When the Prodigal is a Parent

Marriage offers many benefits, but primarily a healthy marriage provides balance. Since spenders wed savers, risk-takers bond to safety-lovers, chocoholics find physical trainers, and spastics unite with steady-rudders, balance is maintained because they keep each other in check.
But divorce severs that tether allowing natural tendencies and desires to go unleashed. So, basking in post-marriage freedom, drinkers can drink more, couch potatoes couch more, spenders spend more, and philanderers play the field. However, we get entangled in all this. 

Wanting to scream
How do you greet Mom’s 12th boyfriend? Are you responsible to keep your father from eating Cheetos and Red Bull chasers for dinner? Does Mom really think she looks good in that outfit made for women 25 years younger? Tired of explaining to your kids how “til death do us part” fits into grandpa’s fourth wedding? Frustrated because your parents don’t get why you’re upset with their life choices? Perhaps a look at prodigals may help.

Perspective on Prodigals
The word “prodigal” comes from a story Jesus told about a young man who left the blessings of his home and “wasted all his money in wild living.”1 The son eventually realizes he messed up and plans to return home groveling. But the father sees the son returning and runs to greet him. Instead of condemnation, kisses and hugs are showered on the son. Then the father throws a my-rebellious-son-who-I-dearly-love-has-returned party. Jesus’ point is we are the prodigal and God is the father. As such, we should respond to our prodigals as the father in this story—but we usually don’t.

How we deal with our prodigals
Our response to prodigal parents is often:
1)     We brood over how things should be, could have been, or how we wish our parents should act.
2)    We harbor bitterness and unforgiveness, and withhold grace because we focus on our parent’s prodigal ways (and the hurt it causes) forgetting we, too, are prodigals in God’s eyes.
3)    We dabble in their behaviors because we’ve secretly wanted to do it anyway and if a parent can do something it’s justified for us…even if we know it’s wrong.

How does God deal with prodigals?
He loves them.  And we need to follow God’s example, but how do we do that?
1) Pray for them – prayer may change them, but often changes our attitude toward them.
2) No badmouthing. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.2  It’s tempting to talk them down, but find the positives and talk them up—particularly in front of your kids.
3) Maintain boundaries – Often their decisions impact us because we allow them to. Our desire for their love, or fear of losing it, can cause us to comingle in their dysfunction instead of maintaining healthy boundaries in love3.

While prodigal parents can challenge us, they can also stimulate spiritual and character growth. We just need to remember their actions are their choice. Our response is our choice.

1Luke 15:13, NLT
2Ephesians 4:29, NLT
3Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Boundaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.)

Images
Shutterstock
The Parables of Our Lord – The Prodigal Son by John Everett Millais by Birmingham Museum and Art  Gallery
Talk to the hand by Matt Foster
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell

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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

Six Helps for Handling Your First Thanksgiving as a Divorced Family

Before the holidays many articles describe the challenges divorced parents face in making the holidays okay for their kids. Do you keep oldIMGP6979 by siti fatimah traditions or start new ones? Should you let them be with your ex, or have the kids at home?

But what about those who are approaching Thanksgiving and Christmas with divorced parents for the first time?
The emotional turmoil new adult children of divorce experience is great, and no one seems to understand. You don’t even understand, but that’s okay. Here are six steps that aren’t cure alls, but can lay the groundwork for holidays that aren’t horrible:

 1)  Acknowledge the pain. Let’s face it, most of you didn’t want this outcome. It’s important to fess up that you have sorrow, grief, frustration, anger, disappointment, fear, disgust, apprehension, and a host of other feelings because of your parents’ divorce—even if it was anticipated.

2)  Tell someone about the pain. First, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”1 Pray to God and tell Him what’s on your mind—the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly. God can handle it, and He wants to help. Forgiveness by Tiffany ScantleburySecond, talk it out with your spouse or close trusted friend. Verbalizing your feelings can really help to ease your frustrations.

 3)  Go into the holiday with a plan. Where will you spend the holiday, with who, when, and why? Remember, this is your holiday too. In trying to please parents—which is now infinitely more complicated—we lose ourselves causing bitterness, anger, and resentment. Is this the year to stay at home or go to your spouse’s parents for Thanksgiving dinner? What is best for you? As the stewardesses say on the plane, when emergencies happen, put your oxygen mask on first.

