Graduations, Triggers, and Anger

Your high school graduation was long ago. Okay, not that long ago, but back then having parents (who could barely speak to each other) smiling together in graduation pictures was bizarre. But you were young (or numb) and treated it as an annoyance, not life changing.

However, twenty-five years have passed, and now your child’s graduation is coming. Planning for the big event is goes well until the Ghost of Graduations Past shows up.

A slideshow of memories flash through your mind. There’s the embarrassment when your boyfriend’s parents met your dad, mom, and her husband. They’re all smiles, but the awkwardness felt like a steel ball in your stomach. Of course, their smiles later melted into glacial stares resulting in social courtesy so strained, it sent you scurrying from your party to somewhere less tense. It was “no big deal” at the time, but now anger brews over the unfairness you feel being forced into a position like that.

The specter’s next memory is of “the call”. The one responsible for the tepid relationship between you and your dad. The conversation announcing how, because you were 18 and new priorities had arisen, no college money was coming. The Ghost’s work is done now. All you can think about is how hard it was to get through college and how unfair it felt.

Now it’s happening again!
No need for the Ghost of Graduations Future to show you how your child’s event is going to play out. Dad with wife number two, Mom with current boyfriend, and step dad number one have accepted the invitation your child sent them. You know what’s going to happen, because it’s happened already. The question is, are you upset because of your discomfort today, or triggers from 25 years ago?

Triggers remind us of past events, but create an emotional response in the present. The frustration of our graduation creates “rose colored glasses” through which we see our child’s graduation. We project our experience onto their event. This can hide the real reasons we’re more quick-tempered as the event approaches.

Many of us deny we’re angry about events in the past, but words like “frustrated”, and “annoyed” are close cousins to anger. So, what can we do if graduation triggers are producing anger in our lives?

  1. Acknowledge this graduation is reminding you of your own. Stop pretending it’s something else.
  2. Identify specific issues you were upset about then, but didn’t share with anyone. Write them down if possible.
  3. Pray about them with God. The Psalmist wrote, “I pour out my complaint before Him.” (Psalm 142:2, NLT)
  4. Share them with your spouse or a close friend.
  5. Enjoy your child’s graduation. Regardless of how everyone acts, try to look at the graduation festivities through your child’s eyes. They’re probably oblivious to the drama.
  6. Meet with someone after the graduation and share your thoughts and emotions. Talking about it is a powerful way to avoid building up anger and anxiety.

Nuzzling in God’s Neck – A Sunday Snippet

Maybe you had onjoanna-sweenye of those conversations with your mom, dad, or stepparent.
Maybe your brother or sister is furious that you like your stepmother.
Maybe, even though everything went well, you’re exhausted from keeping parents and steps and assorted others happy at a family event.
Maybe you’re scared because arguments at home sound so similar to the pre-divorce skirmishes you heard as a child.
Maybe life is just hard.

During these times wouldn’t it be great if you could crawl onto God’s lap, let Him wrap His arms around you, and tuck your head into his neck like a little child? But can we do that? Should we do that?

First, can we do that?
Many people see God as ominous, fearful, and untouchable, but as Christians the Bible says, “You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.1 Abba Father can be translated “Daddy.” This is God’s perspective of our relationship with Him, but perhaps a picture can help.

One of my favorites is this picture of President Kennedy with his son, John, playing under the presidential desk.

John Jr. isn’t thinking about being with the leader of the free world. He is with his dad. Likewise, God wants us to curl up with Him, Abba Father, in spite of the fact he is the ruler of all creation.

Second, should we do that?
Countless scriptures declare, “Yes!!!

Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.2

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.3

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.4Time for reflection by Hans G Backman

The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.5

Third, how do we do that?
Preferences vary. Some literally crawl onto the couch or recliner and pretend they’re in God’s arms. Others pray. For some people, walking with God helps bring God’s reality in troubling situations.

How we embrace our Abba Father relationship doesn’t’ matter. God isn’t picky. He’s just waiting with open arms for us to come to him.

