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.

How Did You Try to Save Your Parents’ Marriage?

Think about that for a moment. Research shows many adults with divorced parents secretly blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. However, we often skip the step of looking at how we tried to prevent the ship from sinking.

Were you the parent pleaser? You worked to keep the peace at all costs so they’d stay together. Unfortunately, trying to keep your brothers and sisters peaceful was like herding kittens.
Was being the problem kid your solution? Surely if they saw how badly you needed them, they’d stay together.
Maybe perfection was your answer. Be the perfect kid—good grades, clean room, no problems, and they wouldn’t split.

Dr. Judith Siegel writes, “Children are acutely sensitive to the unresolved conflicts between their parents and learn that by acting in a certain way they can prevent a conflict from surfacing and threatening the family as a whole.”1 Consequently, many of us tried to do something, but their divorce happened anyway. So why talk about this now?

Why do we need to know what we did?
Three primary reasons:
First, it’s likely that how you tried to save your parents’ marriage is how you’re trying to “save” your marriage or relationships today. Being the peacemaker, people pleasing, moping, getting into trouble, or trying to earn their love by being perfect is still how you approach situations. The problem is, it didn’t work then, and it’s probably not working now. In fact, it’s likely making things worse. (I.e. the “harder” you try, the more frustrated your mate gets.)

Second, we are putting our happiness in the hands of other people. We were crushed when our efforts to save our parents’ marriage failed. We respond in a similar way today. When our efforts to mend, heal or fix a relationship problem fail, we’re crushed. And we also fear the result we saw back then will repeat now—the demise of a cherished relationship.

Third, we believe a series of lies like:

  1. We have control over how others respond.
  2. When we fail it’s because we are inadequate or inferior.
  3. Failure is final.
  4. Our worth is dependent on how others react to us.

Clinging to the Truth
This last reason—believing lies—causes the most problems, but God’s truth can overcome the lies.

1. We learn from Adam and Eve that God created man with the freedom to choose. Thus, regardless of how perfect we feel we behave, people can still choose to respond negatively.

2. Failing is part of the human condition. The wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrote, “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.2 However, though we fail, God says we are not failures, we are precious3.
3. We always have worth because we’re created by God. God also confirmed our worth by sending Jesus here to die for us (Romans 5:8).

Whether from divorced families or not, we tend to respond the way we learned to respond as kids. This can be problematic for adults with divorced parents, but, thankfully, God’s truth can trounce the lies that mislead us.

 

1Siegel, Judith P. What Children Learn from Their Parents’ Marriage: It May Be Your Marriage, but It’s Your Child’s Blueprint for Intimacy. Harper Collins, 2010.
2 Proverbs 24:16, ESV.
3 Psalm 139:17

Images
Divorce by Tony Guyton
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell

Support Group for Adults with Divorced Parents in Southeast Michigan

I am excited to announce that I will be co-leading a support group for adults with divorced parents starting in May.  Please contact Sycamore Counseling Services for more information.

Here is a video with a brief description of who this group is for.

“Divorce is Not All That Devastating”

divorce-by-marc-hatot-croppedThese words appear in a Washington Post story by Crystal Ponti. The article was mostly tongue-in-cheek about how divorce might make parenting easier, but one quote caught my eye:
“Research also shows that divorce is not all that devastating for most children. Sure, it comes with some consequences and a huge adjustment period, but overall, kids bounce back.”1divorce-sucks-by-addie-williams
Because this mindset is so prevalent today, let’s take a closer look at what comes before the “kids bounce back.” 

Not all that devastating
The definition of devastating (and its root devastate) includes, to render desolate, overwhelm, to lay waste, and destruction.” 2 So, if totally devastating (on a 1 – 10 scale) is a ten, is a devastation level of six okay? of four? And would any level of devastating behavior be acceptable in an intact home?

For most children
More than 51% are not totally devastated.  This is good news?

Some consequences
For those with tears in your eyes from laughter, pull yourself together. For those with tears from painful unbelief, please know that even though this is the dominant view—including the belief of many parents, it’s normally not due to ill-will. Non children of divorce simply don’t get it.

