight stretch pants.

Fast-forward 30 years. Yesterday, while at church, this memory came rushing back. The beautiful young singer on stage seemed to have discovered my thigh-strangling pants from my teenage years. Her parents are apparently much nicer than mine and let her leave the house.

I debated with myself, Poor thing. Does she realize how skintight those are? Is that what I looked like 30 years ago? Stop it, Joanne, you’re being old-fashioned. Those pants are in style again.

My thoughts were interrupted by my extremely cool 17-year-old son. Right in the middle of a worship song, he leaned down and whispered to my ear, “That girl should not be wearing those pants.” Once again, confirmation that my very own mean mom had been right.

What does “mean” really mean?

The definition of the word mean is to be unkind or malicious. Though you might cringe at being defined this way, it’s exactly how your children feel you are behaving when you keep them from what they want, enforce daily chores, or thwart their Friday night plans.

This is the moment the parent-child language barrier begins. You see, a mean mom defines the word mean quite a bit differently.

  • A mean mom keeps her word when it’s hard.
  • A mean mom gives, models, and expects respect.
  • A mean mom knows her child’s friends and where they live.
  • A mean mom instills dinner times, bedtimes, and curfews.
  • A mean mom treads water longer than her child can make it rain.
  • A mean mom never makes excuses for her child’s strengths or weaknesses.
  • A mean mom doesn’t let her own fears overrule her child’s freedoms.
  • A mean mom sees the adult her child can be and inspires until he or she catches the vision.
  • A mean mom asks for forgiveness for her mistakes.
  • A mean mom loves passionately, encourages openly, and behaves righteously.
  • And if she’s married a mean mom puts her husband before her child.

In the context of mean mom, the word mean can be defined much differently between mom and child. So begins the expansion of that communication gap you’ve heard about. What a son or daughter sees as malicious or unkind, a mean mom sees as keeping protective boundaries and inspiring good character traits, so she makes no excuses for uncomfortable situations that are fueled by a loving boundary.

Children don’t understand boundaries as being helpful or for their lasting good. Their minds can’t wrap around anything more than their immediate wants and needs at this very nanosecond. This is where mean moms dig in and remember they are training each little one to overcome obstacles, never quit, and never, ever give up.

A mean mom’s mission statement is this: I’m not raising a child. I’m raising an adult. This mission statement becomes her mantra and reminds her of the ultimate goal: to work herself out of a job.

The wrong kind of mean

When I shared my idea of a mean mom book with a friend, she expressed concern, “My mom was incredibly mean. Not the mean you’re talking about. She was so disciplined and hurtful. The scars she’s left affect me still. She’s the reason I’m such a pushover with my girls today. I tend to be a marshmallow mom. I know I need to be better at keeping boundaries, but I’m so afraid I’ll become like my mother that I cave every time. I don’t want my kids to hate me like I hated my mom.”

It’s sadly true. There are moms who have a genetic mean streak. Oftentimes victims of their own parents’ physical or emotional abuse, they pass on discouragement and warped parenting disciplines that mold their children in painful ways.

Let me be very clear here. This is not the kind of mean I’m talking about. The mean mom I’m talking about loves her children more than she disciplines them. Joy is what permeates her home, and faith is the foundation and the groundwork she is laying.

Even when a mother is kind, caring, and understanding, she looks mean to her children when she lays down a boundary or rule. What is considered mean in the eyes of a 4-year-old is considered wise in the eyes of a 40-year-old. This is the kind of mean I mean.

“To tell you the truth …”

Ask most adults over the age of 30 if their parents were mean, and you’ll get lots of different answers. I posed this very question to my girlfriend.

“Yes, I thought my mom was very mean.” Gina, a mother of two, answered the question as she cut my hair. “She wouldn’t let me stay out late at night and needed to know my friends’ first and last names. But, to tell you the truth …” She stopped snipping and held her scissors midair. “I don’t think she was mean enough.” A tiny smile etched my face. “She was actually pretty naïve. She should’ve been meaner.”

———————————————————————————————–

Adapted from The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids by Joanne Kraft. Published by Leafwood Publishers, copyright ©2015.

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.

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

God’s Broken Family

SOURCE:  Elisa Morgan

It’s tempting to freak out over the fact that our families are broken — to think that if we fix the issues of marriage, money, and faith, we’ll fix the future of our families, and voila! — all will be well. But in reality, broken families are not new. We all come from a broken family because God’s family is broken. The thing is, this isn’t the tragedy we assume. Broken is right where God wants us — and right where He can powerfully reassemble us.

In the beginning, God created man and woman. Adam and Eve were a family, a man and a woman evidencing the image of God in their beings and in their union. But before they even got around to making children, they fell and broke. The original family was a broken family — separated from the very heart of God.

The very first child was born into this broken, messy family.

In the space of the first five chapters of the Bible, man and woman became one, disobeyed God’s only prohibition, and gave birth to two sons, one of whom murdered the other. The result is that by Genesis 6, the inhabitants of the planet were those whose hearts were turned so wholly toward evil that God decided to start over again.

God’s heart broke over His broken family.

The second time around, the results were no better. God started again with one family — this time Noah’s. For forty days and forty nights they did okay together. But once the Flood ended, Noah and his sons lost their footing — and the downfall of the family continued.

  • At the request of his wife, who was impatient for a child, Father Abraham took their slave, Hagar, as his mistress and had an illegitimate heir.
    Jacob married one sister but actually loved — and also married — another.
  • David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband.
  • The prophet Hosea was betrayed by his unfaithful wife, Gomer, yet took her back.

In Scripture, we find families built with love and chastity and families formed from rape and sin. Children born from one father to mothers who were sisters. Children born out of adultery, through prostitution, and into polygamous marriages. Children born to people of humble means and then relinquished through adoption to rulers and royals. And because respect didn’t come naturally to His people, God had to tell them to honor their parents.

That’s just in the Old Testament. The New Testament begins with an unwed — though betrothed — pregnant teenager…

We all come from a broken family and then create another broken family, because all families are broken. Even God’s. In our brokenness, we are just where we need to be. Fractured. Messed up. Sinful. Needy. Redeemable.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Pain makes theologians of us all… Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy.”1

There is beauty in the broken.

Our Creator God pants to bring His children into being, and then his heart tears in pain as we run, hide, and reject His love. Our Father God christens us sons and daughters and then releases us to our own stubborn ways but stands in the road, watching and waiting for us to return to Him. Our hereafter God dreams of redemption, when we are restored to His original purposes and put in pleasant places in relationship to Him and to each other.

Humankind is a broken, messy family. And we all come from this broken family. The family broke before it was even completely made. Just as my efforts fell short of fixing the breakage of my first and second families, our efforts will also miss the mark in making families whole and healthy in our broken world.

Think of it this way: If God’s family was and is broken, why do we think ours will be any different?

Isaiah 53 prophesies that healing for the broken will arrive through an unexpected channel: a broken Messiah. In Isaiah 53:2, the coming king is seen as less than lovely. Seemingly no “beauty in the broken” there.

He had no special beauty or form to make us notice Him; there was nothing in His appearance to make us desire Him.

My pastor, Robert Gelinas, compared the beauty of Jesus to that of Fiona in Shrek. There was beauty in the princess, but it wasn’t revealed until she became an ogre, revealing to Shrek and others her beauty from within.2

The beautification of brokenness appears as God’s despised man of sorrows takes our infirmities upon himself. Isaiah 53:5 underlines God’s provision for the broken heart, the broken soul, the broken human, and yes, the broken family.

But He was wounded for the wrong we did; He was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him, and we are healed because of His wounds.

The word “wounded” in this verse actually refers to bruises — black and blue marks created by broken blood vessels.And the word “healed” comes from a root meaning “mended, repaired, thoroughly made whole — spiritually forgiven.”4 By His broken blood vessels that resulted in black and blue blotches we are made thoroughly whole.

