Parenting: What we should have known…

“...it feels like the heart gets ripped out in little pieces, and somehow is supposed to keep on beating… and it hurts to breathe. And I think these honest conversations are generations overdue.
        Those were my words to a parent earlier today; a parent I have idolized from afar and wished I could measure up to. A parent who is hurting, grieving mistakes, longing for the best for their children. If you are a dad… If you are a mom… Most likely you understand this. We fail, and there are consequences. We misunderstand our children, and they misunderstand us. We don’t do conflict because it’s not polite to fight, and Christians just forgive quickly and silence the chaos and messy of conflict. So we ‘forgive’ and expect to be so easily forgiven, but scars remain on our hearts and one day those scars rip wide open and bleed years of pain, or they thicken the walls of our hearts so we cannot feel. The former is harder, the latter kills.
        I, for one, fear pain. I am terrified of relational pain. That’s just the truth. But I am learning, slowly, deliberately, to let the scars rip open. It is the only way to heal and stay tender… or become tender. And I’m sharing this because I have heard story, after story after story of parental grief in recent weeks, from professionals, from church leaders, from friends. Some just sharing a story, not knowing if I will get it. Some seeking advice… at which point I simply confess, “I get it. I blew it so often and am living in the aftermath of that” and the advice I have for them? Face it and hurt like hell, so you can heal; don’t run and die. Because you will die – something in your spirit will die – if you run. I came pretty close… and it’s a hard recovery.
        Why share this? Because it should have been openly discussed many generations ago. I never knew, and because I didn’t know, I was completely blindsided and lost more than I could afford to lose when I turned to survival. And I don’t want that to happen to you. So know this. I made early vows, and I mostly kept them. They were many vows. Vows of all the things I would not do, all the things that were not ideal in my story. I would not let a child molester near them if I could help it. I would not call them degrading names, or say they are useless and never amount to anything. I would never take their money; if they worked, they would save up for school and their future. There were many things I vowed I would not do. But there were many things I should have done; things that I missed. And I expect, if you are a parent, you understand some of this.
        Parenting is the most beautiful, the most painful, the most rewarding, the most devastating and the most wonderful thing you will ever do. You will fail your children terribly. And they will fail you. And if you don’t talk and face the conflict, a day will come when it will cave in on you and you will have to stay and dig yourself out of the rubble, or you will outrun the debris, and lose everything worth fighting for.
        So start young. Start now. Face the hurts, the betrayals, the misunderstandings (on both sides… it’s not just them and it’s not just you) and fight for your family like you’ve never fought before. Fight *for*, not *with*. Maybe you think they hate you, maybe they think you hate them. Fight with truth, and fight with love. Fight against the hate and the darkness that steals relationship and joy. Fight resentment, and fight for honest conversation, and deep listening. Dare to go to hard places; don’t retreat in passivity and comfort yourself with being a peacemaker.
        That is’t peace. I thought it was. I hate conflict. I hated it when I saw my parents fight. I hated it when dad threatened to kill us, or mom threatened to beat us. I hated it when a parent and one of my siblings threatened one another, or when a sibling threatened me. I became the master of forgiving and letting go, of avoiding the conflict, and expected the world around me to be as ‘gracious’ and ‘forgive’ as easily; but it was neither grace nor forgiveness. It was a blend of fear and apathy. For me, more the former than the latter.. It isn’t worth it. It communicates dreadful things to our children. To my children.
        In the past year I have studied Conflict Resolution, Conflict Analysis, Restorative Justice, Negotiations (a lot of mediation focus), and have learned good ‘fighting’ (aka conflict management) skills. And I am convinced we Christians need to unlearn a lot of the passivity we have adopted and learn a new way of facing conflict, especially as I face the consequences of years of avoiding conflict. Avoidance – even with ‘cheap forgiveness’, as I call it, that doesn’t resolve the deeper story – kills meaningful relationship. Conflict, well managed, is a good and beneficial thing.
        So fight for your family relationships. Get a mediator or support person involved to prevent escalation if that’s something you can’t manage. Do it for them – especially for them, do it for you, and do it for the next generation. A cycle will continue; you choose which one it will be.
family conflict
        I promise you, avoiding the conflict isn’t worth it. Choose your pain; the pain of working through conflict, or the pain of feeling your heart torn as you decide whether you will run as far and as fast as you can, or stay and let your heart bleed back to life, as you face what you ran from in the past.

