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Redeeming Things with Our Parents

Our relationship with our parents as we grew up created countless defining moments.

That's a given. We kind of realize that even as kids.

What we often don't brace ourselves for is how the choices our parents make later in life can be as significant, if not even more awkward.

For example, I've been asked by both of my parents to officiate their weddings to other people.

My parents separated from each other when I was 16, and then divorced when I was 19. During that process, both inadvertently hurt me beyond measure. Still, I held out hope that they'd one day they'd end up together.

Not only did it never happen, but I found myself in countless different conversations over the years with each parent asking me to affirm their new life choices. In every situation (whether I agreed with them or not) I felt an odd pressure - to either smile and say, "I'm happy for you" or to speak up and say, "Actually, I'm not sure this is all that healthy."

I know I'm talking about things that aren't uncommon in today's world.

Perhaps the awkwardness I'm describing seems like a paper cut versus the slashing you experienced in your family growing up. Maybe your issue wasn't with parents as much as it was with siblings.

We all have to go through a journey to participate in the lives of our extended family, especially when hurt has been involved. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  • Embrace a greater Love and example: It's not fair to expect perfection from our parents or siblings anymore than it is for our family to expect it of us. Although parents typically provide some baseline example of what love, marriage, family and wholeness look like, even great marriages are flawed.  That's why I'm thankful that the primary example of love and commitment in my life is Jesus Christ. I started attending an amazing church right around when my parents separated, and my growing relationship with God gave me greater truths on what love actually is all about and how it can be lived out in any relationship. I embraced this and him, changing not only the trajectory of my life but how I would come to see family.
  • Grow in grace: It's expected culturally to tell everyone, "Hey, whatever makes you happy is fine by me." The challenge is we don't really believe this and it only makes us live in silence or guilt. That's why growing in grace is so important - it's incredibly difficult to be authentic to the forgiveness and leadership you've received without then wanting to share it with others. During my early years of faith I began reaching out to my parents to call out what our relationship had become. I'd hoped to reconcile the pain both of them had caused me as their "stuff" played out. My mom more quickly saw my own strides with God as an inspiration, while it took almost ten years for my dad to come around relationally and spiritually. None of that would have been possible without me letting God love "sinners" like my parents just as he loves a "sinner" like me.
  • Extend forgiveness: Our parents or siblings may not ever ask for forgiveness, but we can still offer it. Forgiveness doesn't say, "I'm forgetting what happened," but "I choose to not let what happened define me, you or us. I choose to in faith think of something else when I'm tempted to live in the past with you. It may be hard, but I am committed to it and you." You may need counsel to get to this point of fearless conversation, but you can get to this point.
  • Stumble forward: I've intentionally stumbled through the scars in my relationship with my parents so that their relationship with my kids and wife wouldn't be tainted by my past. It meant realizing that by attending their weddings (let alone officiating them) that I was potentially endorsing their desire to fix life with yet another marriage. Then again, perhaps by jumping in on their marriages I could demonstrate redemption to my kids. I read about a dad who did this at a wedding while walking his daughter down the aisle by pulling in the stepdad who also helped raise her. It was his way of recognizing that while life hadn't turn out as an ideal, that there was an ideal way to live in less-than-ideal circumstances. What does this symbolize in your less-than-ideal extended family circumstances?

I've withheld sharing all the details of my past, but I hope you get the point - there is a journey we can all go on in redeeming things with our parents. Maybe life won't ever be the way it "should be," but with your commitment it'll at least become what it "could be."

What's your next step?

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  • Amber

    I am almost speechless. This is EXACTLY what I needed today. Working through the past with my family is daunting, sad, confusing…but I am hopeful that I can make the same journey you’ve made. This article really made a difference. THANK YOU!

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