Somewhere along my journey from my first broken family to my second broken family, I began to understand that the brokenness in my first family wasn’t my fault. God led me through the layers of shame and fear to convince me: I had no control over my parents’ choices. I didn’t run my father off. I didn’t force my mother to overdrink. Gently, God led me to the words of 1 John 4:18:

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears.

I realized that I did not need to fear because Jesus had already endured any punishment I might face. We are healed because of His wounds.

Hear me well: the brokenness inflicted on you in your first family is not your fault.

The years passed and I mothered my second family. In spite of my imperfect, broken places, gradually I faced the reality that God did not evaluate my mothering by how perfectly or imperfectly my children developed. Rather, He expected me to address how I influenced my children by how yielded to His love for me and then acted it out in life. Period. He did not ask me to control their responses, their choices, or their consequences. I could throw my body over the potholes in their path, and they might or might not heed my warnings. I could not fix my family — my first family or my second — any more than I could fix myself. I was broken. They were broken. I was to offer myself to God and to allow Him to use my best, but still flawed, mothering to shape their development.

By His wounds we are healed.

While the brokenness you experienced in your first family is not your fault — remember that — there may be elements of brokenness in your first or second family that you are responsible for. If so, say so. It is up to you to take responsibility to right the wrongs and move toward healing. I’ve had to go to each of my children and my husband and confess my overparenting, my fear, my judgment, my inadequacy. At times the list of my failings has been so long that there was no gathering it up in my arms. I dragged it about behind me like a length of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Humiliating, but necessary to notice and shake away.

Jesus alone has the power to heal the broken. Jesus alone has the power to save the lost. It’s by His wounds that we find healing. Broken families find healing as the broken people within them admit their brokenness and yield personally to God’s healing power. Rather than praying, “Make my family whole,” we pray, “Make me whole.”

When we are broken, we are exactly where God wants us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 5:3 NIV

When we are broken we are bankrupt. When we are bankrupt we are dependent. When we are dependent we are done with ourselves and open to God.

Crazy thing here: we tend to view our fallings as grounds for disqualification from meaningful ministry, from lasting relationships, from worthy contributions to our world — when exactly the opposite is true. When we fall and then turn to God for the hope and help he alone offers us, we can actually become more qualified for fuller living. Our brokenness makes us more able to invest in the lives of those around us as we bring God’s healing of us to our relating to them.

Make your way through the pages of Scripture and you’ll see human after human used more mightily after a fall than before. Abraham. Moses. Rahab. David. Ruth. Jonah. Peter. Mark. Paul.

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Yet hope emerges through understanding that the broken family is anything but an unredeemable reality. Compassion comes as we understand that all of us — every one of us — is birthed forth from God’s broken family. As we embrace our own need for mercy, we can extend grace to others. While vibrant and full of life, the healthy family of today is also gritty and real, a place where assembly and even reassembly is required. When we are broken, we are right where we need to be before God. And where we need to stay.

There is beauty in the broken.
————————————————————————————————
Excerpted from The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan

Parental Conflict Can Cause Lasting Emotional Damage to Kids

SOURCE:  Traci Pedersen/PsychCentral

Children who regularly witness parental conflict may be sustaining lasting harm to their emotional processing abilities, potentially becoming overvigilant, anxious and vulnerable to misreading even neutral human interactions, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The findings are particularly strong for children who are naturally shy and sensitive.

“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Dr. Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.

In the study, 99 children (aged 9 to 11) were divided into two groups based on their scores from psychological tests which assessed how much parental conflict they experienced and how much they felt the conflict threatened their parents’ marriage.

Next, the children looked at a series of photographs of couples engaged in happy, angry or neutral interactions and asked to choose which category the photos fit.

Most of the children from the low-conflict homes consistently scored the photos accurately. However, children from high-conflict homes were only able to accurately identify the happy and angry couples, not those in neutral poses. These children would incorrectly perceive the neutral photos as either angry or happy, or they would say they didn’t know which category they fit into.

According to the researchers. one possible reason for the inability of those in the high-conflict group to evaluate the neutral photos could be hypervigilance. “If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones or may simply present greater processing challenges,” said Schermerhorn.

Alternatively, it could be that neutral parental interactions may be less significant for children who feel threatened by their parents’ conflict.

“They may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room, or happy ones, which could signal that their parents are available to them,” she said. “Neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.”

The study also reveals the impact of shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion. The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire completed by the subjects’ mothers, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high-conflict homes.

Shyness made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and who also felt threatened by their parents’ conflict were unable to perceive photos of neutral interactions as simply neutral.

“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,” Schermerhorn said.

The findings have significant implications, according to Schermerhorn, because they shed light on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development. Either of her interpretations for the findings —hypervigilance or not being able to read neutral interactions — could mean trouble for children down the road.

“One the one hand, being overvigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”

“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” said Schermerhorn, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”

Source: University of Vermont

 

How a Parent’s Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life

SOURCE:  Sandi Schwartz/Gottman

How often do you hug your children?

We all live busy, stressful lives and have endless concerns as parents, but it is clear that one of the most important things we need to do is to stop and give our kids a big loving squeeze. Research over the past decade highlights the link between affection in childhood and health and happiness in the future.

According to Child Trends – the leading nonprofit research organization in the United States focused on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families – science supports the idea that warmth and affection expressed by parents to their children results in life-long positive outcomes for those children.

Higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems have been linked to this type of affection. On the other hand, children who do not have affectionate parents tend to have lower sself-esteemand to feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive, and anti-social.

There have been a number of recent studies that highlight the relationship between parental affection and children’s happiness and success.

In 2010, researchers at Duke University Medical School found that babies with very affectionate and attentive mothers grow up to be happier, more resilient, and less anxious adults. The study involved about 500 people who were followed from when they were infants until they were in their 30s. When the babies were eight months old, psychologists observed their mothers’ interactions with them as they took several developmental tests.

The psychologists rated the mother’s affection and attention level on a five-point scale ranging from “negative” to “extravagant.” Nearly 10 percent of the mothers showed low levels of affection, 85 percent demonstrated a normal amount of affection, and about six percent showed high levels of affection.

Then 30 years later, those same individuals were interviewed about their emotional health. The adults whose mothers showed “extravagant” or “caressing” affection were much less likely than the others to feel stressed and anxious. They were also less likely to report hostility, distressing social interactions, and psychosomatic symptoms.

The researchers involved in this study concluded that the hormone oxytocin may be responsible for this effect. Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain released during times when a person feels love and connection. It has been shown to help parents bond with their children, adding a sense of trust and support between them. This bond most likely helps our brain produce and use oxytocin, causing a child to feel more positive emotions.

Next, a 2013 study from UCLA found that unconditional love and affection from a parent can make children emotionally happier and less anxious. This happens because their brain actually changes as a result of the affection. On the other hand, the negative impact of childhood abuse and lack of affection impacts children both mentally and physically. This can lead to all kinds of health and emotional problems throughout their lives. What’s really fascinating is that scientists think parental affection can actually protect individuals against the harmful effects of childhood stress.

Then in 2015, a study out of the University of Notre Dame showed that children who receive affection from their parents were happier as adults. More than 600 adults were surveyed about how they were raised, including how much physical affection they had. The adults who reported receiving more affection in childhood displayed less depression and anxiety and were more compassionate overall. Those who reported less affection struggled with mental health, tended to be more upset in social situations, and were less able to relate to other people’s perspectives.

Researchers have also studied the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for infants. This special interaction between mother and baby, in particular, helps calm babies so they cry less and sleep more. It has also been shown to boost brain development. According to an article in Scientific American, children who lived in a deprived environment like an orphanage had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who lived with their parents. Scientists believe that the lack of physical contact in the orphanages is a major factor in these physical changes.

Finally, numerous studies on the effects of massage show the positive benefits it offers to reduce anxiety in children. Massage is also a good way for parents to connect to their children, both physically and emotionally. Starting in infancy, a parent can begin to massage their child, which can create a strong bond. Studies have shown children and adults who receive massage experience less anxiety during academic stress, hospital stays, and other stressful events.
So, how can you bring more hugs into your family’s day?

