Shame slams me like a hurricane, instantly eroding every ounce of pretense as my sixteen-year-old son’s quiet words silence my verbal hailstorm. “Somebody hears this.” He nods toward our open door. I nod at my neighbor across the street (whom I haven’t even met yet), frozen on her ladder with Christmas-light-laden arms mid-air as she stares. I am mortified.
Closing the door I continue arguing with the other taller-than-me-now teen folded into a too-small beanbag. “I doesn’t want to go.” Arms crossed, chin set, resistance evident in every visible body part, he waits for my reaction. Resisting the compulsive urge to correct his newly acquired English, I shovel guilt, thick and cold as the December snow his friends sludge through on their way to school back in Ukraine.
“If you don’t come, nobody comes. Then we waste all the money we spent on tickets. Is that what you want?”Hi, I’m Juliet. I struggle with codependency that manifests in perfectionism and control. I have relapsed. Badly.
My addiction to control is so out of control that my whole household blew up (not literally, but nearly). The above incident happened a month ago on the morning I had planned to take my sons to Universal Studios as a reward for great behavior in school and on the four-day road trip we took to promote my book at a recording studio in Illinois. (It’s a looooong drive from Florida to Illinois. Just sayin’. They totally earned Universal.) Sadly, since that morning I’ve had multiple trips backward into my ugly codependent default as I’ve tried to find my feet as a new mom of teens.
Week after week for years I’ve repeated Step 1 and it’s companion scripture in my Celebrate Recovery group:
“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18
Week after week for years I’ve felt fairly good about my progress. Yes, I messed up sometimes. Yes, God (and people) forgave me, and yes, I grew from each backwards step into codependency’s predictable patterns of control. But lately…I’ve seen ugly glimpses of who I was a decade ago. Sadly, I’m not the only one who has witnessed my dark side. I don’t think my family is scarred for life, but trust will definitely take time to rebuild.
I am still broken in hidden places. The pressure cooker in my soul exploded last Sabbath as I sobbed on my bedroom floor after yet another confrontation. Embarrassed by Friday’s outbursts that prompted a late-night intervention by our teen savvy friends; frustrated by the fact that they got our sons to talk rather than tantrum and even a little jealous of the honest communication that commenced between them, I poured my heart out to Jesus. He showed me it wasn’t any of those things that was breaking my spirit. He showed me that I was projecting the emotional pain I experienced in my first marriage onto my kids. I was allowing their words and actions to cut too deep. I let them trigger my deepest wound – rejection. I need a thicker skin. For crying out loud – they are KIDS!
I want everything to be Christmas card perfect, but it’s not. In the three months we’ve been home from Ukraine, it’s been more like Christmas-baking-messy. Sticky-messy like when you spill flour on the counter top and try to use a damp dishcloth to wipe it up. Messy like when your bowl is too shallow for the electric mixer and you spackle your backsplash with cookie dough. Or messy like what happens when you and your Honey, six-years-married and childless, adopt unrelated foreign teenage boys and try to find your feet as a new family.
My Sis texted me some advice the other day. It’s pretty good stuff. I’m not sure where she got it, but she’s not new to parenting and I believe she’s right. Here’s what Sis said in regard to the unwanted behavior we’ve experienced in our household lately, mine included:
“Behavior has to be compartmentalized. Behavior never determines whether or not you are loved. Behavior does not necessarily define the heart. It is a reaction, a trigger that demonstrates that a child (or a person) does not have coping skills. Behavior does not determine whether or not we are part of this family. God does not love us based on our behavior. He demonstrates unconditional love, and it’s not performance-based. Everyone has a choice. We can choose to love, despite behavior. We can choose to stay, despite behavior. We can only control ourselves, not others. We can say to our kids, ‘I choose you, despite your behavior today. I’m not leaving, despite your behavior.’”
We pressed the reset button as a family. Today is a new day. Today I choose love. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose hope. I choose to stop being discouraged by the unrealistic expectations of myself, and others. I choose to be humble and apologetic. I choose to stop acting like a maniac and scaring my Honey, my kids, and my new neighbors.
I choose to say, “I love you;” even if I never hear the words reciprocated. I choose to be a mom; even when it hurts that they don’t call me mom. I choose to be real and to let myself be loved in the ways that they choose, not the ways I expect. Because, like the Velveteen Rabbit in that timeless children’s story, I become more real when somebody loves me. I just can’t dictate when they love me or how they love me.
Does it hurt sometimes? Yes. But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt. When you’re real, you can trust that God’s love is enough to sustain you when fickle human hearts let you down. When you’re real, you can give grace to those who are learning how to walk in His footsteps and grace to yourself when you misstep. When you’re real you can blog again, even though you don’t have much to say except, “Keep coming back.” Come back to where you were before you took that wrong turn. Come back to the heart of the One who understands your heart. Come back to the basics. Step 1. “I am powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors,” but God is powerful. I don’t have to go back. I’m not who I was. Today, I am a new creation. I am free to love freely.“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
Juliet, You always make me stop and think with your blog entries, and this one really spoke to me. I have two 16 year olds and one 14 year old (mine are girls), and at that age I think children can bring out the worst in parents often, because it is normal for any teen to start rejecting parents’ help/love/advice, yet it’s hard for us because we want to give it… and you especially have not had that time with them. Reading your blog, though, I realize that I too am still struggling with my own insecurities from past hurts so that I let my teens’ comments and attitude cut too deeply and I end up taking it personally (and sometimes end up getting angry at them, and then being mad at myself for not being more patient with them). You remind me again that I have to let go of trying to control everything; I need to accept imperfection and simply pray for guidance.
By the way, one of my children came home (foreign adoption) at age almost 8, and the first year was really hard…she was beyond difficult and I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. She tells me now that back then she was: a) overwhelmed learning the language, culture, and everything being new and b) testing us to see if we really were going to stick around and love her since others had not. Eight years later, she has grown into a pretty good kid, albeit imperfect (as I am too) and now a teen (with all that entails), but we love her very much and I believe she has a bright future ahead of her. So, hang in there… it does get better!
How comforting to read your feedback and to hear your experience. Thank you for sharing and for giving me hope and a vision of what a kid feels when everything is new and they are testing our love. May God continue to give you wisdom and guidance. Hugs!
Thank you for sharing! I really needed this today. Your share is going to help me get through this holiday with a more tender heart.
May you and your family be hugely blessed this coming year!!!
Ronda, thank you for your comment. I appreciate the feedback. We are not alone. Jesus, keep us tenderhearted. Amen