© Trudy Metzger 2017

Of Parenting, Crooked Backs & Delightful Conversations With Rough-looking Men

Thanks to back spasms that have been tormenting me, off and on since June, with no medical explanation, I hobbled toward the checkout at Canadian Tire, looking like an 80-something-year-old with too much plastic surgery. (This is an observation I made recently, when a certain actress was on the new and her body and face didn’t match, and that is what I remind me of on those days.) On my best days I forget it ever happened and on my worst days, which fortunately are few and far in between, I cannot walk without support. And on the not-good-but able to move days, I shuffle slowly with occasional debilitating spasms. It was one of those days and I hoped to not stand too long.

I assessed the line lengths and the cart contents. Why I even bothered to assess it, I’m not sure. It’s useless, really, choosing the shortest line. I should have learned that a few days earlier when I tried it, and stood there, shifting from foot to foot, my arms loaded with more than enough stuff to justify a cart, while the elderly lady in front of me struggled with her card. Turned out she just didn’t know how to use it, and after about a dozen tries, I finally whispered to the cashier that she’s not finishing the process after entering her pin. In no time, after that, I was out of there. Never mind that the long line beside had moved a fine lot of people through by then, and I’d have been long gone had I chosen that one.

I chose a random line, in the Canadian Tire store, knowing it would be what it would be, and entertained myself with people watching. The gentleman in front of me continued eyeing the product beside us. It’s strategically placed at the checkout, in hopes customers will pick up one little thing, or another, whether they need it or not. He reached for a measuring tape–a nice big one–and placed it on top of his stack. He glanced my way and in that moment I spoke spontaneously, as I do from time to time, in a boring moment like that. And, quite frankly, he looked as bored as I felt, and there was some kind of instant connection. I saw it in his eyes, a certain kindness that welcomes conversation.  His tattoos, shaved head and biker’s beard and mustache made no difference to me, other than a passing observation.

canstockphoto1285179 (2)

“Everyone needs one of those,” I said, nodding at the measuring tape.

“I bet I already have nine or so at home,” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s always a matter of finding one when you need it, eh” I said, “especially when you have almost as many kids in the house. And I do…  five,” I added. I didn’t add that we have six right now, with a German exchange student living with our family.

He snorted then, and for one moment I thought it was because of our having five kids. It just popped out, when I thought it, and even as I said it, I realized I should have kept my mouth shut. But it’s true. Things get used, misplaced and finding one out of nine measuring tapes, or nail clippers, or combs isn’t that easy.

He looked at me then, laughing, “I have more kids than that… I have fourteen!”

“Oh wow! Good for you,” I said. It was my turn to laugh, and then I did to him what people do to me when they learn we have five children. I offered a look that was a cross between admiration and disbelief. Admittedly, my shock was a bit influenced by his appearance. May as well be honest. I picture guys like him with fourteen Harley bikes, not that big a family.

He laughed again, “No. Good for you. You knew when to stop!”

“That may be a matter of opinion… ” I said,  “One of my favourite parenting moments was the day one of our children yelled at my husband and me, in anger, for having such a big family.”

He laughed and shared his parenting highlight. “My all-time favourite moment was when my oldest son, then in his thirties, called and said, ‘Dad, I just did to my son what you used to do to me’, and he told me how he was angry with his son and yelled at him.” He laughed again, a twinkle in his eye, and continued, “And he said to me,  ‘Then I stopped mid-sentence to say, ‘My gosh! I’m just like my dad!’ So I said to him, ‘What… you’re calling to blame me for that?’ and my son says, ‘No, Dad, I’m calling to say “I’m sorry. I finally get it!'”