From the moment you bring your baby home from the hospital, be sure to hold, touch, and rock them in your arms. Spend many precious moments caressing your baby so that their skin can touch your skin.

As they get older, be playful by doing fun activities like dancing together or creating silly games like pretending to be a hugging or kissing monster.

Set a reminder to make sure hugging is part of your daily routine. In the recent Trolls movie, the Trolls wore watches with alarm clocks that would go off every hour for hug time. If that’s what it takes, then set yourself an alarm. Or make sure to give your kids a hug during certain times of the day, such as before they leave for school, when they get home from school, and before bedtime.

Another interesting idea is to use affection while disciplining your child. As you talk to them about what they did wrong, put your hand on their shoulder and give them a hug at the end of the conversation to ensure them that, even if you are not pleased with their behavior, you still love them. If your children hit their sister or brother, hug them and explain how hugging feels better than hitting.

Finally, be careful not to go overboard and smother your kids. Respect their individual comfort level, and be aware that this will change as they go through different stages.

10 Ways Parents Embarrass Their Teens

SOURCE:  Hayley DiMarco/Family Life Ministry

How to prove to your kids that you’re not weird.

It’s sad but true—most of us will embarrass our kids at some point in our lives. Some relationships will be unaffected, as many teens just shrug off the goofy things parents do, but others will suffer because of your teen’s fear of what you’ll do next, and that’s what’s really at issue here.

If you fit into any of the following categories, please give these ideas some thought. You might want to consider some lifestyle improvements, teen style.

1. Yelling at them in public. If I were going to suggest you change any one thing you’re doing, I’d suggest you change this one. When you yell at your teenager in public, you do a great deal to damage their young hearts and minds. Your goal, I assume, is to raise a confident, successful person, and yelling at them and belittling them in public is a surefire way to create a weak, depressed, and dysfunctional adult.

You usually yell because you feel powerless, and that shows your teenager that you are out of control. So maintain your composure. If you feel like you’re going to explode, you should excuse yourself, take a break, and talk to them when you are more in control.

2. Dressing less than fashionably. This is a hard one. You’re busy; you don’t have time to keep up with all the fashions and shop till you drop. I understand, but if you are still wearing clothes you bought more than 10 years ago, you might just be causing your fashion-conscious teen to blush. It’s true that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and judging appearances is so superficial, but it’s how we think as human beings. Whether you realize it or not, how you dress tells people how you want them to think of you.

3. Trying to be “cool.” A lot of parents hate the fact that they are getting older, and in order to forget it or to hide it, they act like teenagers themselves. Or at least they try. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a really cool mom or dad. But that means a parent who isn’t embarrassing and who is kind, friendly, non-invasive, and loving. It doesn’t mean a parent who dresses and talks like they’re still 22.

If you find yourself trying to entertain your kid’s friends or spending every weekend with the gang, then perhaps you’re trying too hard to be the kid and not the parent.

4. Being too loud and drawing attention to yourself and them. This is often closely related to wanting to be “cool.” Loud parents are an embarrassment because they are trying to draw all of the attention to themselves. This makes the child feel like they are being either upstaged or humiliated. When you draw attention to yourself by being loud, you are really saying to your child and the world, “It’s all about me! What about me? I need some attention.”

5. Being too affectionate in public. Adolescence is the time when kids are exploring the world. They are learning how to function as individuals, and when you are overly affectionate, you make them feel, and look to their friends, like a little baby. For teens who are learning to grow up and fend for themselves, this is a huge embarrassment. So save the affection for the privacy of your home, and help them make the giant step into adulthood by giving them their space in public.

6. Treating them like a little kid in front of their friends. When your child was a baby, you would wipe their face because they couldn’t do it themselves. But when you do that and other babying-type things now, you make them feel like they aren’t big enough to care for themselves. And as I’ve been saying, this is the time in your child’s life when they need to practice leaving the nest and flying solo. If they can’t take care of themselves now, then how will they ever do it when they are truly out on their own? So control yourself. Resist the urge to treat them like they are a kid in front of their friends.

7. Grilling their girlfriend or boyfriend—This one is totally understandable. When your teenager has a date, it’s good for you to know who they are dating. I don’t want to tell you not to do this, but it can really embarrass your teenager. Frankly, I think it’s something they’re just going to have to learn to live with, although there might be ways of doing it that are, say, more sympathetic than other ways.

8. Saying something stupid in front of their friends. This one is almost unavoidable … at least I know it is for me! Sometimes you’re going to put your foot in your mouth, no matter who you’re with. Just do your best not to be too unguarded with your word selection in front of the friends.

9. Drinking too much or doing drugs. This one seems obvious to most, but some parents feel like they have a right to keep on doing the things they’ve always done, including mood-altering substances. If this is you, I encourage you to get help. If you want successful teens, then consider the fact that if you continue to abuse drugs or alcohol, you will more than likely soon be estranged from your teen, who is at great risk of taking on the same behavior as you.

10. Not taking care of your body. No one said parenting was easy, so why would you be shocked that it might also include taking better care of yourself? Giving your child the gift of your health is priceless. If your body draws attention to your teenager, then I can almost guarantee you that they are embarrassed. Teens desperately hope to avoid situations that will make them look odd, and that includes having an odd parent.

Don’t Let Your Kids Get Away With Lying

SOURCE:  Scott Williams

 Lying, no matter how small, is a big deal.
If our children are going to develop the discipline to always embrace the truth, it will be with our help.

There have always been two schools of thought about the relationship between children and wrongdoing:

  • The “blank slate” argument holds that children are amoral at birth and are wholly shaped by their environment and by significant people in their lives
  • The “inherent sin” argument holds that children are born sinful and don’t need any corrupting influences to do wrong, just the opportunity.

I have always held to the latter argument (especially now that I have watched our seven children grow up). But in an article in New York magazine titled “Learning to Lie,” author Po Bronson has made me do some thinking. My position hasn’t changed, mind you, just become better informed. Here it is: We’re all born liars, and the more practice we have, the better we are at it.

Summarizing several studies, Bronson reported these observations:

  • Despite what many popular books advise, children don’t grow out of lying, they grow into it.
  • Lying is related to intelligence: Smarter kids make better liars.
  • Ninety-eight percent of teens believe lying is wrong, but the same percent admit lying to their parents.
  • When teens argue with parents about their wishes, it’s often a positive alternative (relatively speaking) to the frequent first choice—just going behind their parents’ backs.
  • Knowing that there are consequences motivates children not to lie less, but to not get caught.
  • An appeal to honesty is far more effective than the threat of punishment in getting children not to lie.

The whole article is fascinating. To me, the most eye-opening part of the story involved a study where subjects were asked to admit the biggest lie they ever told.

“I was fully expecting serious lies,” [researcher Bella] DePaulo remarks. “Stories of affairs kept from spouses, stories of squandering money, or being a salesperson and screwing money out of car buyers.”

And she did hear those kinds of whoppers, including theft and even one murder. But to her surprise, a lot of the stories told were about when the subject was a mere child—and they were not, at first glance, lies of any great consequence. “One told of eating the icing off a cake, then telling her parents the cake came that way. Another told of stealing some coins from a sibling.” As these stories first started trickling in, DePaulo scoffed, thinking, “C’mon, that’s the worst lie you’ve ever told?” But the stories of childhood kept coming, and DePaulo had to create a category in her analysis just for them. “I had to reframe my understanding to consider what it must have been like as a child to have told this lie,” she recalls. “For young kids, their lie challenged their self-concept that they were a good child, and that they did the right thing.”

Many subjects commented on how that momentous lie early in life established a pattern that affected them thereafter. “We had some who said, ‘I told this lie, I got caught, and I felt so badly, I vowed to never do it again.’ Others said, ‘Wow, I never realized I’d be so good at deceiving my father, I can do this all the time.’ The lies they tell early on are meaningful. The way parents react can really affect lying.”

The takeaway here is that lying, no matter how small, is a big deal. Think about it. Lying requires, first, a recognition of the truth. Faced with the prospect of not looking good against the truth, a child or adult then has to devise an alternative, usually opposite, version of the truth. Even before the lie is told, there has already been a conscious decision to reject the truth.