 

1Romans 8:15, NLT
2Hebrews 4:16, NLT
31 Peter 5:7, NLT
4Psalms 121: 2-3, NIV
5Psalms 103-13-14, NLT

Images
Joanna Sweeny
Time for reflection by Hans G Backman

 

 

 

Sweeping Divorce Debris Under the Rug (The New Divorce Party)

obsolete-roadmap-by-xavier-vergesBecause of our ever creative ways of downplaying the negative side of divorce you may start hearing about the “new divorce party.” Granted, “divorce” and “party” are not words most adult children of divorce put in the same sentence, but divorce parties are not uncommon. The difference, is now some moms and dads are celebrating the divorce together.

Jennifer Brant writes having this type of divorce party demonstrates the parents are, “showing enough maturity to put your children first and showing friends that relationships can still be maintained.”1 However, Brant, a lawyer, admits that high levels of animosity in most divorces will limit this type of celebration. Praise God! No…wait a minute…lost-in-thought-by-matthew-musgrove

But while trying to comprehend this, I was reminded of adult children of divorce who’ve asked me how parents can be so clueless to the debris behind their divorce(s)? Ever wonder that? Do you get sad or angry sometimes at their apparent naivety or denial? These steps may help:

    1. Watch Brant’s interview.  Observe how the divorce topic is handled. Picture this at 8:15AM on your local morning show just days before Christmas (which is when it aired).
    2. Write down or verbalize your thoughts after the video. Agreement? Disbelief? Sadness? Anger? Pain? Numbness?
    3. Pray to God. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”2 God wants to heal your heart. If this video evokes some emotion because it triggers memories of your parents, spell it out to God in detail. Psalm 142:1-2 says, “I cry out loudly to God, loudly I plead with God for mercy. I spill out all my complaints before him, and spell out my troubles in detail.3 Giving our hurts to God helps prevent those hurts from coming Christian Cross 11 by Waiting For The Word croppedout in destructive ways which often hurt our loved ones.
    4. Commit this year to learning how your parents’ divorce impacts you, and how to navigate through the debris field successfully.

We can’t change our parents’ behavior, but each day we can take steps toward our healing. May God bless you with His unfailing love, ultimate trustworthiness, and His joy in the midst of your divorce-related craziness. And may you never want a divorce party.

 

1 http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/a-new-type-of-divorce-party-35331/
21 Peter 5:7, NLT
3Psalm 142:1-2, Message.

Images
Obsolete roadmap by Xavier Verges
Lost in Thought by Matthew Musgrove
Christian Cross 11 by Waiting For The Word cropped

The Gift of Hope (Pulling Back From Divorce)

Christmas has passed, but gift giving needs to continue. Start with the gift of hope. This month many adult children of divorce are contemplating what they swore they’d never do to their children—filing for divorce.

This is not a sudden whim. Months or years of feeling unloved, disrespected, or fearful they aren’t good enough to keep their spouse, or tired of arguments that raise fearful memories from childhood, have combined with the stresses of life to squeeze out any hope.

Satan whispers “things will never change” and they think, “Now I see why Mom divorced Dad.” “Now Dad’s leaving makes sense.” However, few want to ruin Christmas, so January comes, and the call is made.

These precious individuals need the gift of hope and you can help.

  1. Be a godly ear for them to talk to. You’d be surprised how many people file for divorce without talking to anybody.
  2. Watch their kids on a weekend night so the struggling couple can have time together.
  3. Buy them tickets to a marriage retreat. The Love and Respect conference and Weekend to Remember getaway weekends are excellent. For marriages in serious trouble, Retrouvaille and Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored Marriage Intensive Experience  are proven tools that can help.
  4. Review and have them review our Considering Divorce page. Even those with divorced parents rarely understand the gravity and lifelong consequences of this drastic action.
  5. PUSH! Now is not the time for timidity. Too often I hear, “Well, I don’t want to rock the boat by interfering.” THE BOAT IS SINKING! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by offering tools and hope to the hopeless.Praying woman hands by Long Thiên
  6. The Bible says, “pray without ceasing1 and that, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”Pray for your friend, family member, or coworker’s marriage. Pray for protection from Satan’s attacks of doubt, fear, hate, and selfishness. Pray works!

