Are you a parent in pain who has no joy this holiday season? Can you relate to one of these situations? Your son is in jail with an unknown outcome looming in the future. Your daughter is fresh out of rehab, not the first time, living in your home again. They have a gambling problem that’s slowly destroying their life; they’re in denial that they drink too much, or abuse substances; they refuse treatment for a brain disorder; they’ve rejected you and want nothing to do with you but you have no idea why; they have a same-sex partner; or they’re undergoing medical treatment to become transgender. How can you have any joy at Christmas?
Maybe letting go of expectations about what you have no control over can help you find some joy again.
If you lower what you expect from your child, it can do wonders in your life. Otherwise, frustrations build. You become disillusioned, hurt and angry. Discussing unmet expectations with other parents I’ve realized we need to distinguish the difference between goals and desires. This can lead to joy even during the holidays.
Goals and Desires
A goal is a desired outcome we have some control over. “I want to lose five pounds in January”; “I want to learn how to play golf”; “I want to see my friends more often”; “I don’t want to go into debt with my holiday spending”, etc. It’s up to us to make a goal happen. We are in complete control. If we plan out the steps and follow them chances are good that our goal will become a reality.
A desire is something we have no control over. We hope something will happen, however, whether it does or not is outside our ability or power. For a desire to become a reality requires the cooperation of someone else in order to be accomplished. “I want my child to start going to recovery meetings and see a counselor regularly”; “I want my son to go into rehab”; “I want my child to treat me with respect”; “I hope it snows on Christmas day”; “I want a better job”, etc.
The core issue is control.
My husband and I learned in 12-step meetings that control is an illusion. We have no control over anything or anyone–except us.This was a rud awakening. Try looking in the mirror and repeatedly telling yourself, “I am not in control!”
There’s nothing we can do to make our desires come true. I’m sorry. I know that’s hard to hear, but it’s a fact we need to accept if we ever want to have joy again.
The problem is that parents of troubled teens or adults tend to turn our desires into goals. That’s where we get into trouble. What happens next? We become frustrated and angry. We set ourselves up for emotional upheaval. We’re miserable (and so is the person we want to control).
What Can We Do?
What can we do? We can pray about the desires we have for our children. We can give them to God–the only one who is in control–then focus on taking care of ourselves.
What are some realistic goals we can do something about? That’s where we should put our focus and energy.
Here is a list you could choose from. Any of these would be good goals:
- See a counselor to work through your feelings.
- Get involved in a support group and participate regularly.
- Educate yourself on the issues your child is dealing with.
- Read uplifting material that will help you cope better.
- Get plenty of rest, exercise and eat healthy.
- Join a Bible Study or small group to find community.
- Draw closer to God (go to a Bible-centered church and read the Scriptures for yourself).
- Keep telling your child you love them no matter what they’ve done (but be careful not to enable them).
You will be less angry and frustrated if you do these things. Making them part of your life can lead you to joy. We all want more of that.
O God, help us see where we’ve gotten our goals and desires mixed up. Please give us the courage we need to let go of our desires and give them to you. Help us lower our expectations especially during a difficult holiday season. Strengthen us to start doing something on this list in the way of having healthy goals. As we do, lead us to find joy once again. We sure need it. In Jesus’ Name, the Joy-Giver. Amen.
This Bible verse is one I like: I will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness (Psalm 145:7 NIV).