Parents play an important role in helping their children not to get trapped in this pattern. Here are some of the best things you can do as parents to steer your children away from lying.

Be an example. They need you to be the examples of telling the truth, and that includes avoiding white lies and socially polite (but disingenuous) remarks designed to evade conflict. Children are in a constant process of learning what is true, appropriate, and helpful in how they interact positively with others.

Lying, unfortunately, is a fact of life in a sin-crusted world. We need to be honest with ourselves and with our children. We are all tempted to lie, and each of us fails the truth test more than we care to admit. If our children are going to develop the discipline to always embrace the truth, it will be with our help. Make truth the norm in your home.

Emphasize relationship. Bronson’s article and other social research reveal that the children who lie the least are those who have a warm relationship with their parents and who have open lines of communication with them. Conversely, the children most likely to lie are those who are regularly confronted by their parents over minor offenses—like leaving a mess in the family room or forgetting to follow through on a responsibility. Rather than pointing out the wrong in these situations, simply reminding the child of the right thing to do is more likely to prevent the child from repeating the offense the next time the opportunity presents itself.

It’s important to realize that one of the reasons children lie to their parents is because they want to please them. Many times, kids fear that if they tell the truth, their parents will think less of them or not love them. Therefore, make it easier for your children to tell the truth. Acknowledge when they do make the difficult decision to tell the truth in spite of consequences. Assure them of your unconditional love, and tell them that one of the things that makes you happy is when they tell the truth.

Show them the big picture. The Apostle John reflected the heart of God when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). In Scripture, the word “truth” is repeatedly used as an essential characteristic of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In contrast, Satan is referred to as the “father of lies” and “the deceiver.” Most important for us to teach our children is that lying is a poor reflection of God, who created each of us in His image and who loves us in spite of our sin.

We do this by being honest and open ourselves. We need to constantly remind our children that lying is not as much deceiving others as it is being deceived ourselves. Satan is the father of lies, but God is the Author of truth. Living uprightly before God means never having to be afraid of the truth. And we can assure them that God’s forgiveness (as well as ours) in the face of sin is always there when they are willing to admit when they have fallen short of the truth.

Living in the light

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another,” the Apostle Paul told the believers at Ephesus (Ephesians 4:25).

Children need your loving reminder that lying undermines their reputation. But even worse, it harms a relationship. Truth is at the heart of every good relationship. Help your children understand that honesty builds those relationships, but deception undermines them. And just as we become better liars the more practice we have, we develop stronger relationships with others and with God the more we practice living in the light of truth.

Dealing with a Difficult Ex-Spouse: 10 Tips to Help You Cope

SOURCE:  Ron Deal, LMFT, LPC

Wouldn’t it be nice if adults could remember that parenting is not about them, and that it is about the children?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pain of the broken personal relationships of the past could be kept separate from the practical parental concerns of the present.  Wouldn’t it be nice…

Yes, it would.  But sometimes people aren’t nice.

Dealing with a difficult ex-spouse can be very discouraging and defeating.  Yet, we are called to continue trying to pursue good, to “turn the other cheek”, and “walk the extra mile.”  Hopefully, the following tips can aid you in your efforts to cope—because it’s all about the children.

 

1.      Be sure to notice your own part of the ongoing conflict.  Christian ex-spouses, for example, often feel justified in their anger toward their irresponsible ex-spouse.  It’s easy, then, to also feel justified in your efforts to change them in whatever ways you feel are morally or practically necessary.  Unfortunately, this sense of “rightness” often blinds good-hearted Christians from seeing just how their own behavior contributes to the ongoing cycle of conflict.  Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite hostility or a lack of cooperation in return.  Learn to let go of what you can’t change so you don’t unknowingly keep the between home power struggles alive.

2.      Stepparents should communicate a “non-threatening posture” to the same-gender ex-spouse.  An ex-wife, for example, may continue negativity because she is threatened by the presence of the new stepmother.  It is helpful if the stepmother will communicate the following either by phone or email: “I just want you to know that I value your role with your children and I will never try to replace you.  You are their mother and I’m not.  I will support your decisions with the children, have them to your house on time, and never talk badly about you to the children.  You have my word on that.”  This helps to alleviate the need of the biological mother to bad-mouth the stepparent or the new marriage in order to keep her children’s loyalties.

3.      Keep your “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict.  Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict.  Use the phone when possible or even talk to their answering machine if personal communication erupts into arguments.  Use email or faxes when possible.  Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.

4.      Use a script to help you through negotiations.  This strategy has helped thousands of parents.  Before making a phone call, take the time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say.  Also, anticipate what the other might say that will hurt or anger you.  Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments that won’t be solved with another fight.  (For more on how to do this, see the “Be Prepared by Borrowing a Script and Sticking to It” section of the free Common Steps for Co-Parents e-booklet.)

5.      Whenever possible, agree with some aspect of what you ex-spouse is suggesting.  This good business principle applies in parenting as well.  Even if you disagree with the main point, find some common ground.

6.      Manage conversations by staying on matters of parenting.  It is common for the conversations of “angry associate” co-parents to gravitate back toward negative personal matters of the past.  Actively work to keep conversations focused on the children.  If the conversation digresses to “old marital junk,” say something like, “I’d rather we discuss the schedule for this weekend.  Where would you like to meet?”   If the other continues to shift the conversation back to hurtful matters assertively say, “I’m sorry.  I’m not interested in discussing us again.  Let’s try this again later when we can focus on the weekend schedule.”  Then, politely hang up the phone or walk away.  Come back later and try again to stay on the parenting subject at hand.

7.      When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.  Listen and help them explore their hurt feelings.  If you can’t make positive statements about the other parent, strive for neutral ones.  Let God’s statutes offer any necessary indictments on a parent’s behavior.

8.      Remember that for children, choosing sides stinks!   Children don’t want to compare their parents or choose one over the other.  They simply want your permission to love each of you.  This is especially important when the two of you can’t get along.

9.      Wrestle with forgiveness.  Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason your ex—and you—overreact with one another.  Do your part by striving to forgive them for the offenses of the past (and present).  This will help you manage your emotions when dealing with them in the present.

10. Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.  For your kid’s sake, find ways of being respectable even if you honestly can’t respect your ex-spouses lifestyle or choices.  Do not personally criticize them, but don’t make excuses for their behavior either.

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Ron L. Deal is the author The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family and President of www.SmartStepfamilies.com.  He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor who specializes in stepfamily education and therapy.  He presents conferences around the country and equips churches to minister to stepfamilies.

Adultery: Where Dead Men Lie — Letter to a Would-Be Adulterer

Source:  Greg Morse/Desiring God

Dear Husband,

If you value your life, if you cherish your manliness and honor, if you love your family and your God, listen to his voice. As she whispers in your ear, as her lips yield the sweetest honey, as her speech soothes and excites, listen to his words instead. Drown her lies in wisdom.

She entices, “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love” (Proverbs 7:18). She says that she can satisfy your longings. She says that no one will know. She makes you feel desired, dominant. She crowns you a king.

And she can provide some of the promised pleasure — for a time.

But mark these three words: in the end.

In the end she is bitter as wormwood.” In the end she is “sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:4). In the end it would have been better to sleep every night embracing a Japanese Katana or a motion sensor grenade.

In the end you will realize that what you mistook as harmless pleasure, as “true love,” as the path to lifelong satisfaction, was the coffin where your reputation, your honor, your family’s flourishing and trust and — if unrepentant — your very soul goes to die. Her chamber of secrets is a chamber of death (Proverbs 7:25–27). Her bed is a graveyard where dead men lie.

Suicide of the Senseless

She will never lead to life (Proverbs 5:5). She does not even know where to find it (Proverbs 5:6). She gives no thought to Christ, to everlasting joy, to the narrow way. If you follow her, you go as an ox to the slaughter. You will end life with an arrow protruding from your liver (Proverbs 7:22–23).

