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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Healing painful family situations

A husband wants help with the following problem. All names have been changed.

My wife - let's call her Agatha and my son (let's call him Winky) are unhappy. Agatha's parents got divorced a couple of years ago. Her father left her mother for a 30 something year old woman with 2 kids. He will be 60 next year.

Here is the problem. He never did anything with the kids when they were little, like go to their ball games, dance recitals, coach their teams etc..

Now that he is married again, he is acting like the perfect father, coaching games, going to his step-kids games etc. He won't put forth any effort to go to HIS own (Agatha's kids) grand kids games. He forgets his grand children's birthdays, stuff like that. Agatha is extremely hurt by this and the question I hear all the time is "Why wasn't he that kind of father to me?"
Agatha, her sister or her brother won't say anything to their father about this and, quite frankly, I am getting tired of listening to it. I am so mad I am about to tell Agatha's father to go take a flying leap and stay away from my wife and family.

Now before you fuss at me, I know that is not the right way to handle it, but no one hurts my wife and stays standing for long to talk about it.

The really hard part is that Winky (my son) loves his grandpa and loves spending time with him. But every time he is around his grandpa, he comes home crying because "grandpa wouldn't play with me" or "grandpa said he doesn't have time right now."

I need answers!

First of all, there's nothing worse than feeling like your family is being hurt. Of course you want to react in a way that will let the entire world know they can't mess with or hurt people you love. It's not only a loyal, loving response - but it's the first one everyone jumps to. Remember the old saying that goes something like this...."I can kick my sister but no one else can." Meaning that it doesn't matter what happens within the family, if we are attacked from without - we all band together and go to war.

Before we go to war with this thing however, let's count the possible casualties.

1. Why do you want your children to have a good relationship with their grandparents?
Every child wants and needs a doting grandparent.
Grandparents give children unconditional love that is important in building other relationships.
Grandparents are a link to our heritage and that can build a strong self-esteem within the child.
It's just fun.
Children are always curious about who their parents are and where they came from. Grandparents provide a link that will help the child understand the parent.

2. You said your child loves his grandpa. Do you really want that love to end?
If you end the relationship, it won't be long until Winky feels exactly like you do about grandpa.

3. If you break the one-sided relationship with the grandfather, just to save crying time - what consequences will that mean for your wife?
Do you really want to someday wonder if you were the last straw that ended her relationship (no matter how strained) with her father?

4. Usually people are angry about a bad relationship because someone is being mean. While grandpa's actions seem mean, have you thought about where they are really coming from? Most people continue to make mistakes because they don't understand their own actions. Grandpa might actually be hurting himself more than you ever could. There is a possibility that he has a ton of regrets and rather than asking for forgiveness that he's sure he doesn't deserve, he's trying to re-live his life and make good choices this time. He can't let himself give in and enjoy your lives because he would have to start by asking forgiveness and that would flood his own mind with torments of regret.

Of course since I don't know the whole situation - I'm guessing here.

5. If you get angry and break off all ties, you will have more than just crying from your son. Your wife will have a broken family and a broken heart. Your son will hear and see the anger (believe me even if you try to hide it - he will figure it out) and you will have years of explaining and mop up to do on his feelings.

6. Last but not least, if you break ties you will lose the chance to teach your son about how to handle life's disappointments and you will forever lose the chance to "love" your father-in-law into salvation.

So......what to do.....

Face the truth.....What you really want to do is what's best for your son. According to the above, breaking the ties may not be the best. Don't do what feels like justice - do what is best for your child.

1. Begin by being honest with your son. Sit him down and tell him that life isn't always easy. Find the "small" words you need to help him understand that life isn't always what it should be.

Use word pictures. Something like this...."Remember the other day when Daddy was working and you wanted to play......I couldn't then because I had other things on my mind. Well grandpa has had a very hard life and I think sometimes he is so busy with his family and then he thinks about other things that have happened to him and's just too much. The rest of us kind of get lost and it's hard for him to have the energy to be with us."

Do a show and tell....."All of us have this much mental energy. (Take an apple). This much is for things like getting dressed, remembering to take our vitamins and brushing our teeth. (cut off some of the apple and give him half and you half) This much is for work. (Cut a big portion) And this much is for doing what Mommy tells us to do. (Cut off another big chunk - be sure and do a lot of giggling). Keep cutting off for different things until there is one section left. This piece is for play time. But sometimes we have a thing called "worry" or "regret" and that keeps us from really enjoying our "play" time. I'm not sure son, but maybe that's what's happening with grandpa. What we have to do is help him by loving him anyway. That will help him and sometimes helping him is better than getting to play with him. Because every time we help someone, we are bigger than the biggest."

The important thing here is not that you are "correctly" analyzing grandpa. The important thing is that you are teaching your child to look beyond a person's actions and be understanding.

