The Broken-Love Effect

Family systems says being the favored child is the worst position to have in a family. I only understood it theoretically, and through client stories, until lately, as I have watched the effect of it on my youngest grandson. The theory is: a favored position gives you way too much attention, too much pressure, and too much power. It makes you insecure because children can’t handle that much power–they aren’t capable, besides the fallout of making siblings resentful.

As I have shared here, I have lived how hard it is to be a step-parent: to be fair, to not express more affection to your own, to not take their side in everything; and I can’t imagine how much harder it would be when your own is the youngest! But I see the effects on both the favored one, and the older three. And it makes me sad. I love all of them, but the dynamics make me lean toward the older three.

It appears the favored gets all the affectionate words and gestures; to him it computes as power. He can do things, like walking around on the built-in bench during dinner, while his father seems not to notice. If the others even accidentally kick it while eating, a swift reprimand follows. They see the difference and it hurts, even while they try not to let it.

They love and admire their step-dad, more than I have ever seen, and I am afraid his favoritism, even while they try to understand, is going to cause them to disrespect him, and resent the little one–whom they now all love. In one sense they are getting the best fathering, but I see in their eyes the longing for the affection he gives the youngest. But what is the father to do? It’s the effect of bonding–it’s natural. Yet he does seem oblivious to the bad effects of it.

The weight of all this attention, without the boundaries, is ruining the three-year-old, and will make him into someone none of them like or respect. He is insecure and insolent, expecting to get his way, and throwing a fit when he doesn’t. His father can’t seem to say “No” to him. He tries to make it something he wants to do or at least needs to do, “mystification” is what it’s called. (More on that next time.) But the three-year-old easily says, “No” to him! And it’s not his fault. It’s the way he thinks life works. His dad bends to his will. How much he needs that simple “No” that stays solid and doesn’t change, every single day! Maybe twice a day.

I had just written the book on Jacob and Joseph when I began to see this, and it was certainly true in Joseph’s case but with enough variation that it’s easy to downplay. Obviously his brothers hated him because their father favored him. And his father, while he didn’t try to hide it, evidently was affectionate with all of them. Also, the brothers had four mothers! And they knew it was because his mother was favored.

It wasn’t until after she died that the favoritism became ugly. Joseph tells their father an awful thing some of them had done (we aren’t told what) and gets them in trouble. And after that it is on! They hate him. He seems oblivious to their feelings, or at least the extent of them, and treats them as brothers. His father doesn’t seem to realize the depth of their hatred either, or what they are capable of–which he had certainly experienced at Shechem.

Why didn’t all the favor ruin Joseph? Two huge variables: Suffering, and the stories of his father’s faith. The suffering of exclusion was made tolerable because he was so close to his father and spent hours talking with him, especially in the suffering of losing his mother. (Jacob told Joseph all the stories of his own mistakes and his relationship with God. Jacob had run from home because of what he did, and God had forgiven him and gone with him. He promised to be God’s man and God blessed him with his friendship, even though he suffered greatly at the scheming of the dark side.)

Joseph’s suffering exponentially increased a year after losing his mother when his brothers sold him into slavery! He was 17 and from that crucible of pain came a man who determined to be God’s man, no matter what! God honored that choice and made him a huge success–after more suffering. It’s one of my favorite historical stories (episode three of Love’s Playbook) and is a great example of family systems. It was Joseph’s choice and the sharing of his father’s faith stories that made the difference. Joseph’s suffering helped him see things clearly. But would that have happened without the sharing of his father’s faith and stories?

So what can my son-in-law do? He’s a good man, and can be an awesome father to all of them. I believe it. Could he spread the affection around? (I didn’t. I just shut down, expressing little to all of them. It was easier because they criticized me. I tried hard to be fair. I didn’t know until recently that my daughter suffered from it. I thought she got enough. They all suffered.) 

Being a good step-parent takes a lot of awareness and presence and intentionality. It takes inviting dialogue and choosing. It takes time and listening and not discounting the feelings of the others. It takes being secure in yourself and open to others. It takes “liking” your step-children.

It’s a hard job, but it’s worth it. Our legacy is left in the characters of our children. It is the most important thing we do! And I don’t think You can do it without God. It was the sharing of Jacob’s stories of faith in God, and how it had helped him, that helped Joseph make good decisions and brought him through extreme suffering. We are all broken. We are going to make mistakes in parenting. Our love is broken, but it can still have good effects on our children.

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The Love Effect

Yesterday I was with friends who got into a discussion about love. We had just finished reading Love’s Playbook 2 and 3 on Genesis. And the gal leading our group said, What is Genesis about? She told about watching Roadmap Genesis and how good it was, but it never answered the why question.

After all the discussion, I had to say, “It’s about freedom. Freedom and love are so important to God, that They have taken 6,000 years to show it.”

