“Why do our parents do that to us?”
This wasn’t a question voiced by a rebellious teenager being disciplined by his parent, but by a grown man who is himself a father. The tone with which he spoke those words was calm, but his eyes belied the sea of hurt and bewilderment in his heart. I know too well the sense of helplessness and bewilderment… of wanting to understand why but not being able to find an answer to why one’s own parent would inflict such willful harm and wreak havoc in one’s life.
If you are someone fortunate enough to have parents who are happily married and who know what is genuine self-giving love… love without conditions, love without manipulation… you are truly blessed, and, I believe in my current cynicism, the minority.
Do you know what one of the worst things a parent can do to their child is? It is to refuse to let go of them… to let them make their own choices, fight their own battles, to let them make mistakes and win victories and gain the confidence to live in this world on their own. What may seem as kindness can actually be harmful, for if you truly meant well for your children, you would let them bear their crosses and respect the way in which they choose to bear them. Give them your vote of confidence, love them and pray for them, but be careful that your efforts to ‘help’ and ‘guide’ them are not attempts to control them. For if you do that, your child will forever be in your shadow. They will not have the confidence to live and thrive… they will always be beholden to you. They will never be free to be their own person. Is that what you want?
Recently I came to know that my good friends are going through a very difficult time due to a ridiculously unreasonable, willful and self-centered parent who, in order to get what she wants, thinks little of hurting everyone around her. I felt sad and helpless… but along with them I couldn’t help laughing at how ridiculous it is. That’s how I have often reacted to my situation as well… hilarity. Because it will drive you insane to try and understand why your own parent would so such things to you and your family… laughing, at least, might keep you sane for a little longer.
There is another friend’s parent, too, who is tearing his own family apart in order to get what he wants, and still feels that he is entitled to do so. When I look into my friend’s eyes, I don’t have anything to say either. I can’t explain why… but I know how it feels to see your loved ones’ hearts being broken by your own family member. I know the feeling of forgiving them time and again only to have them hurt you again and again… I know the feeling of growing tired and of just wishing it would end but it never ends.
For some people, living with such pain has become a part of daily life. People around them can’t tell how much pain they are bearing in the recesses of their hearts unless they choose to speak of it. I am never surprised when I find out that someone who had given no outward indication of a wound actually has a broken family. For there are in reality, so many families that are dysfunctional, that I begin to think that is the norm.
One cannot underestimate the harm that parents can do to their family. It isn’t just genetic material that parents pass down to their children, they pass down emotional and psychological wounds as well. Subconsciously, after being inflicted by our parents, we bring that baggage with us into our own families and by and by affect our own children. If we don’t break the cycle, that is what happens… so break the cycle we must. That is, if we are self-aware enough to realize the danger we bring… and if we have love enough to want to change… and humility enough to know that we cannot heal ourselves with our own power.
I dedicate this post to all who have difficult parents and family members (though ‘difficult’ is putting it mildly). Randy Pausch said in his last lecture that “we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” We didn’t choose our family members, but having being given them, we have to try and live with them. In order to survive and do the best we can for our family, we must ourselves be strong. The way to do that is not to harden our hearts, for as long as we are wrapped up in guilt, pain and self-preservation, we are weak. Let us open our arms in faith and let ourselves be broken so that we can be healed. For only when we are filled with God’s grace will we be able to meet evil with hope and love… and we must believe that true love never fails. We must persevere no matter what the outcome is. Let’s believe we can do it!
Lord, I wish to pray especially for families that are attacked from within. I pray for those who are in pain and who struggle to forgive and love a family member who is hurting them. Help them to trust You and to see in this trial the grace that they will receive if they allow their hearts to be broken and tilled. Let them never give up hope or lose their faith in You and in themselves. Reassure them in the depths of their hearts of how deeply they are loved by You!
I pray for those in families who inflict pain and suffering. I believe that they are also in pain but are too hardened of heart to acknowledge it and to realize their own need for healing and forgiveness. No one else but YOU, Lord, can change their hearts. Help us always to remember that they too are Your beloved children, and our brothers and sisters. Help us not to condemn them, but to see in them a mirror for our selves. Amen.