It’s the biggest month for divorce calls and the lawyers know it. Let’s work together to thwart more divorces by giving the gift of hope this new year.

 
11 Thessalonians, 5:17, ESV
2 James 5:16b, NLT

Images:
Praying woman hands by Long Thiên

“Love Triangle” and the Gift of Grieving Togetherness

I don’t move in country music circles so I’m late to the party when it comes to the song “Love Triangle” by Raelynn. The song gives voice to a childhood perspective of her parents’ divorce. For me, two phrases that describe our dilemna of loss stand out:
Then I run to him, Big hug, jump in. And I cry for her, Out the window1
and
Then I run to her. Wrap my arms, around her skirt. And I cry for him. Out the window1

looking-out-the-window-2-by-carol-munroThis conflict is reminiscent of Elizabeth Marquardt’s words in her book Between Two Worlds:
“I missed my mother and father terribly when I was separated from one of them—and I was always separated from one of them.”2

Feel familiar? The Christmas season brings this loss to a head for many adults with divorced parents. It’s a time when togetherness oozes from every commercial and show. Songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas3 fill your ears at the coffee shop only to remind you your home dissolved years ago. However, as Divorce Sucks! by Addie Willams 50the clouds of sadness move in we have a choice; run away and deny the clouds exist, or turn towards them and feel the loss. After years of denial, I finally did the latter.

Accepting the gift of grieving
I used busyness as a Band-Aid for making it through the Christmas holiday, but a few short years ago, I decided to embrace the loss.

  • First, I admitted I missed having my dad at Christmas…a lot.
  • Second, I allowed the sadness to come. As a guy, crying is not my thing, but holding back tears when a Christmas movie triggered my thoughts of post-divorce Christmases was energy draining. Allowing the tears to come was cleansing and energy boosting. Who knew? (other than the female half of the human race.)
  • Then I took my pain to the Lord. I found praying specifically about what I missed very helpful. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock (Jesus) that is higher than I4

Forgiveness by Tiffany ScantleburyLord, even though Mom did a great job with Christmas, it wasn’t the same without Dad. I really missed him playing his favorite Christmas music.

  • Next came focusing God’s blessings—my wife, my kids, my home, our holiday traditions, and so much more.
  • The last thing I did to embrace the loss was commit to strengthening my marriage so my kids would never have to choose between Mom and Dad. Taking in a marriage seminar, reading books, listening to teachings all help. See our resource page and audios and videos for many marriage strengthening resources.

This process wasn’t easy. The first couple Christmas seasons were actually worse. But with persistence and lots of prayer an amazing thing happened. The Lord took the sting out of the loss, and I was able to fully enjoy Christmases. It turned out, grieving was a wonderful gift!

 

1Nicolle Anne Galyon, Racheal Woodward, Jimmy Robbins. Love Triangle, 2016 © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group
2 Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds, (NY, NY: Crown Publishers, 2005), 8.
3Kim Gannon ,Walter KentBuck Ram, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, 1943, Decca Records.
4Psalm 61:2b, KJV
 
Images
Looking out the window 2 by Carol Munro
Divorce Sucks! by Addie Willams
Forgiveness by Tiffany Scantlebury

Four Types of Adult Children of Divorce

When people ask me what I do it goes like this: “I help adults with divorced parents overcome some of the lingering issues from the divorce, like anger and unforgiveness, so they can have healthy relationships and avoid divorce themselves.” After a polite “That sounds interesting” the conversation comes to a fork in the road.

Step out of yourself by Victoria Nevland croppedPeople from intact-families say the ministry is important and desperately needed. Many share stories of disastrous divorce situations they’ve seen. (It’s amazing how many people have these stories.)