Of course that will be an ongoing discussion because we are just starting the book of Job (episode 4). If you are around Newbury Park, CA, and are inclined, come and join us at The Place, 10:30 Saturday morning.

Afterwards the pastor asked, “What is the Bible about?” and he got all kinds of answers, but not what he was thinking of, “The Kingdom of God.” That’s a good answer. But I, of course, like Love’s Playbook better. (smile) There are many right answers!

This morning I’m thinking about love and the Love Effect. How does love affect us? How does it affect children? Do you see it reflected by yours?

We have a description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, but mostly what it has done for me is make me feel like a failure, not good enough, I’ll never be that! So I came to put God in place of love when I read it, and I really like that. It gave me a whole new picture of God! Sad that I needed one.

I’m finding two classes of people who believe in God. People who believe God is all-good and all-loving, but who don’t read the Bible. And people who see good and evil as both coming from God who may or may not read the Bible, and others who want to see God as good, but read the Bible and get messed up. They come away with all kinds of questions.

If you read it you understand. It happened to me.

That is precisely why I am writing it. We can’t get better than our picture of God. Writing Judges really challenges this–even from a cosmic war perspective.

One thing that has really helped me is my friend Jean’s explanation; she is an ancient (Biblical) languages scholar. She says that there are two voices of God in scripture. His preferred will, and his allowed will. Most of the time we are seeing His allowed will. God values freedom so much that They (all three of Them) are willing to suffer to establish it!

Why? Because love isn’t real without it. Love is a choice.

I talked last time about love being a choice more than a feeling. And that is definitely true. At the same time, I heard myself telling a client this week that like is probably more important to a good marriage than love. You can choose to love anyone. But to like and admire someone, which makes him/her much easier to live with, requires a lot of like.

What does this have to do with children?

You obviously don’t always like them, but if you have any health, you always love them. And even when you don’t like them you can choose to love them.

But what is the love effect? How are our children affected by our love?

Love should not make us afraid. There should be no fear in love. Respect? YES! Fear? No!

I have a grandson that usually looks at you from under his eyebrows. It’s hard to describe. But his eyes are “closed” while they are open, and he almost always looks like he’s waiting to get in trouble, or expecting to get yelled at. He has been yelled at a lot. They all have–all eight of them. What makes the difference?

Love should not make us hide. God doesn’t want us to hide. That is when shame grows. It comes between us and Him–between us and people. We hide when we feel not good about ourselves–and we all have those places.

We see the first result of sin (separating from God, separating from love) as hiding in Adam and Eve. Hiding and shame are the same thing. The way you kill shame is in sharing with someone who loves you and accepts you. Do you feel that way with God? Do your kids feel that  way with you?

Love makes us confident. We can always feel sure about  going to someone who loves us, no matter how badly we have blown it. Even if we know they will be angry or sad, we still feel better when they know.

Love makes us relaxed. “Ah the comfort of feeling safe with a person…” said the poet. Intimacy is safety. When we know we are loved, we relax.

Love makes us secure. Security is the number one love factor for a woman. For children, boundaries make security–knowing what is expected is comforting.

Love gives us delight. God delights in you. Is that a crazy thought to you? He really does. Scripture is full of it–one of my favorites is Zeph. 3:17.

Love should give us love. When we are loved and feel it, it makes us more loving. Love is energy, it comes to us by receiving love. Think of it as electricity–you have to plug into the source.

Love should make us free. When we love someone, we leave them free to make their own choices. God does that  with us. We are absolutely free to choose against Them, and They are always hoping we won’t. They want to save us from the natural result of our brokenness, but they will respect our choice.

We can die if we prefer deathstyle to relationship.

So we need to train our children, help them make good choices, but leave them free to choose when they are adults. Just like God does with us.

 

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The Importance of Respect

Next to love and freedom, respect is God’s biggest value! We can teach respect while we don’t think of teaching love because we think of love as a feeling. Actually love is more commitment (decision) than  feeling, but it does usually include feeling–at least compassion.

How do I know this is so huge to God? I’ve believed it for years. But after finishing the book on God’s law ( Love’s Playbook 6, Exodus 24-Deuteronomy) I’ve had it confirmed for me. My favorite quote from the whole book is “If you love Me, My commandments will keep you,” which is a literal rendering of John 14:15 always translated, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”

My husband and I were on a mission in Chile, and using our interlinear Greek and English New Testament (smaller and easier to travel with.) And for the first time I was focused on the emotion of the disciples while reading. Jesus has just told them one of them will betray him, told Peter he will deny him three times, and then says He is leaving them. They are a mess!

And chapter 14 begins with Him comforting them. So He is saying all these comforting words and then suddenly says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments”? That seemed so out of place, downright odd! It didn’t fit the context. And as I read the next line, He says, “And I will ask Abba and He will send you another comforter,” back to comforting them again. I thought It doesn’t fit! So I went to the interlinear side and sure enough, I read “If you love Me, My commandments will keep you.” That made sense. Why had no one ever seen this before?