The conversation carried on from there, about parenting and the moments we have, the ups and downs. We both spoke candidly, having similar personalities, and at one point, after a particularly revealing statement he said, “I’m no hypocrite…. Sometimes I wish I was.”

I laughed then, and echoed his statement. “Yeah… I’m not either. I tend to say it as it is,” I said. The cashier called to help the next person in line, and we parted ways.

It was a refreshing moment, with a complete stranger whom I will not likely meet again, sharing  things as they really are. Life as it should be, in my opinion, with no pretenses. It reminded me of a message I received the other week from a young mom who felt like she really blows it sometimes. She started by asking me if I was ever afraid I’d make the same mistakes my parents made.

I wrote back, unfiltered and told her I never feared I would sexually abuse children. Ever. But, yes, I was afraid I  would repeat the anger and other harshness, I wrote back and shared how I started with spanking our children much too hard, and out of anger. I told her how I yelled at them. And how there was a moment when I realized it was all wrong, the way I parented, and I went for help. I didn’t do it perfectly, after that, but things started to change. And it’s still a growing, learning experience. I told her she will be okay, and do well, and even reaching out will have a powerful impact.

She sent a note to thank me for being honest, because it’s not comfortable for people to admit to having done it wrong. Well, I did it wrong, and that’s just the way it is. It’s pointless to pretend it was any different than it was. It was pretty horrid, at times, the first years. It was lonely and I felt like a complete failure, and I begged God constantly to transform me, to make me a good mom. Then I discovered that He was far more interested in making my heart beautiful, by giving me a revelation of His kindness, than He was in suddenly perfecting me.  And in discovering His kindness, I became more like Him, and thereby more kind to my family.

These candid conversations, sharing our imperfections, failures and what we’ve learned  offer hope for the next generation. They’re necessary. I think to myself, if only we could be a bit more like that, and not pretend, the world would be a different place. It would be a community of sharing. And if the world can’t be made like that, all at once, I can still be that…  And so can you.  Then, if we can encourage others, the ripples will begin.

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Sexual Abuse & Violence: Learning on the Farm… Basic Lessons on Sex

Having grown up on ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’, with about two of every kind of animal, you would have thought we were building an ark. Add to that a random selection of old tractors, plows ‘and such’, as well as a machine shop with massive lathes, drills, presses and other machinery, and you have the ‘Harder Homestead’.

Photo Credits for all photos: http://www.freefoto.com

My guess is that you’re anticipating a ‘birds & bees’ type blog post, based on the natural behaviour of farm animals…. But, while there’s something to be said for that, I’m speaking about farm machinery and safety. The more farm kids are educated, the safer they are. And my parents were strict about farm safety.

Dad, especially, would ‘lay down the law’ and, with his temper, we knew he better not catch us slacking. I observed more than one fit of rage that resulted in someone receiving a thrashing. I narrowly escaped at least one such punishment.

We didn’t always honour those rules. When our parents were gone we took what we thought were calculated risks, though I realize in hindsight these could have cost someone a life.

A favourite was wrapping my hands around the ‘lift’ on the front of the tractor, interlocking my fingers firmly, and then Wil would slowly raise me into the air, crank the steering wheel as far in a given direction as possible, put the tractor in reverse, and give it as much gas as possible. The tractor would spin around in a circle, and the I would swing almost straight out, flying through the air. Who needs Canada’s Wonderland?

Photo Credits: http://www.freefoto.com

Mostly this risk-taking was instigated and executed by my brother Wil and me. It was all fun and games because no one lost a limb or a life. And, since we never got caught, the consequences never out-weighed the thrill. But I seldom hear of a farm accident now without thinking back to those days and knowing it could have been us. It’s a miracle all sixteen kids lived to experience adult life, and survive to this day, save one step-brother who died in infancy long before I was born.

My point? We risked lives, abusing machinery, and we did it for a temporary ‘feel good’. In our case we were taught safety and warned appropriately, and still chose to experiment, when parents were not around. We thought we were being responsible enough, and didn’t intentionally cause harm. But it would all have turned out differently if one of us had lost our grip, tipped a tractor or had another accident and broke a limb, or, worse, died.