2. Find a heritage that your son can be proud of without the help of grandpa. Find something in grandpa's past or present that will make your son proud of him. In other words, create a bridge to love. Help your son see his grandparent in a different light. Don't let him center on what's happening today. Find some link that will help him see the man he was or the man he could be.

3. Find a connection that will build the relationship from grandpa's side.

For example, make a scrapbook of his hobbies or his time in the war. Let Winky give it to him and ask him to explain all the photographs. Be sure and include pictures of your children with grandpa at the end of the book.

Since Grandpa is forgetful about birthdays (and you don't want Winky hurt), tell Grandpa that you want to help him with the expense and shopping. You buy the gift but put grandpa's name on it. Perhaps once he sees the happy faces and hears the giggles and squeals, he will want to do it for himself. Maybe his own family is causing a financial strain and he forgets on purpose. If you help with this, he may be more than grateful - even if he doesn't say so. The other siblings could follow suit.

Make sure Winky continues to make little things for grandpa and remembers all of his birthdays etc.

Cultivate a relationship between Winky and grandpa's new stepchildren. The more involved Winky is with them the more time grandpa will be around.

In the book Common Sense Parenting, Kent & Barbara Hughes said this about heritage....

The reality is that all of us, of every generation, live in "dysfunctional" families, if perfection be the standard. We make mistakes; we sin against our children and they against us. Life is often (perhaps for most) unfair and cruel. Although we are not to blame for others' actions against us, we must assume responsibility for our own actions and failings. To focus on injustice is to provide a grim, corrosive heritage for the next generation.

They go on to state, "Families can prove highly skilled at nursing along a bitterness regarding some wrong suffered. Early on, each new child in the family discovers that Uncle Ted can't be mentioned without evoking a negative response: "He was the stingiest miser in Iowa." In reality, back in the 1940s, he refused to give a loan to his brother (your grandfather). But he also has a great sense of humor, takes his nephews fishing, and gives all the children their first piggy bank. Nevertheless, the bitter epithet is beyond erasure. Uncle Ted is condemned to be a "tightwad" in the family's eyes no matter what he does."

Forgiveness is the key to building family and enhancing our heritage.

They go on to tell a story about Barbara. She was 14 and was excited about graduation from Junior High. The Daughters of the American Revolution Award for citizenship was to be given to her and she was to address the graduates. Barbara elaborates on how beautiful the day was and how excited she was until.......

One of her girlfriends giggled and said, "There's a drunk man over there!" You guessed was her Dad. How horrifying. At the age when even the smallest infraction scars for life, her Dad disgraced her moment of greatest achievement. She was totally humiliated. She goes on to tell how God helped her through the situation. She prayed through the entire ceremony and asked God to help her forgive. Her prayers even helped her at the close of the ceremony to take her father's hand and introduce him to her favorite teachers.

But the story doesn't end there. She goes on to say, "God's grace was adequate to help her and because of his forgiving mercy, her heritage did not sour. Common sense regarding forgiveness gives birth to an equally enriching twin: a positive attitude.

She tried to help her father but to no avail. He finally landed on skid row where he remained until he was diagnosed with advance emphysema. He returned home as an invalid and his family cared for him for 11 years before he died.

Barbara goes on to say that during that time her own children built wonderful memories of her father. Not because he was perfect, but because she was able to be positive about the good about her father. His humor, his chili, his fishing - even the way he gardened.

No one is perfect. Everyone has some bad trait in their lives. None of us are entirely good and none of us are entirely bad. There is some good in even the most difficult people around us. When those difficult people are family and we can't just "sever" the ties, it takes work - but we can find something good. Even if it's small - it's a start.

It's important that we teach our children that life isn't fair but if we know how to understand others we can find great pleasure in a multitude of relationships. It's either that or teach them to be suspicious of everyone and so sensitive about their own feelings that every relationship is difficult.

In their book, The Heritage, J. Otis Ledbetter and Kurt Bruner told of a couple that asked, " How can we give our kids (a solid home) something we've never received ourselves?"

Here's their answer....."If the cycle is going to be broken, it must start with you. Someone had to be first when we stormed the beaches of Normandy. They sacrificed themselves in order to secure victory. Theirs was not a glamorous role. But they were the true heroes of that battle. They made a sacred sacrifice for the sake of others. That is precisely what you must do for your children and future generations."

Wow! Both of these books are exactly right. There's not a person alive that doesn't look back on his childhood and recall some infraction, some problem, some humiliation. It is how we process that information, how we hold on to it and nurse it and filter it through our brains that counts.

I had a wonderful childhood, but there are certain wishes and wants that I could look back on and be angry about. Instead, I remember voices that encouraged me to understand, to forgive, to love and I am happy to say that when I view my childhood it is with joy.

Give your children the joy of God's love and understanding and their lives will be forever changed.

God loves you,


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