I asked everyone I could for the next six months, and no one knew; it was just Greek syntax. Finally a friend of mine gave me an answer that made sense, “They couldn’t think like that.” Of course, the collective consciousness hadn’t evolved that far! They were all about religion being rules they had to keep. No one would ever have turned it around to be God’s rules keep us. And yet doesn’t that make more sense with everything you know about God and parenting? You give your kids rules to keep them safe, healthy, congenial, and happy. Yes, even happy. Bedtime protects their happiness as well as yours.

And that is exactly how God started teaching the Israelites who had been slaves with no choices for 100 years. He gave them His laws. When Moses says it in Deuteronomy, and David says it in Psalms, it’s as if they can’t believe that God would do such an awesome thing, “He gave them HIS LAWS!” As if it was a total condescension for God to give us His laws!

Every law of God is based on respect. And respect is the basic form of love. First respect for God, second parents, and then everyone else. Even His ordinances were all about respecting others. The plan was to make life easy and happy. Not that it is easy to go against your natural inclination and reaction. But it does make for easier, happier relationships.

I don’t remember being taught respect. I’m sure we were–all I can remember is “Chew with you mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full, because I said so,” etc. and to be sure my parents modeled some respect (they had been raised Mennonite), but I don’t know that I was taught respect except at school (especially in religion class).

But every place you are in touch with people, there are rules governing whatever you can do and can’t do. Driving is one of the most natural. If you’ve ever driven in a place like Haiti you understand: rules prevent chaos and death. It’s much more sane and pleasant to drive following the rules.

When you give slaves freedom what do they do? Either go crazy doing whatever they want, or sit still in fear, afraid to make choices and mistakes. So of course, God gave them rules.

There is a slight difference the way we use the words laws and rules. Laws are more likely to refer to natural law like gravity, and rules are more likely to adapt to organizations. Rules are more changeable than laws. Laws are just the way things work. If you defy natural laws, they break you; you can’t really break them. If you choose to jump off of a tall building you probably won’t succeed at defying gravity, unless someone has a net set up. Rules you can break, and maybe you will get away with it, and maybe not. The point is God gave laws and rules for protection and comfort and happiness.

When you have 2,000,000 people camping in the wilderness without bathrooms and running water and refrigeration, you’d better have some rules if you don’t want disease epidemics! That is so obvious to us now–but it wasn’t to them. It is so obvious to God that relationships require the same common-sense rules–but it isn’t to us. We think backwards because of the paradox of life on this planet: We were created to run on love, but we don’t anymore. It is not our first and most natural impulse or reaction. If you hit me, I want to hit you harder. If you hurt me, I want to hurt you more.

This weekend we are celebrating the biggest event of human history–besides creation. We are celebrating that Jesus lifted natural law for us by living as our “Do-Over”–the second Adam, or the second unbroken man–this one  was successful at keeping God’s law. Then He gave us the choice to accept his death as our death to the law of sin and death–our ways, and choose His life, maintained by living His laws–His ways. We won’t do it perfectly. He of course has to teach us those. And He is happy to do that with our permission. Putting them into our desires (called “writing it on our hearts” in scripture).

I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of respect. Satan introduced our world to the law of sin and death–disrespect, or do as you please, that ends in death–also called the curse of sin and death. It all pivots on respect. Not that we have to worry about learning it, we just have to be willing to. As Paul says “From first to last it is the work of God.” Our work is choosing.

And teaching our children respect will make it easier for them to love.

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Love is Helping Build Identity

I love the quote by William James that says, If the young knew how soon they will become walking bundles of habits, they would take more care to make good choices while in the plastic state. That isn’t verbatim, but it’s close. (Have you seen the commercial of the 14-year-old boy vaping and saying “It’s just what I do”?)

James goes on to say one of the best things parents can do for children is help them set good habits, so they are free to be creative, not having to waste energy on making decisions about getting enough sleep, exercising, eating good food, brushing their teeth, washing their hands and faces, manners, not vaping etc. It makes life much easier, happier, and more creative. And that means confidence.

But this is important: helping your kids is not doing it for them! Or in the other ditch, assuming they will learn what they need. Love is helping them gain skills to build a foundation, a confident identity.

I had a client years ago who was helping her daughter with her homework–mostly doing it for her. When I learned how much she was really doing I confronted her about what she was doing to the child. “You aren’t really helping her, you are crippling her. She isn’t learning what she should be learning and she isn’t building confidence. Unless you want her handicapped for the rest of her life, you need to apologize that you didn’t realize what you were doing to her and stop. She’ll whine and plead for awhile and then she will adjust.”

The mother immediately took my suggestion and implemented it. A year later, the daughter was doing much better. And two years later was thriving and three years later excelling. The mother is grateful; the daughter, now a woman, is even more grateful for her confidence and independence.

