Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
I have been touched by the response to Part 1 and Part 2 in this series of blog posts but not surprised to learn that so many people could identify with my story. In this blog, I will share some specific ways to heal and become healthier as parents and grandparents.
I’m going to start with a story that one of my colleagues shared with me. Notice the words that are in bold type as you read, as I will refer to them later.
“I can still remember sitting together on the front porch, intentionally making the decision not to grow old and bitter. Why would my husband and I make such a strange pact? It is because of what we had witnessed and were witnessing from his parents. More importantly, it was because we wanted to be a light to our children and grandchildren, showing brightly that no matter what happens, we believe God is still in control. We could count on His word knowing that it would bring Him more glory and be ultimately for our good. But I am getting ahead of myself – let me back up about 80 years.
There was a young couple who fell in love and got married. BUT they were from different worlds – one Jewish and one Hispanic. Their different ethnicities as well as religious backgrounds brought much anger and hurt to them through the years. It started with the woman being shunned by her family for marrying outside the Jewish faith. It continued to affect all aspects of their life from the places they could live – Spanish Harlem – to the work they could do.
It escalated to a new low when their beloved son got ill. Not until the son was critically ill did a hospital allow them entrance for treatment. By then it was too late to save one of his kidneys where the strep infection had found its resting place. Even today, over 65 years later, this son suffers the effects that resulted from this lack of timely treatment. The father had to work over three jobs for decades to pay off the exorbitant medical bills. Still, the unfair treatment continued with many more instances that compounded the hurt. The hurt grew deep and wide, becoming engrained as bitterness, often erupting in anger and various other ugly fruits.
The young couple had decided early in their marriage that religion would play no part in their lives as it only brought hurt. With nowhere and NO-ONE to turn to, they ended life as an old, bitter, sad, alone couple with the family who loved them being pretty much their only visitors.
Now, back to my husband and me. We thank God that we came to know Jesus as our Savior. We very easily could have become the same old, bitter, sad, alone couple if it had not been for the indwelling Holy Spirit helping us all along the way. We have experienced many hurtful, unfair things in our lives as well. None were more painful than when our children have been unfairly treated.
In each and every instance, we pray asking God to take away the hurt and anger, replacing it with His great love, mercy, and grace. Above all, we want to reflect Jesus to our families. We have suffered nothing close to what Jesus endured. Do not for a minute think we have done this well in every instance for we have failed miserably again and again. Yet God continues to answer our prayer that we do not grow bitter and with His daily help we continue to strive to be a better example of Jesus. Do we have baggage that was passed on to us? Certainly, but with the Lord’s constant help, we lay it at His feet and get up to try again!”
I’ll get back to the key points in this story soon, but first, understand that healing begins with:
Recognizing the Signs of Wounding
There are some common indicators that people have experienced significant and prolonged wounding in their lives. They include PATTERNS of-
- fairly constant fear and anxiety
- strained relationships with friends, family members, and acquaintances
- low self-esteem
- coping mechanisms that are unhealthy and ineffective
- avoidance of, and inability to resolve conflict
- isolation from others (often because they are perceived to be unsafe)
- bitterness and resentment
- angry outbursts
While all of us can experience some or all of these from time to time, people who have been exposed to prolonged hurt live their lives repeating these patterns over and over to the extent that others don’t want to be near them because they are difficult to be around.
In my colleague’s story, the couple recognized the woundedness in the husband’s parents and took the first step toward healing which is:
Intentionally Deciding to Not Repeat the Pattern
We are all creatures of habit, and we are going to repeat what we have learned from our parents unless we are intentional about not doing so. We must take specific steps to avoid falling into the same behavior because it is simply easier to do that than to change and adapt to new ways of living.
You’ll notice many of those emboldened words in my colleague’s story in these steps which include:
1. Praying for humility and guidance
The Triune God is available to all of us. We are called to relinquish control to Him and to glorify Him through our words, actions, and giving of the fruits of our lives. God is faithful, judges fairly, and can heal all wounds. We must be humble enough to ask for His help, willing to allow Him to help, and able to hear, accept, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. Seeking help from others who have gifts of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing
Many people are afraid to ask for help because they want to keep their wounds secret, but those wounds are not secret at all. People show evidence of their wounding in their behaviors daily, and it is a gift to the people around them to seek help and become healthier. Ask trusted friends for referrals to good doctors, skilled mental health professionals, and gifted pastors to find healing.
3. Identifying how, because of our own hurt, we have hurt others, particularly our children and grandchildren, and asking them to forgive us for ways we hurt them
It is an incredibly freeing experience for you and your loved ones when you state that you recognize some of your behaviors have been very hurtful and ask them to forgive you. They have been living with the hurt and have probably been hoping and praying that you would admit your mistakes to them for a very long time.
You might want to start by writing a letter, because if the relationship is very strained, your children and grandchildren may have a difficult time facing you and accepting an apology in your presence. Also, by writing a letter, you can be very thoughtful about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Have a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor look it over to make sure the language is non-accusatory and spoken with grace and truth.
If, as in my story presented in the first two parts of this blog, the admission of harm and apology never comes, you can choose to forgive your parent or parents for the way they hurt you, knowing that God will honor that forgiveness in your life. You will experience freedom from the pain as your anger is repaired by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
4. Setting up a new game plan with your family
Talk with family members about how you want to do things differently and how to talk with you if they see familiar patterns re-emerging. You might want to do this with the help of a trained counselor.
5. Embracing gratitude
Thank God for His power of healing, for the grace of Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Thank Him and others He has appointed to help you for healing. Begin each day with praise, worship, and thanks for becoming a healthier person and for the healing of relationships with your children and grandchildren.
These are obviously very broad suggestions that may need to be discussed more specifically for you to know how to proceed, given your unique situation. Focus on the Family has experienced counselors available to consult with you and provide ways for you to address your hurt and those of your family members.
You can request a free consultation with a counselor by calling: 855-771-4357, M-F (excluding holidays) from 7 AM-9 PM Central Standard Time. Please do not hesitate to reach out for help!
Editor’s Note: Overcoming Obstacles by Larry Fowler will give you lots of practical help and hints to help you as you build toward healthier relationships within your family. This would be a great book to read and discuss. A support group for grandparents may be one of the many things that could come from it.