Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lessons From The Empty Nest ~ The Biggest Struggle

 The biggest struggle in parenting adult children has little to do with the kids but a great deal to do with the parents. In our family, my husband and I are the blessed parents of 5 adult children, ages 24 to 33, who were all naturally born to us during our 34+ years of marriage. In addition to our one son and four daughters, we also have one son-in-law and two grandsons. (In this day-and-age, with the family under so much attack, it seemed necessary for me to clarify what I meant when I said "our family".)

My biggest struggle with our all-adult family has been to remember that my position has changed... I'm not parenting any more, I'm counseling. That means, as difficult as it sometimes is, I should act like a counselor and wait to be asked for my help or advise. Then, when I am asked, I need to answer with respect, keeping it short, sweet and to the point. If the particular topic has a painfully difficult response, I must present it in an unassertive way, being careful not to take the "I told you so" attitude either. I have to back-off and let them pick themselves up... dig themselves out... intervention is not always the right thing.

These are things I have to work at because the momma in me wants to protect and defend my children through all their difficulties, even the self-inflicted ones. This I have learned... I cannot protect my children from their choices... I am not responsible for their adult decisions.

I have to admit, it is an ego thing to want my children to do well so that I’m viewed as having been a great parent. What parent doesn’t enjoy the praise of others telling them, "you did a good job in raising your kids, you are to be commended". But when it comes to parenting, there are two sides and an individual’s free-will (freedom to choose) is a huge factor in the outcome of this parenting equation... sometimes, the result is... what is taught is not always caught.

As Christian parents, we have the God-given command and responsibility to tell, and to show by example, the right path our children are to follow, but God only holds us accountable to teach our children right, and after that, God holds them accountable for their choices. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7; 4:9, Proverbs 3:1-3; 4:1-13, 20-23; 34:13, 14; Hebrews 2:1)

God gave to each of us a free-will; freedom to choose. With our adult children, their choices are their own, and God does not make us responsible for what they choose. It is not our failure when our adult children choose a path contrary to what they were taught, it is their choice. By example, God did not fail in parenting the Children of Israel because of their wicked choices. Sad is the story of how God showed Himself wonderful and mighty by sending the ten plagues of Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to "let my people go" only to have His people worship a golden calf. (Exodus chapters 5 through 12 and 32) God did not fail as a Parent because of the free-will choices of His children, nor did He intervene when their choices were wrong. God allowed the consequences of their choices to render their judgment thereby teaching them accountability and responsibility.

When intervention takes place, it means that the free-will of an individual has been subverted by someone else. This may be an appropriate response of parents with young children, but with an adult, it means their freedom has been taken away. And, when freedom has been taken away, we are the prisoners of another person’s will instead of our own. God has omniscient power to intervene, but God’s intervention would then mean God was removing from us our freedom to choose, and without free-will we cannot love because love is the ultimate freedom of choice.

One day, our adult children will return to us by one of three ways:
1.) They will return with thanks: "Mom and Dad, you raised me right, and I listened, and I’m thankful that I did."
2.) The will return with no thanks: "Mom and Dad, you raised me right, but I decided I didn’t want to walk that path...".
3.) They return reproach: "Mom and Dad, you knew the right way and you never told me...".

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Baggage Check

As American missionaries living in East Africa, my husband and I do a lot of traveling and there is one thing I can tell you... I know baggage! I’m not talking about the luggage that carries the baggage... I’m talking about the stuff in the luggage that we carry as baggage. Know what I mean?

Through my experience of carrying all that luggage, loaded with baggage, to and through the airports of the world (well, at least some of them)... organizing it onto the trolley carts, lifting it onto the conveyor belts, having it x-rayed and screened, lugging it over to the check-in desk for weigh-in, then being told one piece is too heavy and enduring the embarrassing moment of shuffling my personal baggage around to get the luggage in compliance with the weight limit for each individual piece... whew... I can tell you, I know baggage. Maybe it was the pulled muscles from all that lifting, or maybe it was having my private stuff on public display, but something forced me to take another look at what I was lugging around in all those bags and a serious re-evaluation process had to be conducted before I ruptured a spleen, or something else.

Now there is a spiritual side to all this talk about luggage and baggage... I’ve discovered that I do the same sort of thing with emotional baggage I’m lugging around. And, just like I needed to re-evaluate the luggage I was carrying from airport to airport, I also need to re-evaluate the emotional baggage I was carrying from relationship to relationship. To start off with... I carry way too much... I need to stop being so critical and hyper-sensitive, making one relationship own-up for the failures of another. Know what I mean?

I pack my own luggage... I decide what stuff gets lugged around on our trips together. So, when the load gets too tiresome and encumbering to bear, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. In comparison, I also pack my own emotional baggage. So, what I carry around emotionally has nothing to do with anybody else, but me. After all, I’m the one who decides what goes into those bags, nobody else does that for me. Sure, it’s easy to say I was hurt by a particular person but when it comes to packing my emotional baggage, it’s totally up to me what I carry. I decide what gets packed, I decide what gets lugged around and I’ve got no one to blame but myself for the encumbering emotional burden that I bear. Nobody else is suffering because of my luggage... I mean, they’re not lugging it around, I am. Emotional baggage is all about me... myself... I packed the bags, I decided what was to be kept and what was to be left behind.

The purging process isn’t easy but it is necessary. Letting it go and getting over it is easier said then done, but it’s do-able. We really are able to let things go... we really can get over it. I remember what it was like to fly before 9-11 changed the world. Airline passengers could walk to their departure gate without going through a security check and friends and family could accompany them to wish them a farewell. Then, when the world changed, security restrictions imposed on passengers became a nightmare. I’m convinced that one of these days, we’ll be issued disposable clothing to wear during our flight and personal items will have to be purchased upon arrival at our destination. I really am joking about that, but on a serious note, whatever the restrictions were, we adjusted, and whatever the restrictions will be, we will adjust. Actually, it was the restrictions the airlines imposed on it’s passengers that created this thought of what was really necessary in my emotional baggage as well. If I can physically adjust, I can emotional adjust, too. It’s do-able. Know what I mean?