We love our children and want to make life easy for them, and that is natural, but helping is such a tricky arena. A healthy two-year old says, “I do it by self!” and hopefully we let them try with guidance. We are teaching them to harness their energy, and gain skill. This is critical. They all get bumps and bruises.

Later on we will teach them to choose. Good choices make a good life. People who haven’t developed the skills for making good choices have difficulty. But we don’t start by letting them choose what they eat or if they wear a jacket when it’s 50 degrees. We make decisions their brains aren’t prepared to make.

My daughter now has her first teenage son who has his first girlfriend. Now there’s a delicate situation for parenting. She’s doing a lot of communicating–listening and sharing. There are few life skills that are more life-determining than learning how to treat the opposite sex, and the choices you make while dating. She has been aware for years that what they see at home, and her relationship with them sets the tone for how they treat girls and the girl they will choose to marry.

Writing the Bible has been very revealing about the importance of identity and foundations. Now finishing Joshua, I can feel the angst he feels in dying and leaving these people, fearing they still aren’t ready to make good decisions when he is gone. Will they follow Adonai? It takes more than two generations to overcome the effects of Egyptian slavery. He would feel so much better if he knew they would follow God’s plan to take out all the inhabitants in their country. But they take the easy way, and it takes many of them out.

Adonai tells them He will fight for them but He doesn’t make them take their land. He lets them choose. They evidently rationalize that mercy is better. But it didn’t prove better for them. Most lost their identity as His people–and His protection. So sad.

God knows what we need. He wants the best for us. Doesn’t want us to miss being  our true selves. That’s what it means to be jealous for us. Too bad we don’t have the confidence to listen.

While proof reading this, I heard a great quote on KLOVE, “Be weird, be random, be who you are, because you never know who would love the person you are hiding.” C.S. Lewis

 

 

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Love is Not Perfection

My mother never had a question that her children would be perfect! Yes! Really! She really told me that once.

She said it in answer to my question, “Where did your perfectionism come from? Was Grandma a perfectionist?” It didn’t seem like it to me, but then…

“She taught us the right way to do things, and when I learned there was a right way and a wrong way, I wanted to do them the right way. And I never even thought about my children doing anything other than that. I was just sure you would all be perfect and do things right.”

I was amazed. Because I could relate to wanting to be perfect and always do things right, but I wasn’t very old before I disagreed with her that her ways were right! In fact at nine years old I was sure her ways were not right.

I had mopped and waxed the kitchen while she was at work, and all she had asked me to do was the dishes. I was so excited I couldn’t wait for her to get home. I must have always been seeking praise or approval by then, because I was sure I would get it.

The rub came because I didn’t see any reason to dry dishes that would dry by themselves if you gave them a little time. That was a waste! (I guess I thought I needed to prove it. Why wouldn’t I have figured out I should put them away before she got there?)

You’ve probably guessed the rest of the story. She came home and asked me why I hadn’t finished the dishes. (It’s so what I did with my kids–it kills me! I always noticed what was wrong before I noticed what was right.)

I had to point out that I had done the floor, but I don’t remember if I did that right away; I was so deflated and so angry that I vowed never to do anything nice for her again. (That’s why I think I was an approval seeker–to get so crazy so fast, I must  have had some need I was trying to fill or some lie {false belief} I was trying to manage. “Not- good-enough” was a huge one of mine.) And if you think that reaction was over-the-top, you are right. However, I don’t find it is all that rare.

And the dark side loves vows we make in anger. That’s great software for them to play with, emphasize, make spin-offs of, and manipulate for their use. Also get other people to trigger! I just learned that this is called “soul play.”

Expecting perfection is a real relationship breaker, emotional crippler, and way to set up failure or over-achieving in your kids. I probably don’t need to say anything more, but you may need to look hard at yourself to know if you expect perfection from your kids. We have such blinders when it comes to ourselves. Ask your kids–kids are usually great responders and sources of truth if they aren’t afraid of you.

And then there is the opposite. You may have thought this blog doesn’t pertain to you at all because you are laid-back and non-demanding. But there are two other ways this affects your kids.

The mom or dad who demands perfection from themselves may let there kids get by without helping and try to do everything themselves. After all if you want something done right, do it yourself is a fairly common thought. Or it’s easier and quicker to do it myself than to fight with them, is another common parental pitfall. They need to learn basic life skills. They need to feel needed and important to the family. It’s important to their development and success.

Or perhaps you are the parent who didn’t learn to help at home. Didn’t learn how to make your bed, or keep your room neat, or pick up after yourself, or do your own laundry, and you are cool living in a mess. It doesn’t bother you and probably isn’t important to teach your kids. But has it caused stress to you or your relationships, or your spouse? Your children? And you don’t know it!

There is a happy medium, a middle of this road. Give your kids chores, but don’t fight with them or yell at them or abuse them over chores. You are the parent, the authority, you don’t need to yell or fight.  Just make reasonable consequences and follow through. No need to get emotional  and stressed, just enforce consequences, every time, before you get angry.

