Parents long to have a special relationship with their children. We have a deep emotional attachment along with a strong sense of responsibility. When we bring children into the world we eagerly watch them grow under our loving guidance.
Then one day we realize something’s very wrong. Our child has a problem — it may be with drugs, alcohol, self harm, an eating disorder, pornography, same sex identity issues, or a mental illness. We wonder how we can live with this unsolved problem that’s breaking our heart. That described me. Does it you, too?
We try everything in our power to stop their behaviors. We forgive, make excuses, cover up, smooth out & believe everything they tell us. When our first attempts at changing their behaviors don’t work, we try demanding or controlling them. But nothing we say or do works.
If they live at home we’re sickened by the daily experience of putting up with unacceptable behavior. We listen anxiously for them to come in at night, or sneak out at night. We fear the phone ringing in the middle of the night. We’re afraid of all the what-ifs. We’re angry at them, their friends, and ourselves. We’re full of guilt and shame. We torture ourselves asking: “What did I do wrong?” “How could I have prevented this?” “What should I do now?” “How can I help them?” Sadness over all that’s lost never leaves. We become so obsessed with them we tend to neglect our other relationships, including ourselves.
Are we supposed to stop caring? Impossible. How can we live with this unsolved problem?
I’ve struggled with all of these. These are four things that can help you. They helped me:
1. We can stop our enabling, nagging and criticizing, controlling and protecting, making their problems ours.
2. We can practice courageous love. We can learn to let go and let God, allowing our children to become responsible for their own problems.
3. We can trust God and take one day at a time. Learning to trust more is the key to worrying less. We find relief. We don’t have to be chained to the despair we’ve known. We can know that whatever happens – whether our child is ever okay or not – we will be alright. We find peace.
4. We can join a support group. They offer a safe place to process your feelings with others who understand. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Celebrate Recovery are great. You can google them to find a group near you. They’re also online.
By doing these four things, hurting parents can learn to live with an unsolved problem. No matter what happens they can know that God will use it to bring good in their children’s lives and in theirs.
The Serenity Prayer is perfect for us:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.