If we could exhume the tongues of her dead victims, they would warn you, as that anguished rich man in torment, to avoid their fate (Luke 16:19–31). She lied in wait for each (Proverbs 7:12), seized upon their lust with kisses, and ferried them into Sheol.

The dead would cry, Adultery is the suicide of those who lack sense (Proverbs 6:32). None who touches her will go unpunished! (Proverbs 6:29).

Place your head on her pillow, and you write your name on a headstone.

Stay Far Away

And now, O husband, listen to me! Keep your way far from her. Do not go near her bed or even near the door of her house (Proverbs 5:8). Don’t fool yourself: you’re not strong enough to harmlessly chat via email, text late at night, meet up for a friendly drink. Stay away! Can you embrace fire and not get scorched (Proverbs 6:27–28)?

In the end — oh, that dreadful end — you will realize that it was not ultimately her fault, but your own. You will groan for your lust, when your flesh and body are consumed. You will wail, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to wisdom’s voice! I did not heed my best friend’s warning! I slowly muted my conscience and cast God’s word aside in my madness. And now I am at the brink of utter ruin in the rubble of a broken existence” (see Proverbs 5:11–14).

In life, you will be a shell of a man, a skeleton. The jagged pieces of shattered hearts will be your bed. If you have any conscience left, it will become an enemy. Old relations will cringe at your name. You will be a man worthy of contempt and dishonor (Proverbs 6:33).

And in death, if you have not been washed and made new in the blood of Christ, you will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). You will forever be the adulterer. A man who, by living for himself, lit his family on fire. A man who, in the end, will himself be lit with an everlasting flame.

Your Wife, Your Choicest Wine

Rather, “drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well” (Proverbs 5:15). Rekindle the passion that carried her across the threshold.

Drink deeply from her springs to refresh your love. Has your love proven feeble? Have grand promises now hushed into a whimper? Gird up the loins of your affection and play the man! You who would wrestle every challenge to the ground, and die in battle before conceding, will you now fall to fluttering eyelids? No. Rejoice in the wife of your youth!

She is a lovely deer, a graceful doe (Proverbs 5:18–19). Look at her — she sits with a thousand more reasons to love her than when you vowed to forsake all others for her. Rejoice in her! She still is that doe, that deer. Do not trade the doe for the skunk.

“Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight” (Proverbs 5:19). This includes the first time you brought her into the bedroom, the second time she bore your child, and the anniversary where you celebrated your third decade of marriage together. At all times. Be intoxicated always in her love (Proverbs 5:19). Get drunk in her passion, be inebriated with her smile, let the room spin as she walks in. She is your choicest wine.

Choose Life

Be not intoxicated with the forbidden woman.

Why? Because all your ways — no matter how dimly lit the hotel room — are before the eyes of the Lord (Proverbs 5:21). Your wife may be away, but your Lord is not. The Judge of all the earth watches. He is there with you. And there will be a reckoning for the heinous deed — either at Calvary or in the lake of fire.

He invites you even now to choose life, choose peace, choose obedience.

Be not intoxicated with the forbidden woman.

Why? Because the iniquities of the wicked ensnare the man who is, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22). You will get caught in your own web. Your family will be torn. Your name will be tarnished. And you will be bound by your own mischief.

Even the mighty Samson could not break such chains.

Be not intoxicated with the forbidden woman.

Why? Because you will die for lack of discipline (Proverbs 5:25). God will not be mocked. Because of your lack of discipline, your lack of earnest limb-cutting, lack of genuine repentance and faith, you will be led away into hell (Matthew 5:27–30).

Dear husband, forsake not your precious wife. Forsake not your honor and manliness. Forsake not your witness. Forsake not your God. Let Christ’s fidelity and love win your heart afresh to your wife. Be intoxicated with your bride. And with our Groom.

Protecting Your Son From Aggressive Girls

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

We’re seeing a surge in girls taking the initiative with guys at younger and younger ages, and aggressively attempting to lure them into sexual activity.

These experiences led to my book, Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, which was published in 2007. I received a lot of positive feedback from appreciative dads, but I also got something that I didn’t expect. Quite a few parents contacted me to say, “I really appreciate the helpful advice for raising daughters, but we really need something to help our sons deal with aggressive girls in this sexually-saturated culture.”

Read this mother’s frustration:

I have a very outgoing, charming, attractive 15-year-old son. I have literally been chasing the girls away from the door ever since the seventh grade. The phone calls, identified by caller ID, were left for the answering machine to answer. The aggressiveness and promiscuity of young girls nowadays is beyond words. Their dress is so alluring and inviting to a young man, what’s a guy to do? Moreover, what’s a mom to do?

Another mother wrote after hearing the FamilyLife Today® broadcast we did on my book:

After listening to your “Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date” program today, I’m wondering if you have been on a high school or junior high campus recently. While I agree with your points today, I have a seventh grade son. Let me tell you that the girls are relentless. So aggressive. He’s at a Christian school, and this is a problem. I can only imagine what it may be like elsewhere. Please address this issue.

Back when I was growing up, there were some girls who were called “boy crazy,” but very few were as forward and aggressive as what we’re seeing today. Based on my conversation with parents, and what I’ve seen through research on the internet, I think parents are facing some serious challenges. We’re seeing more girls taking the initiative with guys at younger and younger ages and aggressively attempting to lure them into sexual activity. As I’ve done research on the issue, parents are telling me about groups of girls getting together and targeting young men.

Of course, I’m not talking about all young ladies. But the situation has changed enough in recent years that we need to ask: How can we prepare our teenage sons for dealing with the attention and temptation being thrown at them by some sexually aggressive girls?

What in the world is happening?

What is going on in the hearts of some young girls that causes them to be so assertive? I think there are several reasons for what we are seeing:

First, the culture is supporting it. Movies, television shows, commercials, magazines, books … they all glamorize sex and intimacy and the right of young women to go after whatever it is they think will make them happy.

Second, we have a whole generation of young men who are confused in their own sexual identity. Are they supposed to be sensitive or aggressive? Leaders or helpers? Many young men today are not being taught how to treat a young lady with nobility, dignity, and respect. Many are growing up without a father or male figure to provide guidance. As a result, some of these young men have no idea how they should expect to be treated by a real young lady.

Third, the breakdown of the family has resulted in a whole generation of daughters who have been abandoned. And in the absence of a healthy, emotional attachment to their fathers and mothers, they’re trying to fill their emotional gas tanks with the opposite sex.

Finally, there’s little or no preparation for adolescence occurring among parents of preteens or early teens. This may be the core problem. When you ask parents of preteens how many of them would like their children to have the same experience they had in adolescence, there aren’t many hands that go up. But those same parents often become increasingly detached as their children move into the adolescent years.

Teenagers need training to understand the culture, peer pressure, what’s happening in them with their hormones, and what’s happening with the opposite sex. That’s why we have resources like Passport2Purity®—to help parents ground their children in the Scripture that anchors their hearts to withstand the winds of culture and peer pressure.

Protecting your boys

There are six assumptions you need to make in training and educating your sons in how to handle aggressive girls:

Assumption #1: Young boys are clueless about a lot of what is going on around them. They need to be prepared for the reality of today’s world, and this preparation needs to start while they are still boys. This is why I’d suggest that mothers and fathers talk with their 10- to 12-year-old sons about how they relate to the opposite sex before they face the temptation. There’s a much greater probability of success if you can have these conversations before the hormones hit.

Assumption #2: Aggressive girls will likely come into your son’s life. The problem is that most parents won’t know it, because teenage boys don’t talk about anything. But it could be taking place in your son’s life and he’s just not letting you know, so you have to pursue him in the process.

Assumption #3: You, as a parent, need a proactive plan. That plan will involve fathers and sons, but …

Assumption #4: Moms, that plan needs to involve you. You know how girls think and you can help your son understand girls in ways that a father can’t.

Assumption #5: With a son, this instruction, teaching, and call to accountability doesn’t end with the adolescent years. It continues on into adulthood. (And in my opinion, it doesn’t stop after they get married.) Why? Because there are women who are still preying upon men who are married, and every man needs an older man in his life who is asking him “Remember those conversations we had, Son? You’re a married man now, but that does not exempt you from temptation. How are you doing with that?”

