A mature adult life and healthy marriage begins with leaving home. I don’t mean simply moving out and living in a different house, paying your own bills, and maintaining your own social and vocational life. Many 16-year-old teens can do that. To truly become a mature adult who can contribute to a healthy marriage, we must leave home on a much deeper level. We must leave home emotionally. For some, the task of leaving home emotionally is relatively simple. For others–those who have experienced neglect, abuse, or abandonment–this task can prove monumental. Leaving home emotionally necessitates that we face the realities of our childhood, forgive our parents for any shortcomings they might have exhibited, and embrace the love they did share with us during our life. Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leyland Fields and Dr. Jill Hubbard provides a tremendous map for doing just that. The guidance they offer in their book guides the reader out of the prison of pain, bitterness, and resentment that traps many who grew up in abusive homes. It is filled with courageous stories and insightful strategies to help lead the reader out of the common behaviors used to run from the pain, “reclaim the past,” and enter into a “land of freedom.” The stories are inspirational yet tempered so we can all learn the lessons they offer. The insights are wise and practical. The way to freedom, though filled with ups and downs, pain and healing, struggles and victory, passes through forgiveness and into the land of peace and wholeness. If you have experienced trouble leaving a traumatic childhood behind, Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers offers hope and practical guidance. Following the strategies offered in this book will lead you into the freedom of a whole life and a fulfilling marriage.
Tag Archive for leaving home
Well, I did it again. For the second year in a row I took my daughter to college, unpacked her belongings, said good-bye, and left her hundreds of miles away from “home.” I’m not complaining. I am proud of her…and excited to see where life takes her. She has grown and learned so much in only one year of college. Still, I find myself holding back the tears when I drive away after dropping her at college. In fact, several diametrically opposed emotions fill my heart as I drive away—pride in her growth and excitement for her future, yet heart-breaking sorrow that she is growing up to leave home and deep pangs of missing one of “my little girls.” I’m not sure why I’m surprised at this mix of emotions. Parenting has always led to the uncanny experience of having more than one emotion at the same time. I remember the time my then 3-year-old daughter decided she did not want to eat her dinner. She got her mother’s (my wife’s) attention and began to talk to her in an animated manner, one hand making broad gestures. She maintained great eye contact and a wonderful give-and-take conversation. She held her mother’s rapt attention, face to face and eye to eye they carried on a conversation. In the meantime, I watched my daughter, unbeknownst to her mother, use her free hand to carefully remove pieces of meat from her dinner plate and deposit them under the table. We had to discipline her. She can’t go through life deceiving the authorities in her life in order to avoid tasks she did not like (I know, a little melodramatic). At the same time, I have to admit to a bit of pride in her creative ability to do two things at one time (hold her mother’s rapt attention and carefully get rid of her food) to achieve a goal even at such a young age. There it is…concern for her future and pride in her ability—a mix of emotions.
In elementary school our daughter decided she did not want to attend gym class one day. Having seen other children hand in notes to “get out of gym,” she decided to do the same. She got her crayon and very carefully, with the penmanship of any first grader, wrote: “Please let me out of gym today” (or something like that). Being the diligent student, she carefully signed her name. The gym teacher was a little angry at her seeming deception and push against the system. Our daughter ended up in the office. She got in trouble and we got the call from the school (go figure). Her only excuse: “I didn’t want to go to gym today.” We had to talk to her about the whole incident, even discipline her so she would understand what she had done and not do it again. But, when she was in the other room, my wife and I admired her ingenuity and laughed at her ill-conceived attempt.
And then there is the “wedding incident.” Yes, parenting is filled with mixed emotions. Like me, you can probably recall moments when you were angry at your child’s behavior, but also extremely, gut-bustingly funny…or, times when your child’s risky behavior raised concern and worry, but also filled you with pride. And then there is college…filled with excitement for their future, but concerned for their safety; filled with pride while worried about their wisdom and the choices they have to confront while away from home; filled with joy for all the new experiences while experiencing your own heart-breaking reality that they are leaving home and, in fact, will call some other place their home while merely visiting your home.
Yes, parenting is filled with mixed emotions. We let them learn how to walk on their own. We watch them fall down. We help them stand up again and we send them on their way. We celebrate their successes and encourage them to “chase their dream.” We trust they have learned what we tried to teach them. We pray that God will keep them safe and guide them. Oh…and we look forward to the emotional cocktail of walking our daughter down the aisle of marriage or seeing our son marry the woman of his dreams. What can we do? Enjoy the journey.