Structure, boundaries, skills and community are important things to learn and teach. Orderly life makes everyone feel better and function better. We see that in God. Families who are healthy enjoy each other’s company. They actually enjoy being together, and they build each other up. But it is definitely something that is taught and modeled.

Don’t expect perfection. You aren’t perfect, and they aren’t going to be either. Grace is more important. God doesn’t expect perfection. He knows there is no way we could ever meet his level of rightness. We don’t think like He (They) do. And there is no way we can, we are broken. But His covenant with us is to put His (Their) ways into our hearts so we want to think like Them. Someday They will heal our brokenness and then right will become natural to us.

I can’t wait! But until then. Love is not demanding or expecting perfection. But neither is it expecting nothing. As long as they are under your roof, you need to offer structure and education. It makes love and happiness easier.

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Love and Affection

While being too soft, as in permissive with your children, is a bad thing, there is another kind of softness children require and thrive on, and that is affection. You don’t have to be continually hugging and kissing them, though kisses and hugs are important;  everyone needs touch in order to thrive. Babies need it to survive. Failure to Thrive Syndrome is from an absence of touch and attention. Infants have died from it. But another important kind of affection is the reflection children see of themselves in your eyes.

Eyes are great communicators. They are how we know and are known. Amazing how important connection is. Eyes are our first connection along with smell and sound. Even before our brains recognize Mommy and Daddy, are senses do. We come out of a normal birth revved up with hormones for bonding. Isn’t that just the coolest thing! We are made for connection. Programmed for love relationships.

A poignant illustration of this came to me through a graduate teacher. We became friends and stayed in touch until she died. One day we were on the phone and she asked me what I thought about a girl she had met. Her mother was blind, and this poor girl had no sense of self–she hadn’t gotten the reflection of herself in her mother’s eyes. (I don’t know where her dad was.) How sad. She had a mother who loved her and cared for her. But she couldn’t see that she was loved, couldn’t get a sense of who she was from looking into her mother’s eyes–through no fault of her mother.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” Maybe he wasn’t the first to say it, but he brings to mind lovers gazing into each other’s eyes. Eyes are important for children too. I have worked with clients whose mother’s were Narcissistic Personality Disorders, and they also struggle to find a sense of self. I’ve also seen it come from a narcissistic father or an alcoholic father, and a mother who is so preoccupied with him, that it makes her emotionally unavailable. Her children struggle with identity. Both boys and girls are affected, but a girl is even more so because women are more relationship-oriented than men.

 Children need relationships to grow up healthy, and relationships built on love and trust, affection and boundaries are the best. Especially when the parents are healthy and their children can see love in their eyes.

Parents who are emotionally unavailable are often too busy to look into their children’s eyes. Or they are too uncomfortable themselves, or too shut down to reflect love. A child given minimal or no eye contact arrives at adulthood with crippling deficits.

Another parent who often fails to give eye approval is one who feels badly about herself or himself. One who has what I call “walls behind the eyes”–eyes that can see but are afraid to let anyone see inside them. These eyes don’t reflect love or admiration either. We sense that people can see into us through our eyes, and so we avoid eye contact. We don’t want to be vulnerable. But vulnerability is good.

Sometimes the love is there but we are afraid to have it seen. I developed this as a child. I had an older brother that I thought was the best! This was after my little brother came along, no doubt. My dad had a new baby to hold; I was four and I was looking for approval elsewhere. But my open-faced, wide-eyed expectation of approval didn’t get what it was looking for. This was about the time my sister and I became friends and he was left out. So I became the object of his rejection or anger. And my eyes began to close inside.

I could feel it as an adult, but had no idea where it had come from until I began to do my own internal work. Sadly, I was already a mother. Gladly, she was still young. I know I had enough self to give her the love and eye contact when she was tiny. I remember being so in love with her. Those God-given hormones that prepare us for bonding are amazing! They can overcome a lot!

But as children become more challenging it takes much more thought and choice to be present with them, especially in meaningful ways that build in healthy self-worth. They still need affection, even when it gets harder to give, and they become harder to love. And with step-children you can’t rely on the bond established by early hormones. They take more choice and commitment and thought. But that’s love. It is commitment more than feeling.

We can ask God to give us love for the people around us so they can see the love they need in our eyes.  Think of it! God’s love flows through your eyes! Yesterday we were celebrating our loving pastor we lost to cancer. God had healed her so obviously, and then He allowed it to come back and take her. I mention her because she had such a gift of love and it seemed to come through her eyes so naturally to young and old alike. What a gift! There is nothing to be afraid of here. I believe we can ask for that gift and get it.

 

 

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Sometimes Love is Hard

We get discouraged because we think love should be easy. I was married to someone for seven years who believed love should always be easy, and if it stopped being easy then it wasn’t love. He was in love with falling in love, which he did many times. I was his second wife. I divorced him, but my daughter couldn’t.

