WOUNDED MOMS–RECOGNIZING BOUNDARIES
By NANCY PATRICK
Although my husband Mike and I married very young, we had the good sense to wait seven years to have a family. We managed to earn our undergraduate degrees and get our careers started before having our only child. Naively, I believed that I could plan and orchestrate my family’s future.
As many parents, I focused my life on my child. I still have all my son’s childhood record books—baby’s first seven years, immunizations, teeth eruptions, childhood illnesses, heights, weights, favorite foods, allergies, and school photos. You name it, and I have a record of it.
Failing to recognize my son’s life as one apart from my own became my biggest mistake. I delighted in his excellent grades, choice of friends, popularity with his teachers, and leadership abilities. Without recognizing the boundaries that divide childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, I began subconsciously planning his future around the potential I observed.
When my son went to college, I faced the challenge of recognizing and respecting my son’s new boundaries. This painful experience precipitated a deep depression in me, so I sought help to understand how to deal with this new aspect of my life. During this process, I discovered that many other mothers shared my emotional difficulty in dealing with boundaries.
After consulting a minister at my church, I started a sharing group for other mothers who shared diverse disappointments. We named our group Wounded Moms, adopting a goal of preserving our sanity in a safe, secure, and supportive network in which we could express our disappointment and heartache in the loss of the dreams we had for our children.
We used as a basis for our weekly discussions a book entitled Wounded Parents by Guy Greenfield. This woundedness occurs primarily because the parents’ dreams for their children have shattered. Though parents grieve over their young children’s issues such as birth defects, learning disabilities, social problems, or medical conditions, we focused on our adult children.
Adult children sometimes make decisions that affect the rest of their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones. The result of these decisions (i.e., addiction, divorce, financial chaos, criminal behavior, imprisonment, etc.) cause pain and/or shame for various reasons, but most of them represent a form of rejection of their parents’ values. For example, some children reject their parents’ moral code, lifestyle, or spiritual beliefs.
Although this rejection hurts and bewilders parents, they must learn to live without depending on their children to supply all their happiness or fulfillment. Doing this often contrasts with the childhood years during which the parents spent most of their time and energy on their children.
The mothers in the group experienced emotions ranging from disappointment, disgust, fear, sadness, embarrassment, to guilt, self-pity, and pain. These reactions sprang from many different family situations that caused the same type of grief. As we shared our experiences and realized our common pain, we also discussed ways to control the emotional reactions that dominated our lives. We knew we had to rebuild our relationships with our adult children on a different foundation.
In constructing a new relationship, we must avoid comparisons and jealousy. Comparing our families with others that we perceive as ideal accomplishes nothing. However perfect another family appears, it has no relevance to our own situation. In addition, what we perceive as perfection is not necessarily reality.
Another step forward requires that we stop blaming ourselves or our children for what has happened. We need to quit pondering the “what if” scenario. If we have judged our children, we need to stop. Our children have probably judged themselves already, but they have the right to make their own decisions.
We learned in our Wounded Moms group that parents should not assume responsibility for the decisions of their adult children. Our responsibilities as parents include love, guidance, and provision for our children. Parents’ involvement, though important, does not extend to assuming responsibility for adult children’s decisions. Parents do not stop loving their children when the children’s lives deviate from the plans the parents had made for them.
Regardless of the past, parents need not despair because with time, counseling, and wisdom, parents and adult children can have rewarding, loving, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationships. Life immersed in encouragement, love, forbearance, and faith insulates us in stormy times.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.