God put me in the middle of boys with a mom who loved us completely and a father of whom I have little memory. His relationship with us was not one of outright abuse but neglect and eventual abandonment. When I was five, my exhausted mom divorced this never-working man. She would later explain that action as simply “just one less mouth to feed”. She soon after came back to faith in Christ and brought us with her (unchurched until then). Our dad had long since disappeared from our lives.
Sandwiched between adult kids and older parents is where we are, and I’m grateful. In fact, I think about our kids and their littles (and some of you) now in this same season, just a different generation.
The room is delightfully crowded (not without challenge) with multiple generations – each bringing extended families of their own. So many faces and so many voices.
Every family member (and each of us in that family) has great value to God. His desire for us is to bear the fruit of His love (Galatians 5:22-23) – making it beautifully tangible to others. He is with us in this.
What if our parents made life hard for us either by trauma or, as adults, by intrusion or neglect? Or what if we find ourselves in awkward places in our adult children’s lives? These “what if’s” make us want to pull ourselves out of obedience to God, as we feel justified by our pain to distance ourselves from some in our family. The ripple effect of pulling away is wide-reaching in a family. Wider than we can imagine.
Even when relationships are healthy, the heavy responsibility of parenting young children puts its strain on our precious adult children. We feel the pull – torn between kiddos and our olders or others (sibling families, too). We also model for next generations what family looks like. How we handle the hard is quite probably how they will handle the hard.
We all choose, consciously or not, from among four ways to engage with or disengage from our families.
- Embrace. We can trust God with the families He has given us. We can love them well. We forgive and seek forgiveness. We spend time with each other and attune to how God sees them. We who share adult space try to find the balance of loving each other well without our own preferences getting in the way. The older ones will only be with us for a moment. They have stories and history and lives that matter. Our younger ones also grow up and have their own families and life pressures. We extend ourselves in both directions – up and down.
- Debase/Disgrace. Sometimes members of our family wrong us or another beloved family member. We “triangle” talking about them with others, without them being present. Their behavior may warrant our disdain. We are tempted to debase them privately or disgrace them publicly. However, God is not finished with them or they wouldn’t still be here. Wisdom is to take our sorrows to God and appeal for Him to help us love these hard-to-love ones. He is able. It helps to remember we may also be the ones not so easy to love. [I forget that sometimes.]
- Replace. We are tempted to completely replace hard family members with friends. Adult friendships are such a gift from God. They fill in empty places in our hearts. They can actually help empower us to love and live like Jesus with these family members. Or they can usurp their place in our lives. Friends, help bolster our resolve, as we choose to “stay in the room” with family members. Let’s be that one who is not going anywhere – that picture of Christ for these.
- Give Grace. This is similar to “Embrace” but with God-guided boundaries in place. The Word is full of instruction, like Colossians 3:12-14. Living between olders and youngers, I want to be that one who gives grace both ways. Speaking love often and always. Not judging or applying pressure. We can choose to honor one another, which, in turn, honors God. Giving grace includes giving grace to ourselves.
Photo Credit: Facebook, Gods Armour
Do I get this wrong? All the time. We are works in progress. God’s door of healing is always open to us.
Photo Credit: Samantha Reynolds, Bent Lily (w/ permission)
[One last pic – my mom, our youngest son, and me sandwiched between them & behind the camera – wishing I could roll back the years to when she was still here. Embrace & give grace. The years rush by.]