Had we not known the dangers, with no training on how to use equipment, we would likely have been reckless to a greater extreme.  As it was, we were risk takers with standards and a conscience.

It’s easy to see this in the day to day life safety. It makes common sense. But in the areas of sexuality, where the consequences are potentially devastating, many have this notion that silence will produce the best result. Hoping, somehow, that by saying nothing, no perversion is planted or introduced.

While we are silent, the enemy is talking. At every turn he is lying to our children. Whether through sexual abuse, through over-focus on covering every bit of skin (thereby over-sexualizing and objectifying people), or by the pornographic material that is so easily accessible, not to mention plastered everywhere you go. The enemy is not silent. And children are not blind, or naïve. If the only teaching they get is what they see when they’re out and about, or what is done to them, then their sexual identity will be very warped.

Whether they are abused or not, and whether they choose to engage in inappropriate sexual activity or not, they will have an unhealthy sexual identity if we don’t teach truth.

If we spend the formative years of their life teaching them that sex is bad, secretive, or ‘dirty’, then that is what they will ultimately believe and live. If society teaches them that it is fun and appealing and exciting, within the context of sinful behaviour, and they choose to experiment, they will be confused. Because of guilt they will believe that it is ‘dirty’, just as they were taught by Christians, and it is also fun and exciting, just like society teaches. That is a problem. It gives the enemy the power.

It is our God-given privilege and duty to teach our children the truth about their sexuality, that sex is beautiful, God-ordained and designed for marriage between one man and one woman. Age appropriate, honest answers should be given when children ask questions. Body parts should be explained, using proper terminology. It teaches respect and dignity.

We owe our children the truth. They deserve to be equipped, and need to have a healthy awareness of their sexual identity, because it plays directly into their view of God, and their perception of how He sees them. When they are faced with situations, when no one is around to watch over them or tell them what to do, they will more likely to make wise choices if we have given them wise counsel.

In the upcoming posts I will speak more to this aspect of teaching our children well, using some of our experiences as family.

I welcome your thoughts, your questions and your input, either here, or via email. (info ‘at symbol’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com)

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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Family Feuds: Redeeming the Moments

Finding God in the Chaos

Last night we had a situation in our home that stirred up chaos and turmoil. It felt for several hours as though all hell had unleashed its power on us. Out of respect for my children, I will not share details or names.

Having grown up in a home where unbridled rage had us all walking on egg shells, we have tried to make our home a safe place for everyone. Safe from violence and abuse, but also safe to be real, to struggle, to share feelings and express ourselves. What is stuffed down and bottled up has the most potential for destruction. What is spoken and addressed can be worked through.

Our home has an abundance of love. Each child has unique love language, unique needs and the desire to be validated. Hugs, tons of them, are what the youngest two prefer every day. Our older three children no longer like hugs all the time. We try to honour and respect that need for space, even though my love language is physical touch and hugs are an important part of communicating affection.

In parenting we try to set healthy boundaries while still encouraging age-appropriate independence. My guess is we err on the side of caution, without being totally over protective. We try to encourage our children, communicate with them and stay in touch with them through the various stages of their young lives.

Our home is normal. We have disagreements, spats, and days when we wouldn’t mind space and distance from each other. Sometimes the spats get out of control, though not often.

Last night was one of those nights for several children. We went out for dinner as a family and were enjoying ourselves when it started. A little teasing, a little antagonism here and there, gradually escalated to hostile behaviour between two siblings.  Tim & I took turns playing ref and coach, trying to get them to see things differently, getting in the middle when necessary–not literally, as it would have been rude to get on the table–and hoped for a peaceful resolution. When Tim went to pay, one of them had to accompany him. On the drive home, one sat in the front seat of the van with Tim, the other in the very back. I was in my own car, which, even though my A/C wasn’t working, was a pleasant and peaceful drive.  I played my favourite music, at my favourite volume—loud. (Some teenage habits die hard… especially if you lived through them in the 80’s.)