4)  Remember everyone is hurting. Like a pebble in a lake, the divorce-ripples affect a lot of people. Siblings, grandparents, kids, even your spouse’s parents and siblings are all caught in this storm. Author and ACOD, Stephanie Staal, says it well, “everyone was comfortable with the extremely uncomfortable situation.”2 Tempers may be short, tears may flow, and tension may be high, but remember, everyone is hurting—even those with smiling faces. And most haven’t acknowledged or shared their pain.girl-talk-by-nathan-rupert

5)  Debrief after the holiday. Within a week, talk through how things went with your spouse or close friend. Grab a coffee somewhere and share your thoughts and emotions. If it was terrible, okay, or somewhere in-between, tell them how and why. Sharing greatly reduces bitterness, anger, and resentment that can taint us and our relationships.

6)  Keep the Thanks-giving in Thanksgiving. Even in this difficult time, you have much to be thankful for. Create a list of the ways God has blessed you this year. Keep it near,and read it regularly. It will remind you to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”3

Do you have something that worked for you? Please share it as a reply below. Thanks!

 

11 Peter 5:7, NLT
2 Stephanie Staal, The Love They Lost: Living with the legacy of Our Parent’s Divorce, (NY, NY: Delacorte Press, 2000)
31 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV

Images
IMGP6979 by siti fatimah
Forgiveness by Tiffany Scantlebury
Girl talk by Nathan Rupert

Getting Along, Is That Too Much to Ask?

It’s not uncommon for a divorced parent to tell me they wish their daughter or son would get over their divorce and move on. The motivation is usually loving concern. However, there are also those who wish their adult children would get over it so they can get on with their own life—guilt free. After all, is that too much to ask?

On the other side, a chief complaint of many adult children of divorce (ACOD) is they can’t get their mom, dad, and step-parent in the same room without the fear or World War III breaking out. Why can’t everyone behave for just one hour? Is that too much to ask?

When kids become endangered species by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig cartoonIt might be too much to ask
Part of the healing process for ACOD’s is accepting that their parents don’t (and some won’t) understand what we experienced regarding their divorce. Surprisingly, this includes parents who are ACOD’s. To overcome this, some therapists suggest a time of sharing and asking parents questions about the divorce can help with this. We’ll look at that idea in the future, but for now we must realize that our parents’ lack the knowledge and/or the incentive to understand us may not change.
Freedom by John MooreBut just as important to the healing process is understanding our parents’ point of view. While this may seem sacrilegious, grasping their perspective can help us avoid unrealistic (and possibly even unfair) expectations. I remember how annoyed I was with my mother when she was crotchety with my dad and stepmoms. I was well into my adult years before I pondered how I’d be if my wife left me and remarried.

Would it be like high school or college when you broke up and your ex started dating someone else? Did you want to be chummy with their new squeeze? Imagine facing them all the time—like at every family event.

Yes, Mom was clueless to the divorce’s impact on us. But only in the last few years have I appreciated the sacrifice and strength it took her to just “be crotchety” while breaking bread with the enemy instead of hitting them with a brick.

The answer lies with us
So is it too much to ask for us for a little more grace with our parents’ humanness? It’s not easy—I know. Bible with Cross Shadow by David CampbellBut it’s not our job to change hearts. That’s God’s job. It’s our job to submit to Him so He can do a healing work in our hearts. Also when we submit to God, His love can flow through us and touch our parents—which also does a healing work in our hearts.

Being misunderstood can be painful for both sides. God knows that: the biggest misunderstanding in history killed His Son. The Bible also tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins.”I encourage you to push through the hurt of misunderstanding and allow God’s love to bring healing to you and your parents. That is not too much to ask.

11 Peter 3:8. NLT

Photos
When kids become endangered species by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig cartoon
Freedom by John Moore
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell

Why Honor Your Father and Mother? – Audio

Memorial Day has passed, but I hope we will continue to honor veterans whenever it is within our power. Too often their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of their families, have been overlooked or consciously ignored.

Another group that has been dishonored or ignored are divorced parents. Divorce by Tony GuytonThe list of “good” reasons I’ve heard through the years for why they don’t deserve honor could fill a book. Some of the stories are tragic. Others are petty, but disappointment and anger are common when adults talk about their divorced parents.

I gave a presentation on this delicate issue recently.  While this talk was not given at a workshop for adult children of divorce, the implications and applications easily apply. Click below to listen.