However, individuals from broken homes often raise their defense shields and say very little. Or they’ll comment about how things are going well. Only a small percentage ask questions or touch on their struggles. I think this is due in large part to adults with divorced parents falling into four groups:

  • Delivered – those who really are doing well. Their parents’ break-up has been dealt with in a real, healthy, and ongoing way. They are standing on biblical truth and treating the lies they used to believe as pesky gnats rather than stumbling blocks.  This seems to be the smallest group of the four.
  • Deluded – those who believe they are doing well. A common expression from these folks is, “It was a long time ago and I’m over it.” This belief is fed by TV, movies, and popular internet sites. Unfortunately, they are blind (like I was) Talk to the hand by Matt Foster croppedto the various ways parental divorce can impact our thinking and negatively affect our relationships and marriages. I believe this is the largest group because, if most adult children of divorce really were ok, the divorce rate of those with divorced parents wouldn’t be as high. Also the fear of marriage wouldn’t drive so many to live together.
  • Denied – these know they’re not doing well. They have even connected their troubles to Mom and Dad’s split. But they lack information to overcome (for example) the trust and anger issues they struggle with.
  • Determined – these adult children of divorce are aware of their issues and are actively working to overcome them.

CCK - 'Gunks by G BNow take a moment and honestly assess which group you are in. Would your spouse, friends, or family agree with your answer? I pray you are moving toward the Determined or Delivered group. If the cycle of divorce is to be broken these two groups must grow. The good news is God seeks to help people who want to be delivered.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”1 I’m thankful God continues to work on me. (My wife is too!) However, God wants to work with you too. Will you let Him?

 

1Philippians 1:6, NLT

Photos:
Step out of yourself by Victoria Nevland
Talk to the hand by Matt Foster
CCK – ‘Gunks by G B

Filling the Hole in Your Heart

A hole is created in our hearts when our parents divorce. Each hole is unique. Mine was losing the specialness I felt in my relationship with my dad.  Though after theirabandoned boy split I lived in a loving home with my mom and sisters, and my dad never lost contact with us, his physical departure (and other things life threw at me) reinforced my subconscious belief that my specialness was gone.

Years later I learned that, starting with the divorce announcement, I began a lifelong quest to regain that feeling of specialness.  I used constructive ways like doing  well at work and being respected in church and the community. But the craving to feel special often has a flip side of destructive attempts to get that specialness back.  Doing things for the affirmation they brought, or trying to fill the void with “pleasure” only leaves the hole deeper.  But the dual tragedy was spending so much energy on a futile cause, and not even knowing I was doing it.

What hole are you trying to fill?
A constant with parental divorce seems to be the creation of holes of all shapes and sizes.

  • Is your hole fear? You felt abandoned and everything you do revolves around trying to feel secure again?
  • Are feelings dirt pile and man 75of inadequacy your hole? You tried to please both warring parents, but it never worked. Now you attempt to fill your hole of “failure” by proving you’re adequate with overachievement.
  • Perhaps pain/trauma has dug your hole. Yours is extra deep because abuse caused you to see things children should never see or experience things kids should never experience. Consequently, an addiction to drugs, shopping, sex, people-pleasing, alcohol, workaholism, or hobbies is your method of trying to fill it.

How do we fill the hole in a healthy way?
There are a variety of holes, but one common truth about them. Without God, the hole never gets filled. You can’t do enough, experience enough, or medicate enough to fill your hole. Only God can produce joy from despair, replace pain with peace, and saturate unforgiveness with grace.

But we must take our hole to God. Imagine shoveling dirt into a hole day after day, but the hole never fills. That is what many man praying adultchildrenofdivorce.netadult children of divorce are doing emotionally. We try and try, but exhaustion wins out and we succumb to various temptations, addictions, crankiness, or desperate acts.

The great news is Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”1 Basically Jesus is saying, “Let me fill that life-draining hole for you.” The question is, will you give Jesus the shovel?

Additionally, talking with a trained church leader, Christian counselor, or psychologist can help. They offer an objective view and skills that can help you fill your hole and open the door to the abundant life Jesus offers.
1Matthew 11:28  [NLT]