I’ve come to a conclusion after watching the 2020 Olympics. The Olympics and painful parenting have something in common. Like many of the athletes, parents of troubled adult children are worn out from dashed expectations and unsuccessful attempts to control their kids. They have hard decisions to make.
World champions went to the games with high expectations for winning a medal or setting a world record. After all, they are the best in the world. Time, money, and energy were invested and sacrifices were made. They set goals, trained hard, persevered, and devoted themselves for years. They wanted to guarantee they did everything in their power to make their dreams came true.
Everyone Can’t Win
But everyone can’t win. Most who went to Tokyo won’t get to stand on the stage for photos with flowers and a medal around their necks. Athletes with unfulfilled hopes and dreams were let down, disappointed, and discouraged. Some were devastated. Last night, I watched as one man couldn’t finish his televised interview, too overwhelmed with emotion. He came in fourth place…there would be no celebration for him. Then there was the gymnast Simone Biles (I’m sure you probably heard what happened). She had to accept her limitations. She could do her best and no more.
The clock determined the results of some events, while others were in the hands of judges. Athletes had to surrender to the outcome. They could protest, but ultimately had no control over how things turned out. Most didn’t go home with media accolades or claims to fame.
Do you see any commonalities between the Olympics and brokenhearted parents yet?
I do.For fifteen years I was on a difficult path with my daughter. Today I realize how much pressure I put on myself to be perfect. My expectations were high—for her and for me. If I did everything right, shouldn’t she thrive in every way? After all, I tried to be the best parent I could be. What could go wrong? Where’s my medal?
Great amounts of time and energy were joyfully invested to ensure all three of my children turned out well. I never expected anything to go awry. When my middle child struggled with anxiety, cutting, and substances, I was devastated. How could this happen? What more could I have done?
Disappointmented and discouraged, I’d left no room in my parental belief system for this apparent failure.
There’s nothing wrong with having big dreams for our children, but after we do our best, like Olympic athletes, we have to surrender and let go of the outcome. Once they’re adults, we have little to no influence over what happens in our sons’ and daughter’s lives. We need to release them to God and trust Him to work where we cannot. This is no easy task, I admit that, but for me, finally…
I let go of trying to control, fix or change my child. I gave her back to God and left her in His hands.
Choosing to let go of my controlling behaviors was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. There was no guarantee of what would happen. Letting go felt scary, even wrong, but I learned from other seasoned parents that this was what I had to do. Could this be what you need to do but you don’t know how or if you can? These five choices helped me. Maybe they’ll help you.
Five Choices that Can Help:
- Allow consequences. Leave room for mistakes. Goals are good, but try not to set the bar too high. Leave room for poor choices common to maturing adolescents. You’re not perfect, either. Expect some challenges, but be careful not to become cynical. Pray for God to show up in unmistakeable ways.
- Refuse guilt. Reject believing this is somehow your fault. Accept what is. You did the best you could. Beating yourself up won’t change anything. Your child gets to choose what they will do. So do you.
- Trust God. Don’t play the what if game. You won’t win. Instead of worrying, remember God is in control and loves them even more than you do. Shift your thinking to even if the worst thing happens, He will be with you. You are not alone.
- Get help. Find resources. No athlete ever qualified for the Olympics without participating on special teams and receiving excellent coaching. Greatness wasn’t achieved by their efforts alone. They depended on experts. Like world-class athletes, wisdom is accepting the help from those who know more than you.
- Never give up. Persevere in prayer. Refuse to quit believing your child can change. Like a marathon, keep your eyes on the goal: to cross the finish line of faith. You never know what tomorrow might bring. Anything is possible with God.
What does the Bible say?
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Pray with me: Dear God, please heal the heart of every disappointed, worn out parent who reads this. Help them be content with what is and make peace with what they cannot change. Give them victory in You as they let go of what they hoped for and trust You to work in their children’s lives.
A book that helped me trust God with disappointment: Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams. (on our recommended books list)
A book that helped me pray: The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children by Stormie Omartian (also on our book list)
What helped you let go of your attempts to control and trust God instead?