How to live in faith when your child(ren) forsake you
By Evangelist Nidicka Frederick
This is an article for all parents across the globe who may be struggling in a present relationship with their children of any age. I was reading the article by my staff writer Rosa Dubose and thought to myself how true it is that some, especially young children, struggle around this time of the year, with all of the flowers and dinners being prepared to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day when their situation may include a parent who is sick (mentally ill, depressed, or alcoholic), overseas (in military abroad servicing their country), despondent (not very involved with the day to day functioning of their children) or even deceased. She was correct to provide a loving word of counsel and advice to help those struggling with parental relationships to get through this tough season and I applaud her diligence and effort to comfort this specific group.
This article however serves as that articles reciprocal (of sorts). Not written from the perspective of the struggling child, but for struggling parents (be it foster, adoptive, grand, spiritual or single) who may also experience difficulties with celebrating Mother’s Day or Father’s Day knowing that they have given their best to their children to have them go into the world and do what I call, “Make liars out of you.” I know firsthand the impact a broken parental-child relationship can have on the entire family and whether that division is caused by addiction or influences of any kind does not matter, the outcome is always the same- brokenness. With God, there is a different outcome possible- hope. Let's talk about parent-child estrangement.
I know the pains of parental hope probably better than most. I was under the assumption the love I placed in my children and the love they had for me was impermeable. I my mind, nothing could get in, sneak through, corrupt or taint the love that was shared, expressed and genuinely felt between me and my children. Like any family, we had our shares of up and down but at the end of the day, in my household, it was love that conquered all. I am making this emphatic declaration with an over 3 year’s estrangement from my oldest son. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of anger, hostility, resentment, or antagonizing isolation I would feel from him. I would not be exaggerating to say our present relationship is much further removed from anything I could have ever imagined or thought possible from my son. There were many nights that I went to bed ashamed of both my Christian witness (in his life which if received could not tolerate his decisions) and the quality of person he has become to his immediate family.
As Mother’s Day came and passed and I was surrounded with so much love and appreciation I could hardly take time to think negatively about the division held between my oldest and our family. But as I do daily, I’d not let the evening go by without praying for my son and asking God to stay merciful and ever present in his walk. It was then that I thought about how important it is for parents to be encouraged when their children are not where they had hoped they would be and when their relationships are strained to the point of seemingly irreparable damage. In the stillness of what the enemy intended to be pitiful self reproach and loneliness, I found instead a peace and joy that can only come from God and an appreciation for seclusion in His presence. I’d like to share with you some of the realizations that were shared with me then and later affirmed in my recent reading of Reaching Out, by Henri J. Nouwen. Here are some important things to remember and constantly consider when you are in an estranged relationship with your children (or child)-
Our Children Are Not Ours to Keep
Psalm 127:3 (NIV)
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
One of the most difficult reminders for all parents to remember is that our children are not ours to own or possess. Our children may resemble us and share our genetic coding or have been selected specifically to blend into our family through the process of adoption or fostering but they are never ours to keep. Our children belong to God and God alone. God in His merciful and perfect provision gave matrimony and the ordinance to be fruitful to Adam and Eve in the garden and we are blessed enough to continue to reproduce humanity in the likeness of our God in heaven and our children are God’s handiwork, not our own. They are bought forth through us but to His glory. Parents are sometimes possessive. Parents sometimes struggle with the idea of letting go. Maybe it’s because you are fearful of the choices they will make or maybe you are fearful you did not appropriately equip them with all that is needed to handle life’s inevitable challenges. Whatever the case, our children are not possessions of ownership. Being protective or overly protective is a sure way to foster ongoing division. You may understand that your motives are to keep, guide and protect but to your child it may translate (incorrectly of course) that you don’t want them to grow, you don’t trust their judgment and you don’t trust them to make the right moves.
Young Adult Children Have a Right to be Wrong
Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it
Here is a hard reality for parents to digest; your young adult children have a right to be wrong. Our children reach an age when they are either going to consciously be obedient to the moral codes and values you have given them or abandon them (and potentially you) completely. Sometimes abandonment is temporary and other times it is permanent but either way; the mistakes your young adult child makes is theirs to make. I held literal dread in my heart for my son when he was leaving for college. It was a combination of who he is (intrinsically), his personality traits, his influences, his culture and his family history that played a part in my trepidation. My worst fears were actualized not when he made the “mistakes” that I feared he would make, but much sooner when he revealed (by his actions)that the weight of my love and concern for him was not life sustaining but suffocating and that his life was better experienced without me in it! WOW! That was a hard bullet to bite but I have indeed bitten that bullet. I can tell you first hand that offense does not kill you. As offensive and as hurtful as it may be, the option to love and serve God remained ever present in the alternative option of bitterness, self-pity, depression and worry. Once I learned to allow my child the right to be wrong, I remembered that the one I needed to trust was God, not my son. As parents are job is to teach our children what they should do, not try to enforce it by force and manipulation.
You are not being a bad parent by allowing your child the room they need to make their own mistakes. Even if their mistakes seem eerily similar to yours, seem needless for them to experience, or hurts you to the core because you feel you have the tools to “prevent” their fall and can barely stand to witness them make it- give them the space they need to strike out on their own (just stay close enough to offer your love and support when they fail). Your child will make mistakes out of their disobedience and fail but this too is good because failing is a necessary component to success; failure helps to reconnect them to God. What I have learned in the solitude of peace God has afforded me during the course of my estrangement is that by trying to prevent my son’s failures I was inadvertently hindering his success. The price you will pay as a parent for not giving your child this basic right to be wrong is a very high yet the closeness you can develop for having allowed this right is priceless. You are correct to train your child to a path of righteousness; the Bible orders a parent not to spare the rod but when you are talking about young adult children, you are talking about someone with both the tools and ability to make their own decisions.
The Burdens of our Children’s Outcome Belongs to our Lord.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I was able to place all of my worries and cares about my son on the Lord. The result of that trust has been life affirming. In the time the enemy meant for my destruction I have instead completed my Master’s in Theological Studies and continue to earn credits towards my PhD. Despite the enemies attempt to fuel my family with stress, tension, and division we continue to grow deeper in love with each other and with God. If you have not given you children the tools they need to succeed in life then pray and petition to God that they find Him through their course in life. If you have given your children the tools they need in life, then have patience with them and trust in God. Stand firm on God’s scriptural promise and know that if you train a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it. Either way, they are Gods and our job first is to pray and show love.