Assumption #6: Your son needs a call to manhood. Ultimately, the call to a young man is to step up and become a noble man, a moral man, a spiritual man, God’s man. You’re going to call your sons as they move through adolescence to step up to maturity and step up to real manhood. And to do that, they need a mother and a father repetitively teaching Scripture and encouraging them as they do take these steps toward maturity.

I think one of the finest illustrations of this is in Proverbs, chapters 5-7. In this passage, the writer was reflecting back on conversations he had with his son about aggressive women. And over and over he basically says, “Listen, my son. Hear my warnings. Embrace what I say, because it’s important.”

The writer concludes the whole passage by saying, “Don’t fool around with her, Son. Don’t go near her. Because she runs a halfway house to hell, and she has your grave clothes and your coffin, Son. Heads up. This is dangerous stuff we’re talking about here” (my paraphrase of Proverbs 7:24-27).

One other Scripture your son should be familiar with, and commit to memory, is 2 Timothy 2:22: “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

That passage is equally helpful for young men and young women. And while we’re on the subject, what if you have daughters; how do you keep them from being drawn into this culture of aggressive girls?

Training your daughters

If you are raising a daughter, there are at least four things you should consider:

1. Equip your daughter with a biblical, healthy, God-centered perspective of her sexuality. She needs to understand how her clothes and her behavior affect boys. When girls are too flirty or too friendly with the opposite sex, they need to be told. If you witness this kind of behavior, rehearse it and relive it later on and talk about what it does to guys. Explain what is appropriate in terms of a friendly relationship between a young lady and a young man. This needs to be done without being rude, but we cannot let our daughters get away with being overly friendly or overly aggressive.

2. Moms, model what you teach to your daughters. You need to dress appropriately, the way you would want your teenage daughters to dress when they’ve matured. There is a mixed signal that is sent when a mom is telling her daughter to dress conservatively, but her own clothes call too much attention to her body.

3. Dads, actively love your daughters. Give your daughter words of affection, warm hugs, and gentle kisses that let her know that she’s sweet, you’re her daddy, and that no matter how big she gets and how mature she is, you’re never going to stop giving her those words and those hugs. No matter how threatening that may be as your daughter matures, you need to let her know that there’s a wholesome love through words and affection that occurs within a God-centered family.

4. Appropriately correct inappropriate behavior. Pray about how you should instruct her, help her, and correct her. Then begin to train her as to what is appropriate and what isn’t. This could be everything from how she looks at guys, to the makeup she wears, to the clothing she wears.

One of the most important things I did with our daughters was to go shopping with them. It was important for two reasons: First, it showed me how difficult it was for them to find appropriate clothing that is modest and fashionable; and second, it allowed me to give my approval or disapproval before the purchase was made.

Whether you’re a mom or dad, and whether you’re raising boys or girls, your children need your love and guidance as never before. They need to be loved when they don’t believe in themselves. They need to be clothed in wisdom that morally protects them like armor.

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For more help on this topic, order Dennis Rainey’s book  Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys: 7 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son.

This Is Why Your Kid’s Not Listening to You

SOURCE:  Stephanie Loomis Pappas /The Gottman Institute

I’m awake earlier than usual and hiding out in bed for a few precious minutes of reading time when a wail interrupts me mid-paragraph. My three-year-old opens my door and throws himself at the bed.

I reach out for a hug. “What’s the matter?”

He ignores me and screams louder.

“Why are you so sad?”

He screams louder and swipes at me.

“Well, I don’t want to spend time with someone who is screaming at me.” I get up and walk into my bathroom.

He follows, screams echoing off the tiles.

But I should really know better than to ask why my son is sad, because the book he just interrupted – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s timeless “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” – warned me off asking why when dealing with an upset child.

Kids’ feelings are real feelings

In the foundational chapter of their book, originally published in 1980 and more recently in a 30th Anniversary Edition, Faber and Mazlish demonstrate the many ways in which parents minimize or reject their children’s feelings: A child complains about being hot, and a parent responds by telling the kid to put on a winter jacket. A child whimpers about a paper cut, and the parent dismisses it as no big deal.

For Faber and Mazlish, these brushed-off feelings are an early breach of trust between parents and their children. The bedrock of Faber and Mazlish’s approach to parenting is acknowledging children’s feelings. Not dismissing. Not minimizing. Not jumping to explain, or blame, or problem-solve. Just acknowledging.

Faber and Mazlish offer four ways that parents can acknowledge their children’s feelings. Parents can simply look at their children and listen. They can offer short acknowledgments like “I see” or “Uh-huh.” They can identify feelings. Or they can give their children their “wishes in fantasy,” like “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could wear shorts in the winter?” or “I wish we could build a paper cut healing machine!”

Kids may not understand their feelings

Faber and Mazlish add a special caution against “why.” Although some kids can explain their feelings in the moment, many cannot. For those kids, asking why just makes things worse:
in addition to their original distress, they must now analyze the cause and come up with a reasonable explanation. Very often children don’t know why they feel as they do. At other times, they’re reluctant to tell you because they fear that, in the adult’s eyes, their reason won’t seem good enough. (“For that you’re crying?”)

What kids need, Faber and Mazlish argue, is for their feelings to be understood and respected, not questioned.

Imagine you get a call from someone you’ve known a long time, maybe a sibling or a dear friend. Just their tone of voice leads you to say things like, “You sound tired,” or “Oh no, you must not be feeling well,” or “You sound like you’re having a great day.”

But when talking to your child, who is in the room with you and offering plenty of clues as to how he’s feeling, you ask, “What’s the matter?” or “Why are you crying?” Even though we are trying to communicate empathy, these phrases make it seem as though we’re not really hearing our children.

Did I need to know why my son was sad in order to understand his feelings? I knew he was sad, but I didn’t acknowledge his feeling. Instead, I reflexively swooped in to solve the crying with whatever explanation fit his situation this time.

Maybe my son was crying because he was woken by the neighbors. Maybe he was crying because he’d had that nightmare with the turkey. Maybe he was crying because he was too hot or too cold. Maybe he was crying because that’s what kids do lots of the time. In reaching out for him, I was clearly trying to comfort. But did my “why” add to that? Did it matter why he was crying, or that he was seeking comfort from me?

“Why” sounds like an accusation

Once I started listening to myself, I realized that I often ask some version of “why?” in response to almost all of my child’s emotional outbursts. What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Why do you feel sad? Why are you laughing?

In our worst moments, “why” can become a parent’s accusation. Why didn’t you tell me you needed help with your homework? Why did you break all your pencils? Why didn’t you remember to take the dog out? Why did you do that to your little sister?

These kinds of why questions, Faber and Mazlish argue, put children in an impossible position. They either identify as inadequate or start getting defensive, placing blame on others. Neither position helps children solve their problems.

Turning off “why”

After reading Faber and Mazlish’s suggestion to avoid asking why, I resolve to start acknowledging my son’s feelings. My next chance comes later that morning when he runs into the kitchen and yells, “It’s raining!” before collapsing into sobs.

“Why are you sad it’s –” I catch myself and switch course. “You’re sad it’s raining.”

“Yes.”

“Sometimes the noise of rain can be scary.”

“Yes.”

My son dives in for a hug and asks if we can read a book. I pick Mo Willems’ “Are You Ready to Play Outside”, which seems appropriate given my son’s mood about the weather.

Turning “why” on ourselves

Faber and Mazlish make a compelling case for not asking “why” when our kids are wrestling with negative emotions. Although their focus is on children, their book also suggests even more important “why” questions:

Why are parents so quick to dismiss or minimize their children’s feelings? Why are we made so angry or uncomfortable by our children’s displays of negative emotion?

It’s incredibly difficult to consider the reasoning behind our own parenting decisions. People spend years in therapy answering that question. But it’s likely true that many of us are wound up in our hopes and dreams for our children. We want them to be happy, fulfilled, and successful. Their negative emotions seem like evidence that they are not thriving.