We dropped the children off and I joined Tim in the van to head out for about an hour on our own. Things between our ‘Cain and Abel’ were not entirely resolved, but there was no reason to be concerned. We’ve walked this way before and wouldn’t expect things to escalate to a dangerous level.

Sitting in the living room near the front window, when we returned home, was one of the two feudists, looking like a violent thunder-cloud in human form.  One of our youngest sons ran to me and announced that the other child had run away while we were out.

That’s a jolting announcement when you return home from a quick outing. My mother heart immediately prepared to abandon the rest of the world in order to find my child in the dark. Tim tried to assure me that there was nothing to worry about and if I waited, our child would return soon. Not easily detoured from my agenda, after calling out a few times, I jumped in my car. I’ve had friends lose their children for months at a time. It can happen to anyone.

I was barely out the lane when I saw a shadow running barefoot toward home down the sidewalk. Relief. Pure, relief.

I backed into the driveway, parked the car and headed for the front door. We were barely on the porch yet when our second youngest son flew out the front door, tried to grab his sibling. At first I thought it was a wrestling move—his way of handling the stress. Just as suddenly, he turned, ran toward me, threw his arms around me and began sobbing uncontrollably.

That is when I realized just how terrified he had been.  After we spent some time exploring the emotions and fears, saying bedtime prayers and doing good-night hugs and kisses, I asked if they were ok and ready to sleep.

They nodded. “But I was really scared,” one said.

“I know. It is scary,” I said. My own childhood memories were pushed aside, needing to deal with the situation, but I was very aware that this would be a trigger. I’ve learned to recognize the signs, to lay them aside so that I can be there for my children and support them in their own struggles.

Fighting for the Next Generation

Back downstairs the real battle was waiting. We had not yet heard the details of the story. We took them, one at a time, to hear them out and explored their hearts, the triggers, and their feelings about what had taken place.

Both of them have been bullied in school and the way they have chosen to deal with it, the vows they have made, played powerfully into the events of the evening.

We asked a lot of questions, helping them to understand their own responses but also helping them understand the other party’s needs and perception of what had happened.

Partway through the first conversation, our second youngest son reappeared, holding his Bible. He is quiet by nature, a very deep thinker. He held out his Bible and showed me the verses I had underlined when I gave him the Bible for Valentine’s Day.

Hope and release welled up inside of me as I read the verses, not to mention that my heart burst with pride. He had turned to truth, to his Heavenly Papa, when all seemed so wrong in his little world. He found peace and comfort in the Holy Spirit. I knew he would be ok.

1 John 4:16,18-19
16 God is Love… 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him[b]because He first loved us.

Something happened to my heart, as my little guy turned and disappeared, as quietly as he had appeared, and went back to bed. The tears started and would not stop. We have fought hard for our children, so that the chains of generational darkness I come from would not be passed on. That the violence, aggression and hate would end with us, and not destroy our children and the generations to come.

I was overcome with grief and yet just as powerful was the awareness that the love of God is the answer.

After we discussed the events of the evening, we asked three main questions, and together explored the answers.

  1. What do you think God thinks of you?
  2. What do you think Daddy thinks of you?
  3. What do you think Mommy thinks of you?

We followed the same process with the second child, affirming each of their identities as God’s children and ended with Tim and I each praying a blessing over each of them.

They apologized to each other and the older one went to the younger siblings and took ownership for the fear and trauma brought on them by the evening.

“Remind Me Who I am”   ~ Jason Gray~ 

When all was said and done, I thank God for last night—all of it—because it opened the door to doing battle at a new level for our children and the next generation. Everything that came out, we discovered, had been there for many years. It would have gone with them for life, but instead God allowed healing to begin.

Superficial ‘niceness’ does not compare to the bond that is created by going to the next level, unearthing the lies that are hidden there, and finding our true identity in God. I am so proud of my kids for being willing! I saw their hearts at a whole new level last night!

Don’t fear the hard times in family. Behind each battle lies territory that we are meant to reclaim. If we look beyond the battle to the reward, and dare to fight for our children rather than with them, it’s the best thing that can happen!

© Trudy Metzger 2012