“We love because he first loved us.”
(1 John 4:19 NIV)
Since this column for baby boomer women launched in January, I’ve been talking a great deal about achieving the dreams of our heart. About walking in the purpose God has for our life. I’ve been encouraging my fellow boomer sisters to take more risks—to trust that God has a plan for our life that is infinitely greater than anything we could ever hope or dream for.
Yet while this all sounds well and good and I do believe it to be true, I’ve had a heavy heart these past weeks for boomer women whose lives are wrapped up in family crisis—particularly as it relates to situations involving our adult children. You see, I’m working on a new book tentatively called; Parents in Pain – How to Stop Enabling Our Adult Children, and day in and day out my heart breaks as I talk with parents in pain and read their first-person accounts. Many of these parents are fellow boomers.
At a time in life when we should be experiencing the empty nest, rediscovering our spouse, taking new adventures, and pursuing the dreams of our heart—many of us find ourselves in painful bondage to dysfunctional adult children whose choices include drugs, alcohol, gambling, crime, financial ruin, and a host of other negative circumstances too heinous to mention.
What is equally painful, if not more so, is the realization of the fact that in many instances the current situation can be traced back to choices we made as parents. Many boomer parents, including myself, have been stepping in for years to soften the blow of consequences—desiring to protect the children we love. But now that we are older and wiser, many of us can see the error of our ways. We weren’t helping at all—we were enabling.
Outrageous and destructive behavior in our adult children has been going on for years. Back in 1982, a landmark book called Tough Love told us all about it. Phyllis and David York, licensed therapists and the founders of the national Tough Love movement, partnered with Ted Wachtel, founder of The Community Service Foundation, to write Tough Love. An instant bestseller that depicted horror story after horror story of teens and adult children spinning out of control and taking their parents with them.
“Our destructive young people come from all kinds of home environments. Their parents are white, black, yellow, or brown; rich, poor, or middle class; educated or uneducated; permissive or strict; deeply religious of every faith or uninvolved in any faith; divorced, remarried, or still in their first marriage. The young people themselves are first born, second born, eighth born, only child or adopted. And rarely are all the children in one family acting out. Usually one or two are disrupting the lives of others in the family.” i
The above description still holds true today, but the plague of 1982 has become the pandemic of 2007.
It’s difficult to stop enabling—but not impossible. Trust me, I know.
We must start by realizing the most important thing is not the mess our adult child is in, or what caused it, or how we can “help” them to fix it—whatever “it” may be. The most important thing for us as parents is to move in a new direction regarding the choices we make. And to do so in love—no matter how hard it may be to love the adult child who has broken our heart.
We must pull away from the problems of our adult children and start listening to God.
We must stop making the choice to think about the problems our adult child has, how we tried to help them, or how we have failed over the years to help them. The sole focus from this day forward must be to listen to God who is the voice of love. To follow his guidelines for getting our life back on track, to begin walking the journey that will bring healing, hope, happiness, and joy into our life.
It all comes down to love.
Throughout Scripture, it is love that is the most important thing to God. The love he has for us and for our children, the love we have for him, the power of love, the healing that comes from love, the lessons on what it means to love.
We need to love our adult children enough to let them go.
It was a father’s worse nightmare—saying good-bye to a son in such a manner. He knew the day would come. He had long prepared for it. Yet not unlike the expectant mother who knows childbirth is impending, the pain of the process cannot be explained until the birth process begins.
With no way out, no turning back, he knew his son would experience a pain beyond human comprehension. Should he stop it? He could. He had the power to intervene—to bail him out—to stop the incomprehensible violence and bloodshed.
What kind of man was he? To let his only son walk the gauntlet of abuse? Surely there was no mercy in his sinew. His son wasn’t a bad man. Yes, he was a bit outspoken, and he traveled with a wild crowd from time to time, he was even known to keep company with beggars and thieves, and women of questionable virtue.
In fact, truth be told, he had always been a trouble-maker. Always questioning authority—pushing the envelope—making people think about things that stirred the pot. Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone?
His father’s heart was broken. He had a choice to make. He had resources at his disposal to bail out his son, to change the situation. He could bring him back into his arms, back home where he would be safe. He could look upon his sleeping face and remember the times past when this child—no longer a child—had needed the care and direction of a parent—not yet man enough to make his own choices, but no longer a baby…no longer the sponge soaking up parental wisdom and knowledge…able to make decisions on his own.
No matter how it broke his own heart, he had to let his son experience the consequences. He had to love him enough to let him go.
This is the story of Easter—the story of a love so strong it changed the course of history.
Our adult children may not be saviors of the world, but they are no less important in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. Loving them enough to release them to live the destiny God has planned for their life is one of the most vital choices we can make as parents.
i Tough Love, by Phyllis and David York and Ted Wachtel, Bantam/Doubleday, 1982 – Page 11
©2007, Allison Bottke