QUESTION: My daughter’s husband consistently cheated on her, and she finally divorced him. A couple of years later, she met a wonderful man and they married. Together they have a little boy and her new husband brought a 5-year-old girl into the marriage. It seems he had the same problem with his first marriage as my daughter did.
This second marriage for my daughter is what I would call “made in heaven.” Her new husband adores her and they are a happy family. My daughter truly loves her stepdaughter, and the little girl loves her little brother. You’re probably going to tell me this is none of my business, but my daughter still harbors a lot of anger toward her ex-husband. Their marriage was all about him. Now, she has a loving partner and they share everything from childcare to housekeeping, etc.
I’m concerned about my daughter’s anger. Every time the subject comes up, and believe me I avoid it as much as I can, she still rages. I know Jesus said, “Forgive 70 times 7.” Are there any practical suggestions you can add that perhaps I could suggest to her?
~ Loving Mom
Dear Loving Mom,
I am glad that your daughter has found happiness in her second marriage. I hope she knows how lucky and blessed she is. Not all second marriages are “made in heaven” to use your words. I’m glad you mentioned Jesus and forgiving somebody “70 times 7”. I have always thought that when Jesus said we should forgive, I think he realized how important our own mental health is. By not forgiving somebody – and that somebody may not even know that he has offended us or has forgotten that he has offended us – we are giving that person power over us! (Tell that to your daughter and see how she responds!)
Our forgiving somebody helps us, not the jerk who did the offending. Also, your daughter by not moving beyond her rage may still harbor some love for her first husband, no matter how much she might deny the idea. So continue to urge her to forgive, or at least move beyond, husband No. 1. Hate, I believe, is often the other side of love so by continuing to harbor ill feelings for the cheater she is, in a way, holding something back from the man she now claims to adore. Again, tell her to forgive and forget “Lothario” because her forgiving won’t help him but her.
That Jesus was one wise dude!
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
Dear Loving Mom,
How wonderful to know that your daughter found happiness! It sounds as if she has really been blessed with a new start through this relationship, as evidenced by the outpouring of love demonstrated between husband and wife. A mother’s heart can rest when her children find peace in relationship and in seeing their joy.
Our past pain has a way of causing distress, particularly when we’re reminded of the injustices of infidelity. At the slightest encouragement, our minds can reenact the trauma complete with emotional impact. Your daughter’s anger could be a response to unresolved issues with her former husband that may require professional intervention. Perhaps she would benefit from an opportunity to process through the pain with someone who could be empathetic to her feelings, but not close enough to the situation to formulate judgment. This might come from a counselor, pastor or spiritual advisor.
Sometimes, a reminder of the true essence of forgiveness would be just the component to let the past remain where it belongs – in the past. Forgiveness is not forgetting former pain, but accepting the facts and releasing them to the care of a power greater than ourselves. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves so we aren’t encumbered by events that caused us duress in favor of a focus that allows us to exist with more positivity. Simply stated, forgiving someone cancels our need to seek revenge, assists us in refusing to allow negative thoughts to occupy space in our minds, and helps us to remain present and focused on the blessings we currently enjoy. A gentle reminder of the meaning of forgiveness may be of value to your daughter and may bring peace to you, as well.
YMCA Chaplain Services of the Foothills
QUESTION: My wife and I are at the nail-biting stage when it comes to our teen-age daughter. We caught her trying to sneak out of her bedroom at 10:30 p.m. a few nights ago. The reason we found out was the dog next door was barking and I went out to see what she was barking at. This is what we can’t understand – we thought we had a great relationship with her. She gets good grades in school, and as far as we know hasn’t participated in any parties that involve drinking or drugs. We do many activities as a family as well. We have an appointment to see a family therapist, but we’re regular church-goers and would like to know what a spiritual solution might be.
~ Worried Parents
Dear Worried Parents,
I can certainly understand your concern regarding your daughter’s recent behavior. The fact that her grades are good and she is not showing any signs of abnormal mood swings is important. This may be one of those teenage needs to express some defiance or independence; in which case, resetting some boundaries or guidelines is always a good thing. It might also be important to talk about mutual respect and trust within the family structure. As the parents you have the obligation and duty to protect and nurture your children. You might ask why she felt the need to sneak out of the house. What was so important for her to take that action? It is sometimes helpful to challenge the child to come up with their own solution in this kind of situation. Developing a framework for talking out problems is often the best solution for this kind of teenage rebellion. An old adage, “Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don’t say it mean,” has helped me in many difficult circumstances.
Love is always an antidote for worry. Let her know that your concern is normal for any parent because you do love and honor her.
Gary Bates, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta
Dear Worried Parents,
Remember when your daughter was a baby and you thought, “Boy, if I just knew why you were crying right now, I could surely meet that need. As it is, you’ve been fed, bathed, napped, changed, cuddled, loved, played with, held, fed again, put to sleep again, changed again, bathed again, and I just don’t know what you want!” And we thought when they were babies, if they could just talk, everything would be so much easier! And then they become teenagers, and they get more complicated, and our relationship with them becomes more complex, and it seems like no matter how hard we try, we can’t figure them out and they just get more and more irritated with us.
I have a teenage daughter and one night she snuck out of the house. She was supposed to be in bed, sick with a cold. I went out and when I got home around 9:30 p.m., I went to her room to check on her and she wasn’t there. I was the kid that snuck out and it always ended in a yelling match with my mother at the end of the night or when I got caught – whichever came first. I decided I was going to do things differently with my own teenagers. I texted my daughter (an instance when I knew that her never being separated from her phone was a good thing) and wrote, ”I love you, but I’m not happy right now. We need to talk when you get home.”
When she came home that night she told me where she’d been (out to eat with friends) and that it wasn’t fun because she felt so guilty. I didn’t really have to do anything because she was so distraught at her own behavior she sobbed great big tears and pleaded for forgiveness.
Now, nothing has ever been that easy with her since that incident but I have learned a few things and I think the biggest, most important thing I decided to do was not fight. Not fighting with my teenage daughter who is incredibly charming, funny, beautiful and impulsive, dramatic and emotional, headstrong and spirited, has been one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do. I set boundaries, limits and provide consequences the best I can but I don’t do any of it perfectly. But I have a God who is bigger than all of the emotional outbursts, poor behavior and decision making that a teenage girl can engage in.
This isn’t to say that something bad couldn’t happen to my teenage daughter or son due to the very slow brain development in teenagers that contributes to a lot of the risk taking and poor decision making they engage in. But God bears the burden of all the complexity and anxiety of being a teenager (and the parent of one). If I can remember to be the safe harbor for my teens as they venture out into the world, take risks that terrify me and engage in behavior that if I knew about it would probably scare me to death, then they will always have the open arms of someone who loves them no matter what, unconditionally, and keeps a light on for them to find their way home.
My children, now young adults, are here to become the people God intends them to be, not the people I intend them to be. I always go back to scripture for understanding and spiritual guidance, and the story of the prodigal son is certainly one of the most profound, Luke 15:11-32, the son who takes his inheritance, parties it away, ends up homeless and destitute and comes home begging for forgiveness and a job and his father says, with open arms, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.”