His belief that love should be easy controlled her relationship with him as well–at least easy for him. She waited and waited for him. He didn’t come. She is the only person I know who hates getting flowers for her birthday. But he was there for her graduation and her wedding. He has come to see her and her children a few times, but though he always professes love for her and thoughts of her, he almost never calls.  (I think she’s gotten over hating flowers with her new husband.)

Most of us know married love is hard at times. But so is parental love. These are the two best educations we get in life.

We are all hard to love now and again. We don’t usually think so, but it’s true anyway. Those of us who suspect we are hard to love often make it worse by unwittingly sabotaging other people’s attempts to love us, making it harder.

Parental love is easy because God has built it into our very hormones. But as soon as they are born it gets hard. I remember the exhaustion, wondering if I’d ever be not-tired again. Then the development of their own wills, and the constant testing of your boundaries makes it hard. And that never stops until they leave. Even then you worry about their choices.

Probably the hardest part of love is putting your wants aside for their needs. This is especially true with children and spouses. We often don’t even think of children as having needs. They are just supposed to obey and do what they are told. We are meeting basic needs of survival, but often dismiss emotional needs. We are often so wrapped up in ourselves and our own needs that we can’t realize theirs. And that is true for spouses too. It’s easy to think of them as there to meet our needs. (We are all a little narcissistic.)

When we come home wiped out after work, and are  just struggling to be present we feel too tired to give. Or maybe we started the day too tired to give. Those are tough times. Fatigue makes it hard to have a good attitude and pour into others, or even be concerned for them.

Emotional fatigue is exhausting–maybe more than physical–and that is bad enough! It becomes a vicious cycle because it’s hard to take care of yourself when you are exhausted for any reason. But emotional fatigue makes us want to eat poorly,  or do other destructive things like binge, drink or smoke, to soothe ourselves and then we feel worse physically the next day, keeping us down. It’s hard to get out of that cycle. So what can you do?

Here again, the power of choice is huge. Even when you feel too tired to smile you can choose to. Choice is empowering and smiling makes you feel better. Try it. The next time you are exhausted with nothing to give, choose to be present and positive. Just be in your space with your children. Notice how they feel, even to ask is respectful. Share that you struggle too, and tell them choosing helps. Model it and teach it. Help them learn to control themselves while young–what a blessing that is to gift into a kid!

Self-care isn’t easy but it is worth it. It pays huge dividends. Boundaries for yourself are harder to set and keep than they are to make and hold for your children! More important too. (As already said,  what we have caught is stronger than what we are taught, and that comes from modeling–simply watching parents.) Remember, part of self-care is trusting God. Don’t carry all that emotional fatigue–give it to Him. He loves you. Or get into therapy, figure it out and deal with it. I watch God heal emotional fatigue weekly.

Boundaries are the hard side of love–whether your own or the ones you set for children. Holding those boundaries makes security, which is so important for successful living. Love is the core of a good life, and love is 90% commitment. You make a choice and build on it. You give what is needed. And that is mostly presence. Just being. It isn’t perfection, you can’t give that. But be honest, be available, and be affectionate to all of them, not just the ones who are easy to like. The hard ones probably need affection the most. It’s hard I know. But God will help you. Meeting their needs helps meet your own.

And choose wisdom, know that you don’t know how to do this yourself. You don’t even know yourself–not really. Peter was sure he wouldn’t deny Jesus! He didn’t know himself or what he was up against. So ask for help. Yes love is hard. But God wants you to raise responsible kids who have been loved and know how to love–it’s important to Him and our world–especially when it’s hard.

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Love is Kind


Kindness is making a comeback for people who care. We  are thinking about it, maybe because we have had so many mass shootings and school-shootings this year, that they are happening every week. I heard a stat on their frequency that I didn’t even believe! People are becoming traumatized, scared, desensitized, and sensitized towards kindness.

We can think this evil comes from people with big issues, whose minds aren’t working properly, and dismiss finding a reason. And say if we weren’t closing mental hospitals and institutions, it wouldn’t be happening.

Some of that may be true. But I’ve started to wonder about kindness in families. Are we taught it? I’ve already talked about how permissiveness is not love; it is weakness. There may be more desire for kindness, but kindness has strength.

Kindness is a choice, just like love is a choice, and tends more toward giving what is needed than what is wanted. And I think our permissive parenting from the past 20-50 years comes from weakness more than strength; and it has produced adults who value independence, but don’t necessarily value kindness, and don’t have the strength to carry it off.

Did your parents make sure that your siblings were kind to you? Did they teach you to be kind to each other? Did they stop rudeness and meanness? Did they value kindness? Were they kind to you?