I remember a saying I heard when I was 9-or 10-years-old: “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” All the boys laughed and the girls let out a loud “Ewww” in chorus. Still, we all got the implicit message: there are certain things you do not do. A few years later, REO Speedwagon (a rock band popular in the 70’s and early 80’s) came out with an album (you know, those 10-12 inch vinyl discs, grooved on both sides, that, when rotating under the needle of a record player, produced music) entitled “You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish.” Well, today we need a new saying along those same lines…and I think I have one. Here it is: “You can unfriend people on Facebook but you can’t unfriend family from your life.” I know, it needs a little work. It lacks the pizzazz and flair of the “picking your friends” thing and the whit of “tune a piano-tuna fish.” But, it does communicate an important truth. You cannot unfriend family. They go with you wherever you go. Any anger we harbor toward family will follow us into other intimate relationships. Apron strings left uncut by “Mamma’s boy” or tied to tight by “Daddy’s little princess” turns into a choke-leash that holds us back from intimacy with others. Unrealistic adorations of our perceived “perfect family” or fairy-tale expectations of an elitist family will only set us up for disappointment, hurt, and failure in future relationships. Each of these aspects of our family will follow us wherever we go. You can’t unfriend family. Instead, you have to emancipate (unravel) family. Here are 3 essentials to emancipating family relationships.
- The first step in unraveling family is acceptance. Realize that you cannot change your family or anyone in your family. You are not responsible to make any family member feel or behave a certain way. All you can do is accept each person for who they are…warts and all. Accept them in their weaknesses, their mistakes, and even their irritations. Accept their love for you, even if it is miscommunicated or lost in translation. You may increase your acceptance of each family member by considering things you like about them. Take time to recall things they have done or said that you admire or appreciate. Realize they have strengths as well as weaknesses and recall those strengths often. Learning more about their life may also increase your acceptance of each family member’s idiosyncrasies. Consider where these idiosyncrasies may have come from? How they suffer as a result of them? And, what their idiosyncratic behaviors cost them? Unraveling family begins with acceptance.
- Second, forgive. If any family member has done anything to hurt you in any way, forgive. I’m sure some of you are saying, “There is no way I’ll forgive them. What they did was too much to forgive!” Granted, some people suffer unbearably at the hands of family. However, when we do not forgive we continue to suffer at their hands. Our anger becomes a leash that keeps us from holds us in a family prison yard of anger and prevents us from finding greener pastures. Bitterness grows and engulfs our heart like kudzu engulfing and eventually killing a tree. Let go of the bitterness and entrust God to work out the justice. Begin to pray for the other person and develop empathy for how they have been hurt by their actions. Forgive.
- Third, define yourself. After you have accepted each family member for their uniqueness and forgiven them, letting go of the anger that binds you to them, you can define yourself. Discover your interests and priorities. Investigate what you want in a healthy life and relationship. Learn the practical daily habits that will allow you to live the life you desire. Take the steps to begin to build a healthy life! One step toward healthy living is reading good books on family life—here are a few books we found helpful. Another crucial step includes finding good counsel and supports, people you trust and who model the kind of family you desire.
You can’t unfriend family from your life, but you can unravel family. As you do, you will find that you can love your family in spite of shortcomings. In fact, you may find your family is actually pretty nice in many ways. And, you will continue to grow an even stronger and more intimate family of your own!
2. Connect your children with other adults–youth leaders, teachers, mentors, or extended family. Step back and allow these adults to nurture your children’s talent in ways you never could. These adults will also be able to tell your children things that they will not hear from you. You will find your children coming home excited about something a teacher told them while you think, “I told you that 2 months ago.” Sometimes, parents become jealous of the influence other adults have with their children. After all, “I used to have that influence.” Remember, you still do have that influence. It may seem as though your children no longer listen to you, but they do. You will hear other adults talking about what your child said and you will recognize your words coming from your child’s mouth. So, rather than become jealous, be grateful that there are other positive influences in your child’s life. Take time to thank them personally.
3. Provide your children opportunities to expand their independence. Let them make choices. When they are young teens, let them participate in decision like which night will be family night and which night they can spend with friends. Let them choose whether to watch a movie with you or with friends. Encourage them to seek the advice of a mentor in addition to input from you. Allow them to take sponsored trips with trusted groups such as those at your church, school, scouting organization, etc. Encourage their involvement in positive activities outside of your presence. As they show wisdom and maturity in those decisions and actions, allow them more opportunities.
4. Allow your child to have time independent of family. This time will increase with age. A toddler needs constant supervision. However, as children mature, they make more independent decisions, engage in more peer related activities, and define their individual life more clearly. They will spend less time with family and more time in pursuit of their individual lives. A parent’s role changes from one of control to influence. In order to have influence, we must give up control.
5. Give up control and pick up trust. Trust the work you did as a parent. Trust that you have instilled positive values and decision-making skills in your child. Trust that they have experienced your love and will always feel safe to return to that love when they need to. Trust that God will bring people into their lives who will continue to provide a positive influence to them. Trust your children’s growing level of wisdom and maturity, nurtured by childhood years of loving discipline and instruction from you.