“Honor Your Father and Mother – Kent Darcie”

 

Photo
Divorce by Tony Guyton

Easter, Anger, and Adult Children of Divorce

Though the peeps and bunnies are gone, I keep thinking about a movie I saw Easter Sunday. Normally Charlton Heston in the Charlton Heston as MosesTen Commandments is tradition, but this year I watched “The Gospel of John.” This movie retells the Gospel of John and when Jesus’ trail was portrayed I noticed two things:

First, with the taunts, jeers, cheap shots, and cheap hits they took at Jesus, he must have been tempted to wipe them off the earth. He easily could have saying, Who do you twerps think you are? Don’t you realize I’m the true Son of God!? Then ‘ZAP!’  and suddenly, Jesus is there alone.Angry by Dee Teal

Second, it’s amazing to me that Jesus didn’t get angry at his mistreatment. We live in angry times. Republicans are angry. Democrats are angry. Sports radio people are angry. Rights Activists are angry. Even those who think the Bachelor chose the wrong girl are angry. But Jesus, who had every right to be angry, wasn’t. “Father forgive them1 he said, just before they crucified him.

So as an adult child of divorce whose dealt with my share of anger issues, it would behoove me to view the actions of my Savior more closely. Case and point:

Jesus before accusers cropped“Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent.”2

I wonder how different things would be if I’d remained silent instead of spouting off in anger. What about any of us? Would our past relationships lasted? Would our spouses be more open and loving toward us instead of guarded in fear? Would we have learned to let God’s peace direct our hearts instead of prideful words like “I deserve”?

To conquer anger we need to revisit Easter. Christ rose from the grave and anyone who confesses Him as Lord and Savior receives God’s Holy Spirit. It is the power of the Holy Spirit who enables us to remain silent when we want to lash out. And it is the Holy Spirit who guides us to scriptures that can help us with our anger.Anger, Handling A Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way

If you are struggling with anger (or your loved ones or friends say you are), don’t not to try to overcome it yourself. Your efforts haven’t worked so far and probably won’t. Instead, invite Jesus Christ into your life and receive true power to overcome your anger.

Still not convinced you’re angry? Take this Anger Assessment from Gary Chapman.

1Luke 23:34
2Matthew 26:57-63

Photo
Keyboard – “Angry” by Dee Teal

Did You Call the Attorney Today?

In early January attorneys receive a surge in inquires and requests for appointments that will begin the divorce process. Unfortunately, lawyers will not tell these hurting and desperate souls the truth: things can get better with the right help.

Did you know that most people who file for divorce didn’t seek counseling, didn’t attend any marriage seminars or workshops to help improve their marriage, and probably didn’t tell some of their closest friends they were ending the marriage?

“Psychologist Aaron Beck says that the single belief most toxic to a relationship is the belief that the other person cannot change.”1 However, when lawyers are the only people we talk to, we never hear that our belief is usually mistaken. But it is.

 If your parent’s are divorced, you’ve learned that the only way “things can get better” is to bail—to start over. However, even in cases of adultery marriages have recovered and grown stronger than before the devastating and selfish act. This may seem hard to believe right now, but it’s true.

Do you know what other truths the attorney won’t tell you?

  • A surprising number of divorces are’t due to unfaithfulness. The spouse has simply given up on being happy in the relationship.2
  • 94% of couples in one survey reported that they were glad they didn’t divorce when they were tempted to do so.3
  • If you make HALF the effort and sacrifice you will make for your new spouse, you can save your marriage.family praying together
    • AND spare you and your kids the hassles you still have from your parents’ divorce.
    • AND share the joy of your grandchildren with one person instead of a delegation of ex-spouses and unrelated family members.
    • AND show your kids that marriages can make it through the tough times.
    • AND prove that putting God’s will over your own desires is best in the long run. (Accepting that physical abuse and adultery are not in God’s will)

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.4 This sounds simply, but isn’t always easy to do. However, here are three links that can help. Please take a few minutes to read them before you call or reconnect with your lawyer. You’ll be glad you did!

1) Love and Respect
2) Marriage Missions International
3) The Smart Stepfamily
 

Notes
1The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg, Zondervan, 2002, p. 20.
2Survey Reveals The Real Reason Couples Get Divorced.” Stephanie Castillo. http://www.yourtango.com/201197812/survey-reveals-real-reason-couples-get-divorced
3Should I Divorce?” by Alan Hawkins & Tamara Fackrell. www.utahmarriage.org.
4Ephesians 5:33 [ESV]