Being a parent is just plain hard. There is no other way to say it. We love these little people with whom we are entrusted with all of our heart. We give them all that we mentally, physically, and spiritually have for the first eighteen years of their life; and then launch them into the world hoping we have not failed them in some way. Through them, we can feel the most rewarding joy and the most wretched pain.
For several years my husband and I endured the extreme pain and bitter disappointment of a broken heart. It was as if we were caught in a whirlpool — feeling totally helpless as one of our children made choices with consequences we had no control over. As a parent, we often make the mistake of thinking that IF we can fix a problem, or change an outcome, everything will be all better. The reality is that when we do sweep in to protect our children from the consequences of their mistakes we are doing them a great injustice because that kind of protection also keeps them from learning. This life is all about learning, and our role as a parent is to help our children learn — even when it breaks our heart.
Psychologist and philosopher, John Dewey said that “we do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” In that regard, hindsight is a wonderful thing when used to reflect on what life’s lessons have taught us.
Time has helped us reflect on the good that has come from our devastation. We’ve come to recognize that God loves our children even more than we do, and His complete and perfect love permits us all to experience life — the good and the bad — so that we might develop the traits and attributes we need to become more like Christ.
We learned that not only did our child have a choice, but we did too. That because Adam and Eve partook of the fruit in the Garden of Eden we all have the agency to choose how we will react when the unimaginable happens. The details of our child’s struggle are not mine to tell, but how we chose to deal with the heartache are. We choose joy over pain. Not that we found joy in the heartache, but that we searched for the joy despite the pain.
Our first choice was to try to show unconditional love. I believe it is a natural reaction to want to return pain for pain, but we quickly learned that it did not help the situation. Our need to feel justified in being right was not as important as letting our child know that he was loved despite choices that we might not agree with. This child was not purposefully trying to hurt us and so to add to the pain he already felt would only push him farther away. It became more important to us to show him we were unwavering in our love, and that we would always be there.
I recently read a parenting article which, in essence, stated that sometimes it is easier to give our children what we think they deserve rather than what they need. Do our children deserve for us to fix the consequences of their choices? No. Do they need to know we love them unconditionally? Yes.
The next thing we chose to do was pray. We did not pray for a solution, but for our ability to understand how to act, react and learn. We prayed for our troubled child, to be able to see him as God does and to love him in the way he needed. We prayed for our other children, for help in raising them amidst this trial. Praying with all of your heart is a very powerful tool, and is an act which can bring our desires in line with what God knows we need.
Your child does NOT define who you are
The third thing we chose to do was to not allow our child’s choices define who we were as parents. This was especially hard for me to do. I’m the guilt queen and would question every parenting decision I ever made, and how that might have led to the current situation. If only I had spent more one on one time this might have been avoided. The reality is that the choices our children make are theirs, not ours. It doesn’t make us any better or worse of a parent to have a child that chooses differently than what we might. Our greatest realization was that we still had other children to raise at home, and if we gave up in failure it would not benefit them at all.
Search for the Joy
Finally, we focused on things that brought us joy. A positive attitude is a real healing balm in the midst of a trial. As I tried each day to think of our pain a little less and the good just a little more, I felt the weight of despair slowly start to dissipate. Directing more of my focus on helping others rather than dwelling on myself always brought me more joy. I even found that I could help lighten another’s heartache by sharing some of my own perspective and encouragement.
Feelings of failure and self-doubt were replaced with the knowledge that God loves us all. Choosing to leave our life in His hands is the safest way to get through life. He is the perfect parent and allowing Him to guide us requires some effort on our part. It requires us to listen and to understand what He would have us do, and then do it.
Our journey was not easy by any means, and watching our teenager spiral out of control was a very humbling process that stretched and taught us more than we ever thought possible. While I don’t claim to be any type of expert, I do know that the choices we made brought us to where we are today. There is no judgment or blame when another family struggles with their child. Our unrealistic expectation that we had some sort of superhuman power to inspire obedience in our children went out the door. We are simply parents that love our children and want what is best — we have given up on trying “fix” everything.
I share our experience because maybe someone out there is feeling what I felt, and maybe, just maybe it will help them to know that they are not alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and there can be joy again.
Originally published at choosingwisdom.org