If we don’t want our children to crumple at the slightest provocation, to in fact flourish despite the difficult times, we need to help them identify and address their emotions.

It’s Not Your Job to Entertain Your Children

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Jenae Jacobson

There’s more to mothering than keeping your kids amused.

I fear that we are headed down a slippery slope when it comes to one aspect of parenting.  And we at least need to start talking about it.

For some reason we have this strange belief that it is our job to entertain our kids all. the. time.

In case you aren’t convinced … feel free to browse Pinterest for a few minutes or visit one of the amazing blogs with activities for children. I, too, am guilty of spinning my wheels day after day, trying my hardest to provide fun experiences for my children … all in the name of being a good mom.

Yes, we want our kids to have a happy childhood with a variety of experiences. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the mark of a good mother is spending all her time creating and engaging her kids in those activities.

My goal as a parent is to raise my children to know, love, and emulate Jesus.  Entertaining them is not what should take up the majority of my focus. My focus should be on others, just as Jesus’ was. After all, the two greatest commandments are loving God and loving others.

So, what is a mother to do?

Meet their needs of feeding, changing, and bathing? Yes.

Teach our children? Yes.

Engage with our children in play? Yes.

Enjoy our children? Yes.

Play with our children? Yes, although not every minute of the day.

Encourage our children to think of others before themselves? YES!

Laugh with, tickle, and kiss our sweet babies? OF COURSE!

Entertain our children every minute of the day? No.

The fact is, when we make it our mission in life to make sure that our children are entertained and having fun, we are teaching them that life is all about them! It also can prohibit children from using their imagination and creativity to come up with something fun to do on their own.  This is a problem with my firstborn—I continually entertained him from birth to 2 years of age, when his little brother was born, and now he has a hard time playing on his own.

Rather than going out of our way to find ways to entertain our kids, let’s go out of our way thinking of opportunities that we can serve and love others together.

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This article originally appeared as a post on MomLife Today®, FamilyLife’s blog for moms.

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.

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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.

 

4 Ways Emotional Neglect From Your Childhood Can Harm Your Relationships

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

One of the most difficult things about growing up with your feelings ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN) is the way it affects your relationships once you have grown up.

When you grow up in an emotionally neglectful family, your feelings are not responded to enough by your parents. From your parents’ lack of response, you learn a secret lesson that lives deeply and unseen within you for the rest of your life. You learn that your emotions are not useful, and don’t matter.

Children who grow up this way do not learn how to value, understand, or use their own emotions. Instead, they may spend their entire adult lives running from their own feelings, or trying to push them away.

Among all the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect, two pack the biggest punch when it comes to your ability to connect with others.

  1. It leaves you disconnected from your emotions.
  2. It leaves you lacking some essential skills that you need. 

Like an invisible rain cloud, your CEN hangs over your adult life, coloring your world gray, and robbing you of richness and color, energy and connection. Imagine the effect this has on your ability to be close and comfortable with the right people, in the right way.

As you read the 4 effects below, I ask you to keep two very important things in mind. First, you did not choose to grow up emotionally neglected, so none of this is your fault. Second, all 4 of these effects have to do with the wall that disconnects you from your emotions, and your skills. That wall can be taken down, and you can learn the skills. It can all be fixed!

4 Ways CEN Affects Your Relationships

  • It makes them more confusing than they should be

To successfully manage any kind of relationship, it’s very important to have enough emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to know what you are feeling and why, manage your feelings, and talk about them with the other person, if needed. If you have all those skills, you can use them to understand what is going on with you, and you can also use them to read what the other person is feeling, and why. Then you can respond appropriately, as needed.

How your CEN interferes: If your feelings were not validated as important when you were growing up, you likely missed the “Emotion Training” that you were supposed to receive from your parents. Now relationships, especially your own feelings and actions, as well as other people’s feelings and behaviors, can seem like a puzzle for you. It’s hard to cope with a problem in a relationship when you can’t quite see it or understand it.

  • It drives you apart from the other person

Going through your life without enough emotional intelligence has another very impactful effect: it makes you feel unequipped to handle conflicts. This naturally makes you fearful of encountering problems in your relationships, and this is a fear that you must cope with. The most common way for folks with CEN to cope is to simply avoid conflicts altogether. If you have CEN and you are reading this, you may think that’s a pretty good solution to the problem. But it’s not.

How your CEN interferes: Avoiding conflict requires you to push your own feelings underground, and also ignore any signs of hurt or anger from the other person. What happens to feelings that are pushed away or ignored? They grow. They grow and they grow, and drive a wedge between you and the other person. You will drift farther and farther away from each other, and you may not even realize it is happening.

  • It keeps them superficial

Relationships of all kinds thrive on feelings: both positive and negative, believe it or not. Talking about difficult things with someone builds trust. Working through a conflict with someone builds understanding. Giving and receiving emotional support builds warmth and care. And all of those mix together to provide any relationship its depth. 

How your CEN interferes: When emotions are not addressed or dealt with enough in a relationship, not enough richness or depth gets a chance to develop. This leaves your relationships more shallow than they should be, which makes them far less rewarding. You are experiencing your relationships in grayscale, when you should be living them in rich and stimulating colors.

  • It makes them less interesting

Emotion is the ingredient that keeps relationships interesting. To understand why, think of every movie you’ve ever enjoyed, and you’ll realize that every single one made you feel something. All feelings, both positive and negative, are stimulating. They provide us with fuel and zest and zeal. They motivate us, drive us, and move us.

How your CEN interferes: When you don’t have proper access to your emotions, you aren’t able to put them into your relationships. You likely hold back on topics that could be bonding and stimulating or upsetting to other people. For example, you may convey a deeply painful story by relaying only the events and facts. You may not be able to experience the emotional aspects of a story your friend is telling. This can make your time spent together uninteresting, or maybe even boring. Not just for you, but also for the person you are with.

What To Do

I know you may be feeling daunted after reading about the obstacles above. But I want you to know that you should actually be hopeful! All these years, you’ve been experiencing your relationships in a dulled way, without fully realizing what you were missing. But now you know what’s wrong, and that your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be addressed and healed. You can break down the wall that blocks you from your feelings, and learn the emotion skills you missed. It takes perseverance and work, yes.

But your family will thank you, your partner will thank you, and your children will grow up happier and healthier. That is a win win win on every level.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

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To learn how to heal the effects of Emotional Neglect in your relationships, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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.

Your Family Voyage: Family Rules

SOURCE:  Excerpted from the book by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Rules and More Rules.  No human response is absurd regardless of how ridiculous it appears.  Each person’s behavior, decisions, and reactions emerge from a context of some sort.  This frame of reference, if it is understood can shine a spotlight into a dark area that is otherwise baffling.  In essence, family rules are the way family values are passed on from one generation to another.  Through rules, a family communicates its expectations for family members as well as for those outside the family.  Rules tell us what is acceptable and unacceptable, proper and improper, good and bad.  Family rules communicate expectations about how people are to relate to one another, how the different generations are to interact, and what is expected of each individual.

In the same way that family roles give each member a place to “fit” into the family identity, family rules tell each member how to play his or her part.  Some rules are very clear and understandable; some are extremely clouded and confusing.  Since families have expectations about everything they do, they also have rules about everything they do.

“Written rules” – expectations that have been communicated directly in some way.  Written rules give structure and stability to family life.  They include things such as table manners, curfews and chores.

  • “Finish your dinner or no dessert.”
  • “Do your homework before you go out to play.”
  • “Bedtime is ten o’clock.”

Unwritten rules are quite another story.  These rules consistently influence behavior within the family but have never been directly stated.  These unspoken expectations are not open for discussion or evaluation, generally because no one is consciously aware of them.

Families have unwritten rules about all kinds of things.  The most readily visible rules are those regarding emotional tension.  If the children misbehave or cause distraction whenever the parents argue, they are communicating the rule “Parents can’t fight”.  If parents take over a task or job for a child whenever he or she complains or experiences difficulty, then the rule may be “Children can’t be frustrated”.  If family members act differently around a particular parent, treating them “with kid gloves”, the rule may be “Mom (or Dad) must not get angry.  Because unwritten rules are not verbalized, family members may often be unaware they exist.