Don’t confuse kindness with permissiveness. There is a big difference. A permissive parent doesn’t want to deal with the hard stuff of teaching values, and giving appropriate, respectful discipline by setting and holding boundaries. They want you to learn by trial and error, and only discipline when they are angry (punishment). A kind parent cares what you value and realizes that we aren’t born caring about others, we have to learn it. We are born with both good and evil tendencies through our epigenetics.

If we are loved well, we get it. If we have personalities that tend toward kindness we are fortunate. But most of us at least need modeling in kindness. The opposite can bring it up too–we see evil happening in meanness and it pulls up kindness and justice from deep inside.

Kindness can be excited by unfairness, and that is why it is a strength and needs strength. But it must be balanced. It is not rushing in to rescue someone who needs to work through their own process of learning. That kind of rescue is called enabling and it is not kind. But neither is letting kids be mean to each other as a way of learning to stand up for themselves. One of my adult clients struggles from the pain of childhood because his dad pitted them against each other.

I wasn’t “taught” kindness at home. It wasn’t modeled between my parents, however, they were kind to others, especially my mother. But I was so picked on by an older brother, and so afraid of being taken advantage of, that not much of it was “caught” either.

It is such a deficit to grow up not consciously valuing kindness! And I know I was taught it in church and school! Being bullied can make you defensive or kind–it can go either way. I organized my identity around self-protection.

I still remember the shock of reading in scripture (when I was 40!) that God didn’t value self-protection. That He wanted me to trust Him and be vulnerable. He might as well have said jump over the moon! But I couldn’t get away from it. It was everywhere. And it became very important for me to see that God is kind. (I just realized that might be why I am writing the Bible as a story of God’s goodness in Their family. My master’s project was seeing Him as a parent. Wow! Never realized this before.)

And yes, I have found that God is kind–even when He appears not to be. There are two words in Hebrew for God’s will: one is Their preferred will, and the other is Their allowed will. Guess which one They get to use most often?

Right! Their allowed will. All through scripture, most of the time, They are deferring to human will. That is why it is so important to look at God’s story from a cosmic perspective with the backdrop of a war between good and evil–especially with our broken viewpoints!*

But Spirit heals our brokenness–makes our hearts whole–helps us manifest God’s character of kindness–gives us joy! Many of us talk about Spirit and Jesus, but don’t receive help because we want to be in control ourselves–we never surrender. And surrender gives us ability to receive!
But if we want to manage ourselves, God will let us.

 

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The Effect of a Narcissistic Parent

I saw this and thought I’d use it later, but then I thought maybe you grew up with a narcissist as a parent, so I would sneak it in. We all have tendencies towards narcissism, but a true Narcissistic Personality Disorder is on a whole different level and usually comes from trauma by the age of 3. NPD’s are never wrong, don’t say I’m sorry, and can’t see from another person’s perspective. The problem is never them, and they are masters at turning things around to make you feel guilty. They built a silo around themselves when young because life and people weren’t safe. They don’t relate to people as people, but objects. If this was your parent you may have the symptoms below. You may have also adopted some narcissistic traits of your own, but you can learn to see them and choose something different and heal. True Narcissistic Personality Disorders very rarely change, but if you were raised by one you can.

5 Signs You Haven’t Fully Healed from Narcissistic Abuse

By Eric Perry, PhD-c

“Narcissistic people are always struggling with the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around them.” ~Unknown

It is common for individuals who experience narcissistic abuse to suffer in silence or not even know that they are being abused. Because narcissists are master manipulators, they can be very difficult to spot. Narcissist abuse syndrome is a term used by mental health professionals to describe individuals who have been victimized to the extent that long-term negative effects may seem insurmountable to the victim. Before we can heal, we must identify the signs telling us that healing must be a priority. Here are some of those signs.

1. Trusting again seems impossible
If you are experiencing the effects of narcissistic abuse, chances are you find it difficult to trust others and maybe even yourself. Let’s not assume that the world is a safe and harmonious place. Trust must be earned. However, if you find yourself hiding in isolation, this might be a sign that there is room for growth. Don’t assume that people are healthy for you just because you have known them forever or they are family. Start small and listen to your intuition. If you feel like your intuition is untrustworthy, it is time to seek the support of a mental health professional.

2. Constantly doubting yourself
A narcissist will train you from the beginning to doubt yourself. They are masters at love bombing until their victim is reliant on the love bombs. If you are not familiar with the term love bombing, it means to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection. It makes sense that a person would experience self-doubt once their steady stream of affection and affirmation are taken away.

3. Blaming yourself
Let’s start here. It isn’t your fault. During your experience with the narcissist, maybe you felt the need to collude with the narcissist in order to feel at least some sense of control. It isn’t your fault that you had to or felt the need to do this. Sometimes, we make unhealthy compromises just to feel like we are not completely powerless. Also, keep in mind that narcissists use guilt and shame as weapons to control their victims. Say this out loud, “It isn’t my fault that a narcissist weaved their way into my life. I will learn from my experience and commit myself to living the fullest life possible.”