Elizabeth Marquardt illustrates this well in her book, Between Two Worlds. There she reveals the double standard children of divorce face with a series of questions.

  • “How often do married [intact] parents send their child away from home for days, weeks, months, or years at time?
  • How often do married parents put their children on airplanes by themselves?
  • How often do married parents divide their financial responsibilities for their children down to the penny?
  • How often do married parents sleep with someone besides the child’s parent in the home when the child is present?”3

ACOD’s know this is the tip of the iceberg, but Marquardt goes on to say, “the needs of children of married parents and children of divorced parents are the same. So why are children of divorce considered so resilient? Because the adults need them to be that way.”3

Huge adjustment period
Truest statement in the quote, but most parents and experts doubt its validity. Divorce is a bump in the road and kids are resilient is their mantra.

But overall
This is the crux of the “good divorce” argument. Overall, since most children of divorce don’t become ax-murders or burdens on society, divorce is not bad for them.

The devastating truth
I had no idea that fears of inferiority, fears of inadequacy, a fear of doom, fear of marriage, unforgiveness, and a host of other issues clung to me like leeches well into my adulthood. ACOD are usually unaware of these repercussions. But though we may look normal on the outside, these issues act like termites in our relationships.its-all-about-love-by-candida-performa-cropped

A hopeful future
Parental divorce doesn’t have to be devastating. However, healing doesn’t come with denial, but working through the issues. Fortunately, there are resources here that can break your divorce-related chains. Review these and pray for God to heal your heart and your relationships.

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1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/02/parenting-would-be-so-much-easier-if-my-husband-and-i-got-divorced/?utm_term=.d5b4ce5e5708.
2Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1994, dilithium Press, Ltd.
3 Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds, (NY,NY: Crown Publishers, 2005), 181.

Images
Couple- Photo by Scott Stewart for splitsville.com
Divorce Sucks! by Addie Williams
It’s all about love by Candida.Performa

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

 

 

 

There are No Gray Shades Here: Sexual Wounds and the ACOD

unworthy woman 1Where can you go if you struggle with sexual guilt, addiction, confusion, hurt, or shame? Research shows that adult children of divorce (ACOD) begin sexual activity at a younger age than those from intact families1 and have more sexual partners2 which can create sexual unfulfillment in relationships. Father hunger is also a significant source of love-seeking sexuality which often creates sexual brokenness. These problems combined with the “sexual freedom” of today’s society, can lead to substantially less sexual satisfaction and sexual wounds that continue into adulthood.

Unfortunately, finding helpful, current, scientific, and biblical information on issues of sexuality, without judgement or instilling shame, has been difficult. Fortunately, Dr. Julie Slattery’s ministry, Authentic Intimacy, fills this void.

Slattery states,authentic-intimacy-logo
Practically every woman, young and old, single and married, carries pain, shame, and confusion related to sexuality. 
Authentic Intimacy believes that God intentionally created us as sexual beings, that every sexual choice is a spiritual choice, that sexuality as a powerful metaphor, and that Satan intentionally works to destroy the holy expression of sexuality.” 3

While sexual brokeday-20-imperfect-praise-9-25-10-by-jessica-wimernness affects men and women, Authentic Intimacy predominantly helps women by answering the unspoken and often tough questions related to sexuality and sexual brokenness.

We want women to understand and love their sexual identity in Christ. As a ministry, we disciple women by helping them understand and apply God’s Truth to all questions, pain, and joys of sexuality.”3

If you or someone you know feel guilt, shame, or struggle with obtaining the sexual freedom God offers, click here to connect to Authentic Intimacy and a wealth of loving, truthful, and helpful information.

 

1Ottaway, A. (2010). The impact of parental divorce on the intimate relationships of adult offspring: a review of the literature. Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology2(1), 5
2Wallerstein, J. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, (NY, NY: Hyperion, 2000), 188
3http://www.authenticintimacy.com

Images
alone by beautifulflower
Day 20 – Imperfect Praise (9.25.10) by Jessica Wimer

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