Family rules accomplish several purposes.  For one, they serve to regulate tension within the family.  Too much tension or conflict within a home makes family life chaotic, unsettled, and insecure; too little tension results in stagnation and indifference.

Another purpose served by family rules is that of defining the family’s identity.  They give the family a sense of uniqueness.

A third purpose is that rules lend stability and predictability to family life.

The good news about family rules is that they help make family life stable and predictable.  The bad news is that family rules can keep family members from growing, maturing, and changing.  This is especially true for rules that limit communication or emotional closeness.  It is also true for rules that are arbitrary and overly rigid.

Some rules help us prepare for and live in the adult world.  Other unwritten rules apply only to life within the family, and they often distort our perspective of life.  As adults we continue to be loyal to these rules until we consciously change them.

The most influential rules in our families are the unwritten ones – those based on assumptions.  It is usually easier to identify unwritten family rules in someone else’s family than in your own.  Unwritten rules are generally enforced through rejection by parents and family members.  Controlling children through rejection can be done with direct statements:

  • “Mommy doesn’t love you when you act like that.”
  • “You are an awful child when you do that.”
  • “If you act (talk, feel) like that, you’re no child of mine.”

Rejection and control can also be expressed indirectly:

  • “I won’t talk to you when you’re crying (angry, depressed).”
  • “Go to your room if you feel that way.”
  • “I won’t be around you when you’re like that.”

The common factor in both expressions of rejection is the underlying message:  “You will be loved and considered worthy only if you perform properly.”  Behavior is not separated from the individual.  Bad behavior equals a bad person.  The result is a sense of shame and fear of abandonment.

An alternative message would be:  “I love you regardless of what you do, but there are negative consequences for your inappropriate behavior.”  In this case parental love and acceptance are not withheld and consequences for behavior are separated from the child as a person.

To a young child, the threat of rejection or abandonment is a powerful motivator.  Physically dependent on parents and authority figures, children have a strong need to please them.  Something as subtle as a facial gesture, the refusal of a hug, or silence can elicit fear and shame in a young child.  When the threat of rejection is used regularly and consistently in a child’s life, that child becomes sensitized to rejection.  He or she develops a habit of avoiding rejection at all costs, which will carry over into adulthood long after the child becomes independent and no longer needs parents for physical survival.

Expressing Emotions.  For Ken to see his wife cry was an unnerving experience. Whenever she cried he felt a strong need to stop her and smooth things out somehow.  For Catherine, crying was a soothing release of tension.  She felt minimized and patronized when Ken would try to squelch her tears, and she interpreted his lack of observable emotion as apathy.  It was hard for her to feel she was important to him when he expressed no emotion.  It wasn’t until each began to understand the other’s family rules that their reactions began to change.

Most families have unwritten rules about the expression of various emotions.  The honest expression of feelings needs to be balanced with courtesy and respect for others.  Typically, the unwritten rules regarding expression revolve around “forbidden” emotions:

  • “It is wrong to make another person uncomfortable.  We do not confront one another.”
  • “We are a positive, joyful family.  No one may express negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, or hurt.”
  • “The women in our family are gentle.  They may not be angry, but they may be depressed.”
  • “The men in our family are strong.  They may not be fearful or hurt, but they may be angry.”
  • “We are a loving family.  We do not have conflict or disagree with one another.”

When genuine feelings are minimized, denied, or redefined, a child’s emotional experience becomes distorted.  Believing that anger or sadness is bad does not make it less real.  The child learns to distrust the senses and becomes confused – anger isn’t really anger; hurt isn’t really hurt.  When children experience a forbidden emotion, they feel guilty and ashamed as though they themselves are somehow “bad”.  They then deny the emotion to avoid the shame.

When emotions are denied consistently, as a way of life, they tend to come out “sideways”, in some form that does not violate the family rule.  Rules suppressing emotions often produce adults who may be convinced that they harbor no anger, but their depression, ulcers, or migraine headaches tell another story.

Family members learn to develop emotional distance.  When someone cannot or will not express strong feelings, other people have a hard time getting to know that person very well.  Families with restrictive rules governing honest emotional interaction are often communicating to one another that emotional stability is valued more highly than emotional closeness.

Many families have strict unwritten rules regarding standards of performance by family members.  Examples of these may be:

  • “Whatever you do, it must be done correctly.”
  • “There’s only one way to do things – the right way!”
  • “To fail in any way is a shameful thing.”

These rules are learned clearly and quickly through regular, consistent criticism and minimal affirmation.  Criticism may be communicated directly, through complaints and condemnation of what a child does or how the child acts, or indirectly, through disapproving frowns, silence, or regularly comparing the child to someone or something “better”.

The definition of what is “correct” or “perfect” may vary widely.  One family may define “correct” as being sociable.  Having many friends and no enemies would be correct in this family.  Conflict then would be a measure of failure.  Another family may define “correct” as remaining separate from “the world”.  In this family a very small circle of social contacts would be considered appropriate and positive.

One family might measure “correctness” in financial terms.  A nice home, new cars, and many possessions would spell success.  The absence of these things may be cause for criticism or pity.  Another family may define “correct” behavior as the absence of materialism.

The values behind these rules may be positive and appropriate, but all too often these underlying motivations get lost when conformity becomes more highly valued than individuality.  The performance of family members becomes more important than the people themselves.

Whatever the specifics within the family, the definition of “right”, “correct” or “perfect” is always dependent on a comparison.  To be defined, “perfect” must be contrasted with “imperfect”.  Because there must always be a “wrong” to avoid at all costs, there is a judgmental attitude or a “better than others” aspect to this rule.

Since being “wrong” results in shame and being “right” is merely expected, avoiding being wrong becomes more important than doing what is right.  Defensiveness, blame, justification, and rationalization are typical patterns in families with perfectionistic performance rules.

The long-term effect of these rules is two-fold.  First a child develops a mental image as to what he or she “should be” and strives constantly to achieve it.  Usually this ideal standard cannot be achieved, at least consistently.  As a result of this, the child becomes self-critical, discontent, and defensive – a perfectionist.  Second, the child learns to project expectations and perfectionism onto others.  Since others cannot fulfill the expectations, the child is disappointed and critical.  This child is demanding, condemning, nagging, and rejecting.  He or she feels hurt and in turn hurts others, alienating them and damaging close relationships.

Physical Expression of Affection.  Eric can’t remember ever seeing his parents touch each other.  He certainly felt loved and cared for as a child, but that love wasn’t expressed through hugs.  In his family, affection was expressed through giving gifts and other tangible ways, such as doing special favors.  His wife, Rosa, grew up with constant physical affection from her family.  Touching among family members was a natural part of any conversation.  Early in their marriage Eric and Rosa were each offended by the other’s approach to this dissimilarity.  She felt neglected, and he felt smothered.

The communication of affection is laden with family expectations.  In some families, physical touch is comfortable and somewhat threatening.  In other families, members feel rejected when a greeting isn’t accompanied with an embrace.  Rules regarding physical expression of affection vary widely.

  • “Women may hug one another, men may only shake hands.”
  • “Adults may hug children but never other adults.”
  • “Physical affection is private, never to be shown in public.”
  • “If you care for someone, you touch that person regularly.”

Learning to Disobey.  Jesus demonstrated the result of emotionally leaving his family patterns and replacing them with mature priorities and decisions.  The process of leaving rules learned in childhood behind is difficult and calls for discernment.  Family rules that are dysfunctional and unhealthy can usually be identified by two factors:  They have little or no relationship to life outside the family, and family members are not able to discuss or evaluate them.

Some of the unwritten rules from your family of origin are undoubtedly positive and helpful to you today.  As you begin to break away from inappropriate rules from your childhood, remember that the family is a system or a mobile.  Change in one person causes changes in others.  In one way or another people around you will be forced to adjust in response to your new reactions.

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