4. Feeling confused and sometimes even cr*zy
Gas-lighting means to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. Narcissists are experts at this. Journaling is a great remedy for making sense out of where your confusion or feelings might be coming from. As many of you know (to the bloggers out there), writing is a great way to make sense of your thoughts. Try this, take out a sheet of paper and a pen, or open up a blank document and write a short but honest reflection on why you have been feeling confused. Let the words flow without criticism or judgment. After you finish writing, read it back to yourself. Did you find answers? If not, try again soon. Try to go deep. The answers are within you. Here’s a hint, your confusion and feelings are not because of you. Whispers… it’s the narc.

5. Everything feels hopeless
Are you familiar with the term hoovering? The hoover maneuver is an attempt to see if a prior target of abuse can be conned into another cycle of abuse, resulting in the abusive person reclaiming a sense of power and control by causing pain to a target. This pain can be emotional and sometimes physical. Feelings of hopelessness often arise when a narcissist hoovers their victim. Have you completely cut ties with the narcissist? If you haven’t, this might be a reason why you are feeling hopeless.

 

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Love Is Not Control

Throughout this series I want to keep bringing us to the definition of love, because we have come to think that love is yes. Now here’s the rub if God is love, and God is yes (which He is) than why isn’t love yes? Because God is not broken and we are. And while God is yes, He doesn’t always say “Yes.” And neither should we, as I wrote in the last two blogs. Love is not letting your child do whatever he/she wants, but neither is it total control.

In a broken world where we all start out self-centered, love is at least half “No” if not more. Why? Because it gives us security. Somebody loves me enough to give me boundaries, and boundaries make me feel safe. Somebody cares enough to do the hard thing and make sure I stay safe within those boundaries. Cares enough to stand up to me when I’m wrong. Cares enough to take the time and effort to correct me so I don’t crash and burn–(become addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, or porn by the time I’m an adult).

Remember how we are born; we have to learn everything. True, we have parental conditioning through those things that sit on top of our DNA and tell it how to express itself (epigenetics), but we still have developing brains that have to learn about everything. God knows everything.

And to a baby, parents know everything. We’ve had experience. Hopefully we’ve had good modeling. And hopefully, enough wisdom to know what we don’t know and get help. Also hopefully, we have enough confidence to use the education.

For a baby control is needed because they have none. So self-control in a parent is crucial to give their child what’s best in care–time, attention, and good responses to needs. Self-control as a parental necessity never stops, because the control in parental love is always changing with the need to be constantly giving more freedom until they are an adult, when the parent relinquishes control. Believe me that takes self-control too.

We could say that while love is not control, it is all about self-control: giving the amount of control that is needed at the appropriate time. A beautiful example of this was my daughter with her seven-year-old. The boys were tracked out while I was there and returned to school the day before I left. The day I left he didn’t want to go to school, and cried but went. The following day he had a stomach ache and stayed home, and the next didn’t want to go, but after listening to him, his mother said “You need to go. We all need to do hard things at times. Jeremy didn’t feel like going to work today either. I’m tired and don’t feel like taking care of the baby and Jack. I’ll bake you a cake and tonight we will have a special dinner to celebrate that we can do hard things.” So they did and it was a great success. And from time to time it gets reinforced.

It takes a lot of wisdom to know how much control to give, and when to let them try and fail. Too many choices too early are overwhelming to a child.

In the beginning there are no choices, and gradually they can choose what to play with or what to wear. Choices in food should be limited to between two healthy choices if any. Most tastes are developed and you are giving a gift of health if you help your children establish tastes and habits that are good for them. (That takes a lot of self-control on your part too.)

I’ve said many times that parental modeling is the strongest influence there is, and your self-control or lack of it will be imprinted on them. It is one of the most important things they learn from you, and most of it is caught rather than taught.

Some of you have been reading this with a nagging thought in the background, How can she say God is not controlling? because you read the Bible and think about all those laws.

I used to think that. But after writing the book about all those laws, I saw that the people He was leading were developmentally babies from 100 years of slavery when they had no choices and lost God’s ideas of what was good for them. So God spelled out His ways–which were so much better than any laws around them. They still spell out His good will (the way things work), and they never were the means to ultimate salvation, they simply made it possible for God to do whatever They (Abba, Adonai, Ruach) needed to do to protect and provide for their covenant people according to the rules of engagement in this war. Adonai was their king. You must give allegiance to a king and his laws to get protection and favors.

If you still have questions about God and law read Love’s Playbook: Cosmic Chess–the story of God’s law from Exodus through Deuteronomy. But you might like to start with book 5 which ends with the positive form of the Ten Commandments. (They were positive in Hebrew.)

We are developmental beings, a perfect place for the reality of love and freedom to be exhibited. Control is not love–never when you are adult to adult. But for parents control is built in and very important to use and not abuse, and grow out of.

Till next time…

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