Within the past two weeks I have spoken with two moms who feel as though they've been sucker punched by the ones they love, by their step-children. They poured their hearts and souls into these young people ~ believing wholeheartedly that they married not only their dad, but his children too ~ only to have them turn and walk away when they reached young adulthood, oblivious to the pain that their actions have caused. It's not only the stepmoms who are suffering in these families; the dads of these young people have broken hearts too.
This unfortunate scenario doesn't happen just in blended families either, or just to stepmoms; plenty of stepdads, moms, and dads face these issues in today's world. In fact, I can think of seven families off the top of my head, some first marriages and some not, who are facing gut-wrenching challenges with their older teens and/or young adult children ~ unwed pregnancies, drug usage, debt, a total rejection of the spiritual values they've been taught all their lives, abusive relationships. . . . It is heartbreaking. If you find yourself in this parenting boat, you are not alone.
Wayne and I experienced this with both our sons. Our oldest son was born to Wayne's first marriage, so I had this experience as a stepmom and as a mom. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't make a difference. Love is love. Rejection is rejection. Betrayal is betrayal. Pain is pain. It hurts the same, whether it's your stepchild or your child, your son or your daughter. Another thing Wayne and I learned through this process is that the child is in as much pain as the parent. He or she often feels the same betrayal and rejection that the parent is feeling. We're just coming at it from different sides of the same experience.
The only One who can sort out these kinds of messes is our heavenly Father. He can, and He will. But He needs willing hearts ~ humbled and repentant hearts ~ before He can begin His work. Ideally, this humility and repentance needs to be on both sides of the relationship, but it must start somewhere. One person in the relationship must take the first step towards reconciliation. And most often, that person will be the older of the two, the parent.
A friend of mine, Sherry, is currently experiencing this trial in her own family; she posted a note on The Cypress Times, a social network to which we both belong. I host a sister site for Glass House Ministries at the Cypress Times, and Sherry hosts a group on blended families. Her note captured so well her feelings of hurt, betrayal, brokenness, and anger when her stepson left home that it could have been written by me ten years ago when Wayne and I walked through this desert with our oldest son, and then again three years ago when we did it with our second son. I asked Sherry's permission to re-post her note here on the Glass House blog, so that other parents would be able to realize that they are not alone in their struggles. She graciously gave me permission.
Here is what Sherry had to say:
The inevitable has happened. Our seventeen-year-old child has finally made a decision about where he stands with God. No longer is he on the fence, with one foot in church and one foot in the world. He has completely crossed over. Unfortunately, the side he chose is not the side we had hoped for. He has decided to walk away from God, from his dad, and from any sort of accountability and love. He has chosen to serve flesh rather than the Father, self rather than salvation. He has decided that he will no longer go to church, he will no longer serve God, and he will no longer be close to the man who raised him, cared for him, and taught him right from wrong. He is fully aware of his choices and the consequences they will inevitably bring. In his words, “Hopefully I’ll come back to God before I go to hell, but who knows?” Apparently, we can no longer compete with what the world has to offer. We have lost this battle and all we have left is our prayers.
Matthew 24:12-13 says this-
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
In the last 48 hours I have heard more stories of wayward young people running off after the pig slop than I have ever thought was possible. Everywhere I turn there is another angry teenager or young adult that has made the choice. The only thing that is important to "Johnny" is "Johnny." It is so heartbreaking.
How has this epidemic of self servitude swept its way into our households? Just today, I was speaking with a young woman going through chemotherapy and radiation for thyroid cancer. Understandably she’s angry. She feels that she has gotten a bad lot in life. When I asked her why that was, she had one answer. God did not give her what she wanted. Say what?
Since when did we deserve any of the things we’ve been given from God? Since when did we have the right to decide that God was unfair because he didn’t give us something we thought we needed? I do believe this is much of the source of the discomfort among our young today. There is a feeling of entitlement. The child wants what he wants, and if he doesn’t get it, he will go somewhere else until he gets it. It makes me wonder where I went wrong as a step-mother. Did I demand so much from this child that I drove him away? He is used to having every need met and then some. Did my need to have the bathroom scrubbed supersede the need for him to have fun? Did I give him too much? Because he has never known the pain of being in need on any scale, has this sense of entitlement come from never needing anything? Perhaps this choice to run has nothing to do with any of these things. He has simply chosen the world, because the world will not tell him that he is doing anything wrong. The world will embrace his bad choices and even glorify them.
I am sensing that there is a real, gut-wrenching restlessness that is blowing through our homes and neighborhoods. God and His sovereignty are no longer enough. His laws are outdated and rapidly becoming obsolete. The days of loving thy neighbor have passed. Survival of the fittest has resurrected and taken over. Every man for himself and every child entitled to what he wants. God help us all.
Where is my hope? The only thing I have left to stand on is the promise in Proverbs 22:6. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." My husband and I might have to wait until our child is old before he really gets it. I am okay with this, because I know in my heart that as parents, we have done everything humanly possible to point him in the right direction. We have given him guidance and love, patient instruction and discipline. The fact is, the weight is off our shoulders now. He is free to make his own choices, and I am confident that some day down the road, after he has reached his bottom, he’ll find the Light. Until then, my knees will remain dirty and sore from the endless prayers offered up to a God who truly understands.
After all, if He can wait for me to get a clue, I can do it for my son.
Sherry's Godly character shines in her closing sentence, where she acknowledges that she too was a prodigal while God waited on her to "get a clue," so she will faithfully wait and pray for her son to do the same, trusting God to answer those prayers. I wish I could say that I was that mature in my faith when our oldest son left home a decade ago, but I wasn't. It took me the better part of six months to come to a place where I could even begin to think about forgiving my son for the hurt he caused me and his dad, and it took the better part of a year before I asked God to help me surrender my raw pain and anger to the Lord. This is not a thing I am proud of, but it is a fact nonetheless. When the fabric of a family is torn apart, it hurts. When it feels like a child has died because he or she has cut you out of his or her life, it is a lonely and painful place to be. . .a wilderness experience I wish no parent ever had to go through.
When I asked God to help me let go of my pain, to help me forgive my son, I was in no way thinking about his pain, or how I may have contributed to it, at that juncture. It took a few more years of God's patient guidance and counsel for me to have compassion for the pain our son must have been in to make the choices he felt he had to make. Seven years later, this hard-earned wisdom helped Wayne and I handle our second dance in this desert better than we handled the first, and I will readily confess that I am thankful we only had to do this dance twice. Praise God, our two girls chose to sit out the desert dance!
If this post hits home with you . . . if your family is experiencing the betrayal of the "desert dance," you are not alone. I shared some excellent resources in an earlier post: Have You Reached the End of Your Rope? Mark Gregston with Heartlight Ministries has written many, many articles that you will find both comforting and helpful. Here are links to a few that I have read recently:
Step-Family Teen Troubles
Parenting Shift in the Teen Years
Sharing Your Past with your Teen
For more articles which address teens, parenting, and the troubles that can arise within these relationships, click here: Teen Trouble?
Hang in there, God is faithful.
Cheri and Wayne