As a mother of four, I am always working to care for my kids in the best way possible. I make sure that they have rides to their activities, I give them hugs and kisses and tell them regularly that they are loved, I ask about their mental and physical health on a regular basis. I put my best into my children the majority of the time, so they should turn out great. They should be the most successful individuals in the world, always striving for the best in their own life. I mean, I know that if they go astray, it cannot be my fault, right?
I find it funny that I am writing this post after teaching the Prodigal Son in Sunday school today. Here we had a hardworking father, a dedicated son and another son who wanted his wealth while his father was a live. There are so many different messages in this story that I am not even sure we could cover them all in this post, besides which, this post is not about this section of scripture. Instead, this is a Point of View post about being a parent to a child who has gone astray and how this can affect your spiritual, mental and physical health.
I chose to talk to Toni about her experience with her eldest son. I won’t add his name here, but I will certainly allow for her point of view to be shared here because this is not only her son’s experience, but a mother’s experience as well.
Sara: In terms of making it through this time in your life, what are some of the biggest things that helped you make it through?
Toni: Mental health care and friendship, reading, research and garnering as much information as possible. Then finally, giving him to God, which allowed for a full release.
Sara: How did this affect other family members?
Toni: It drove a wedge between him and other family members as well as a wedge between me and other members of the family. There were times when I had to explain to other family members why I was helping him or why he was around our home.
Sara: Do you think he understands your need to talk about his situation?
Sara: What is something you can help your other children take away from this situation?
Toni: That everyone has a “sorry language” and even though he has not said those exact words, he has another way of saying that “he’s sorry” and that might be by doing things as opposed to sitting down with his siblings and actually saying the words.
Sara: After we talked about all of this, do you think there is anything different that you could have done?
Toni: From the second that I found my son leading a deceitful life until now which is two years later, I have asked myself what could I have done differently. He is now back with us with his 20-month-old daughter. The parenting of the children has always been a front seat position that I have taken.
Since he was in fifth grade, he would randomly make bad choices, even though he knew better. For instance, he loved school and loved his teacher in fifth grade but refused to turn in his already completed and finished papers. We found them in the bottom of his locker. All he had to do was walk them over to the teacher. Take that minor incident and fast forward it to his 16th year. He was away at our church camp where he was a counselor. Our church did this one week out of the summer. While he was there, I was shown a letter that he had written to a staff where he worked that was extremely inappropriate. Jeff and I decided to drive up to camp and pull him out. There weren’t many instances between those two, but the instances that there were, were major. Things that stopped our family and its track and have to focus on how we get him out of this one.
We have always bailed him out of situations that he has gotten into. We justified it by giving him punishments and consequences at our house but always intervened on having consequences handed out wherever these issues arose. If I could go back in time, I would have had him face whatever consequence somebody else had for him.
Proverbs 22:6 states, “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
We have had all of our children in church from the day they were born. They have gone to Sunday school, during the week programming, youth groups and any other special event at church. On top of that, we try as much as we can to live the faith in our home as well. I just could not understand why he would throw away 22 years of being a Christ follower for the first pretty girl that looked his way. He made his profession of faith when he was 16. In our faith, you stand up in front of the congregation after you have gone before the elders of the church and you publicly claim Jesus as being your one and only Savior. There’s no certain age when you do this. It is when you feel you are ready to. Nobody twisted his arm. Within a blink of an eye, he turned his back on his personal savior.
Should I have “managed” him better? Should I have “micro-managed” him?
What was he thinking every time he lied or stole from us? Did he even think of us when he got married in a courthouse and not only were we not there, we were not told about it. What did he think when he found out he was going to have a baby and he didn’t tell us. After I confronted him about being married, that was the last straw for me. We were at the hospital because my dad was in for more health issues. Our son, his wife and the baby came to the hospital. I finally just confronted him and said "I know you’re married, don’t lie to me". I started to cry and asked him what I had done wrong all these years? He said there was "nothing" that I had done wrong. I asked him what I could have done better? He said he didn’t know.
Most of this was happening when my mom‘s health was worse and getting to the point of us putting her into hospice. Most of my attention was on both of my parents at that time. I was the primary caregiver for them. As well as the fact that we were transitioning our foster kids to their adoptive homes. Both of these children were labeled severely emotionally disturbed. Basically, that means you have to have eyes on them at all times. I had run myself into the ground. I had nothing left in me.
I firmly believe that I would have caught this if my attention had not been so divided. I knew something was wrong, there were signs, as there have always been signs. I just didn’t have any strength, both emotionally or physically to dig deeper. I completely regret that.
If I had advice to give myself in hindsight, it would have been to confront him straight on. Tell him that we knew what he was doing and he either stopped or leave our house.
The great theologian Cher, has a song that would come to my mind.
If I could turn back time.