Most people don’t sit around saying “You know what? Life is just boring. What we need around here is more drama and crisis! Ready? 1,2,3 BREAK!”
Drama and crisis weren’t likely part of the goal you had in mind while carefully bringing your bundles of joy home from the hospital.
No one ever said, "This is wonderful! I am looking forward to your contributions to years of stress and anxiety. Welcome to the dysfunction!”
No, our early days as parents are filled with an optimism that things are going to be great; that our family will enjoy one another, and enrich each other’s lives. But, that optimism can fade pretty fast, can’t it?
My first “real” job out of college was facilitating experiential therapy for juvenile delinquents and their families. As a result, I was used to seeing other families struggle. It was still a shock later on, though, when my own family started to struggle.
One day my kids were just growing up, doing fine, being normal kids. Then, seemingly overnight, they were making questionable choices that carried a high potential for negative, life-altering, and long-term consequences. Ah, teenagerhood!
Instead of “Praise Dad, from whom all blessings flow,” I was now an adversary. Not to be trusted, as if I didn't have my son’s best interest at heart.
So, what was I to do then? This wasn’t what I had in mind when I signed up. I can’t give you all the answers, but I can tell you some of the things I have learned along the way.
Maintain Other Relationships
When things are sideways with one family member, it draws a lot of attention and emotional energy from the rest of the family. This can lead to tension elsewhere.
If you are married, you have to guard against circumstances driving a wedge in your own relationship as a couple. We found that when each day was another round of “read and react” to behavior, that my wife and I didn’t always have the same “read” or agreement on the “react.”
This would sometimes cause friction between us and keep us from being on the same page. We had to pedal a lot harder in those times, just to keep our relationship from stalling out.
Be Open & Willing To Talk About It
Finding the middle ground between “throw your kid under the bus for all of Facebook to see” and giving the pat Church answer, "Oh, we're fine," is difficult.
However, I found that as I opened up and shared the truth, there were a lot of “me too’s”—people who were going through similar challenges, and those who had those type of challenges in their rear view mirrors.
Both are helpful in knowing you are not alone, and the story is not finished.
This isn’t something you can do—it's more of a by-product if we allow it to be. For me, it was letting go of my narrative of how things were supposed to go.
While I was not pushing my son to be an Olympic athlete, or to get a full ride to Harvard, I still had expectations. There were benchmarks and milestones that I wanted to see, to prove that he was on the proper path.
Naturally, these were borrowed from my own story, and that is not necessarily wrong, but when the narrative becomes more important than the relationship, things are out of whack.
I had to realize that just because my son did not follow the "get good grades, get a job or two, work hard, apply to good colleges, get scholarships, go off to college and make the most of your brains" story arc which made sense to me, that all was not lost!
The other narrative I had to let go of was: I need to have a perfect family in order to have the right answers to give to everyone else. I’m a leader at Sandy Cove where our vision is “to become a world-class ministry known for building healthy Biblically based families,” and that’s why I want to be there.
But, I am realizing how non-empathetic and obnoxious I could be if my whole approach was “Just follow the formula. It worked for me. It’s easy!” We will talk more about that formula, or lack thereof in my next post.
How about you? Can I get a “me too" out there? What would you add to the list of things we can learn through parenting struggles?