My husband and I have had a wonderful marriage to each other for almost 40 years. However, the experience of raising our eight children has, at times, been nightmarish. We have endured virtually every tragedy and disappointment that can befall a family (I won’t go into details to protect my family’s identity). Thankfully, our children are loving and kind – sweet to each other and us. They often don’t approve of each other’s behavior, but show support and try to understand one another. My angst includes the approaching wedding reception of my soon-to-be married son. He and his fiancée are partiers and drinkers. How are we to find the strength to go on with this? How do we celebrate or function (mentally and emotionally) at this kind of event? How can I keep from losing my mind? I know my children have the same gift of agency that I have. I just don’t know how much more I can handle. In our experiences we have been worn down and our approach to most things in life is quite reserved now. In other words our “joy” has been quieted. We are tired and truly tried. Can you offer any advice?
I am grateful to hear you have good relationships with your husband and children despite the painful experiences you’re all experiencing. I can only imagine how disheartening it must be for you to have a front row seat as you watch your children continue to make choices that contradict the values you taught them.
Your question causes me to think of our sweet Savior who was described as a man “acquainted with grief.”[i] It’s strange to think that the only perfect man who lived on the earth was described as a man of sorrows. As much as we work to understand and accept the difficult mortal conditions that surround us, it still doesn’t release us from the very real physical, emotional, and spiritual wear and tear caused by the misuse of agency.
The best way to keep from going crazy is to make sure you’re not facing any of this alone. We are wired to reach out for comfort and support when we’re overwhelmed with fear and pain. Even though reaching out for relief is our default reaction, we often learn other unhealthy ways of coping with stress as we mature.
Sometimes we stay closed and suppress our emotions. Sometimes we turn to addictive substances or behaviors to quiet the fear. We may even create chaos around us to keep from feeling overwhelming pain.
Reaching out when we’re in pain, especially chronic emotional or physical pain, will provide more support and relief than virtually anything else you can do. The two great commandments taught by the Savior instruct us where to reach out. First, it’s critical you continue to reach out to Heavenly Father in a spirit of humility and acceptance. It’s easy to become bitter when nothing turns out the way we planned.
The second commandment to love our neighbor isn’t only about serving others. I believe it’s also teaching us about our need to reach out for love and support from our neighbors. You may feel you have talked so much about this that you have nothing more to say. I encourage you to keep talking to God and to others who have earned the right to know your struggles.
Clearly, you have your husband to provide the emotional comfort, as long as you’re opening up to him about your struggles. This may seem strange, but I also recommend you continue to reach out to your children and connect to them in the ways they’ll receive you. Staying connected to them will keep you from feeling isolated from them, even though they don’t live life like you.
I have a friend whose son chose a life of drugs and distanced himself from the family. My friend realized the only way he could physically connect with his son was to attend his son’s smoke-filled bar band concerts every weekend. He would show up at the bar to watch his son’s band play music he didn’t care for in an environment he detested. However, he knew he was able to be with his son, even for a couple of hours each week.
I appreciate Elder Holland’s encouraging words to keep moving forward in the face of overwhelming odds. For decades, he has delivered some of the most powerful sermons on enduring to the end with hopeful optimism. One of my favorite speeches is the devotional he gave at Brigham Young University when he was president of the university. He was talking to students about their challenges and the overwhelming fear of the future that is so real for students and newlyweds. He used the story of the building of the Salt Lake temple as his backdrop to provide perspective and encouragement in the face of impossible odds. He said:
As long and laborious as the effort may seem, please keep shaping and setting the stones that will make your accomplishment “a grand and imposing spectacle.” Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow. Dream dreams and see visions. Work toward their realization. Wait patiently when you have no other choice. Lean on your sword and rest a while, but get up and fight again. Perhaps you will not see the full meaning of your effort in your own lifetime. But your children will, or your children’s children will, until finally you, with all of them, can give the Hosanna shout.[ii]
Sometimes we feel anxiety that we have a responsibility to fix or change our family members. Your children will benefit from your calm connection and loving presence. Heavenly Father and your dear husband can help hold you while you continue to hold a place for your children.
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.
[ii] “However Long and Hard the Rod” Jeffrey R. Holland.