Culture challenge of the week: parental rejection
Tom is a highly successful physician with social connections that are the envy of even the most ambitious politician. He is unflappable in any circumstance and carries himself with certainty.
Yet, bring up the subject of his son, and the light in the eyes of this confident man suddenly disappears. He looks beyond you at some ghost from his past and then speaks with a quiet, broken voice, "My son has very little to do with me." After dark silence, fire quickly consumes his gaze and anger contorts his face, "He doesn't appreciate everything — or anything — I've done for him."
I've seen versions of this heart-wrenching scene many times as I've traveled the country speaking on how to strengthen family relationships.
There is a world of rude interruptions slithering between parents and their children; some innocuous and innocent like the innumerable good activities that can rob you of much time together. And there are far more insidious forces deliberately at work, pulling sons and daughters away, whispering to moms and dads that we aren't equipped to raise them: The government, Hollywood, the sex "experts," the busybody friends who relinquished control years ago. Sometimes, our own selfish ambition becomes the destroyer.
Whatever the reason, most parents eventually turn their heartache over to anger. Communications with their older children always seem to end up the same: filled with bitterness, resentment and accusations. And with each encounter, the child swims further and further away as the parent unwittingly paddles the lifeboat in the opposite direction.
How to save your family
Nothing is more effective at creating lasting parent-child bonds than lovingly molding the hearts and minds of the little ones God has placed in your hands while they still believe you are the Hero of the Universe. That's why I try to shake new moms and dads out of the societal slumber that has drugged many into thinking the days must be filled with busyness and "experts" teaching their children endless skills; that a child hooked on television, video games or the Internet must be happy because he is rarely heard from; that educators really do know what is best.
But for parents like Tom, whose child has slipped through their fingers somewhere between toddler and the teenage years, there are also answers.
Don't lose heart. As long as there is breath in you, there is hope for reconciliation and redemption. Don't buy the lie that it's "too late." Commit right now to do everything in your power to mend the relationship.
Realize that no matter how old you and your offspring may be, it is up to you — as the parent — to lead the way. It was your responsibility to forge that bond when they were in your care — and whether the failure was your fault or not — someone has to take the responsibility to heal the wounds now, and that someone is going to be you.
Be willing to make yourself vulnerable by always responding in love. Anger has no place in your conversation or your body language; it will always be deadly. Show your wounded heart. Express your sense of loss and regret — and your hope for a joyful future. A humble spirit and a sincere, contrite heart are just as effective at healing years of wounds as anger and apathy were in creating them.
The message of the Christmas season is that God loves us enough to humbly come to Earth as the Christ child, live among us, and die for our sins so that we might have peace with our heavenly Father. The message we often miss is that we should, and can, model that kind of love in our own lives with those around us. Be sacrificial and humble, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you love with the heart of Christ. Living this way each day can help work a sort of Christmas miracle in your own family.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at email@example.com.
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