Even When it Hurts

It was my first birthday as an empty-nester. My husband took the day off work and planned a fun-filled day. A homemade breakfast with fruit, scones, and clotted cream. A visit to a butterfly garden and a conservatory where we discovered a bonsai tree as old as I was. A picnic lunch and later dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. What a splendid day.

Mostly.

No one else remember my birthday that year. No cards or calls from my parents, sisters, or kids. This was very odd – never happened before or since. But at some point midday one child did text me a pleasant birthday greeting.

As we texted back and forth, this child little-by-little began sharing their grievances. They reported how they were seeking counseling … and the counselor felt they suffered from post traumatic stress disorder … a result of trauma in Russia … and in our home … and … I began to sense the conversation taking a turn in a direction that didn’t seem very celebratory. So, I finally said, “It sounds like you have some things you need to share with Dad and I. Why don’t you put it in an email and we’ll get back to you in a few days.”

I knew I needed to offer an open heart – just not on my birthday.

The letter came and we got slammed pretty hard. This was not the first time one of my children had sent a harsh letter. By this point in my parenting experience I had learned the importance of these letters. They were never easy to read. They hurt. But they also communicated hope.

Like puking – my children were getting toxicity out of their systems. Once it’d been shared – and (gross as it sounds) received – the poison lost its power. Continuing with this analogy, if you’ll bear with me, I didn’t have to ingest what they spewed at me. I could receive it, but I didn’t have to take it in. Sometimes I had to be like an armadillo – with a hard exterior while maintaining a soft interior.

I’d learned that if my children sensed I wouldn’t listen, or feared I would only come back at them with parenting rhetoric, they would have kept silent. They shared their pain because they wanted to know if I really cared.

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In truth, they wanted a relationship with me. If they hadn’t, they would have walked away and I’d have never heard from them again. Their harsh words were an attempt to get painful memories out of the way of a positive relationship.

I learned that it accomplished nothing to try and set the record straight. Their perspective may have been totally wrong, but it was reality to them.

At the same time, I didn’t apologize for something I didn’t do, or for something I did that before God believed was right. But I at least learned to say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting.” Or “I’m sorry for the ways I hurt you (without agreeing to their specific offenses). Will you please forgive me?” Because the truth is, I did plenty to hurt my children outside their list of offenses.

And I also learned to say, “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.” Because as cutting as their words were, they were still a gift. My children were facing pain in their lives – a healthy thing for them to do. They couldn’t begin healing if they kept past hurts stuffed in the back corners of their hearts.

If your children at hurling angry, hurtful words at you, I have a feeling that deep inside they are pleading, “I hurt and I need a mommy to care.

january-2-2017-listen

It may be time to crawl into your armadillo suit and let them spew. Don’t correct – right now, anyway. Just receive. Say thank you, and then give yourself time and space to recover.

You may need to revisit the conversation at some point. I never did. I believed the most important thing for me to do was to really listen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:19 (NIV)
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4 thoughts on “Even When it Hurts

  1. I feel your pain. My son and I have been at odds over the Presidential election. I thought we had reached a truce on our last visit, but now I see that he has “unfriended” me on Facebook. I know there are worse things, but it still hurts. (sigh) I think parenting is even harder when you have adult kids. I just think of St. Monica and then I feel better.

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  2. I’m so sorry for this current hardship, Candy. This crazy election has been more divisive than any I remember. People want to have a voice without having ears. Sigh. Yes, it could be worse, and in time I pray things get better for you. In the meantime, may you find comfort in knowing your Heavenly Fathers hears you … and your son. He loves you both dearly.

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  3. Cheri, how did you know this is exactly what I needed to hear today. It’s been very hard to hear from others that my son is bad-mouthing me to his friends, including those who are children of my friends, and to his Nana, my birth mom. I do want to set the record straight. I’m embarrassed and confused. I feel like I’ve been defending my mothering his whole life because of his undiagnosed autism.
    I’m resolving to let go of the feelings and attitudes of wounded pride, resentment, self-pity and rejection. I will learn from King David, who petitioned God to deal with those who slandered him. God is my defender and shield, the lifter of my head. He will deal with my heart, too, I’m sure and show me where I need to offer apologies.
    I struggle with having inadequate boundaries, especially in my closest relationships. That makes me wonder if I need to set a boundary about this. It seems wrong for him, an adult, to accept my financial and emotional support while talking about me behind my back. I can’t see him writing a letter like your child did, but I do wish he would communicate more about his issues with me directly to me. I think the key might be to follow your example and listen without correcting and refuting. Thanks.

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  4. Thanks, Deborah! Ugh!

    I would certainly let him know you’re aware of what he’s been saying to others. That might put a stop to it. But, I agree, it also might help if you invite him to share his grievances directly with you, promising not to try to defend yourself. Or, offering to respond if (and only if) he’s interested in hearing your explanations. In either case, offering a listening ear, I’ve found, can accomplish a lot.

    If sitting down and talking doesn’t work, then I’m with you. Draw your boundaries. What’s that saying? “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

    I’m glad this word the Lord gave me about really listening to my children has blessed you. I know it’s so hard to do when there’s so much pain involved. Whether or not your son responds, the Lord knows. He will give you the grace to handle this situation.

    Cheri

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