“SMILING EYES” by Anne Stewart Helton

Usually, when I communicate with people, I read their mouths. I know most conventional wisdom says the truth or meaning is in the eyes but I have always read people’s mouths. I can usually get a pattern of speaking from someone and then watch the nuances of their feelings bleed through to their mouths and lips with their words and expressions.. Are their words congruent with their expressions? It can be a little twitch in the lip that matches words known to be false or a tongue in the cheek that shows embarrassment or a joke. Perched lips are easy as they show curiosity or irritation.  Smiles can seem joyous or even fake or forced if stuck too long! Sometimes arrogance or pride comes out the same in a pattern of a sideways smile or smirk of the lips or even a pointed, bragging tongue with a tittering laugh. And usually a sad, flat mouth, with flat words usually screams disappointment, depression and pain to me. Thus, you can see why my brain is upside down during these pandemic days as most people are wearing masks. This strange time of Corona Virus or Covid-19 leaves me out of sorts as I can’t read peoples’ mouths!!

Perhaps this is an issue for you too!
I’m a rule follower so my only outings during this quarantine, stay at home period to “flatten the curve”, (which seems to be a giant social science experiment to me), are taking walks and going masked-up to the Grocery Store. As we obediently stand 6 feet apart in lines to get in, I make sure my mask and gloves are on and I don’t really look at anyone. We have social distanced ourselves into ghosts now and sometimes feel like we are in the envelope of the Virus itself at times.

So, I am currently learning, after all these years, to look up to the eyes for connections to any words I’m hearing. Do I see frowns and wrinkles around the eyes to indicate a smile? Well, that may depend on how much Botox the person still has inside them after weeks in quarantine.  Are people tired and frustrated from the anxiety and fear of an unknown Virus jumping like an alien from body to body around the world?  Is that why their eyes are swollen and red, from crying at night or, I ponder, are they sick with early symptoms of the Virus? Are the people in the grocery stores hiding any symptoms because they are afraid they may be carted away like videos seen from China? Are the eyes of the elders, like me, frowning but trying to appear invisible or happy as we are the so-called vulnerable ones and are wondering if this Virus was meant to wipe us out? Are people scared when they see with their own eyes what the news has told them that some shelves are empty?



As I look up at people walking the grocery store aisles, I try to see eye to eye to any fellow human, albeit 6 feet away. Most eyes seem focused, distant, obsessed on whatever food they have come to view and buy. However, some eyes I could say, seem hungry for contact, for human interaction. I realize I am projecting with my own eyes to that feeling but some eyes break into a smile. You just know their mouths are smiling behind the masks. You just know their cheeks are lifted and their teeth shine. Maybe the women still even have lipstick on like me. My eyes glow back to them, my smiling eyes sparkle and sometimes tear up as I feel the importance of lost eye to eye contact. It’s hard to cry with a mask on and my eyes drip at times for the lonely and scared who are suffering and dying from an unseen body snatcher. As humans we must continue moving forward, full throttle and redeem that full face contact even as we do the work to snuff out the beast wearing a crown that circled our world.

Our strong, smiling eyes must become ray-guns that destroy the pain and suffering this monster inflicted on our world…they will, they must. As the Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas wrote: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

And we won’t, we have the smiling eye of God over us.

 

Standard

The Road to the HEART by Anne Stewart Helton

What makes LOVE flow into the Heart?? Pondering this on Valentines Day…We all know that Love is an emotion that is couched in our minds, from brain chemicals, people, memories, touches, visions and stories. We know it effects our actions and we link it to our behaviors, even when we may or may not feel it. We are told Love doesn’t emanate from the Heart but we feel our hearts flutter with a romance and drop when our heart is broken. We know Love doesn’t “live” in the Heart but we still keep it close to our hearts. And we know stories of people who died from a broken heart. We know the Heart is the symbol of Love and we use it readily, especially in February.

But what is the Heart basically? If you examine the diagram you can see it’s a marvelously designed organ regulated by electrical impulses that are critical for survival. The Heart has four compartments with ingress (enter) and egress (exit) and valves that control blood volume to thump, thump, thump through our body. The Heart is greatly influenced by emotions and, Yes, through exercise and emotional ups and downs, more blood runs on the roads to the Heart. The blood from our body travels into the upper chamber of the heart from the vena cava, to the right atrium, then to the right ventricle and up to the lungs via the pulmonary artery, which then sends back oxygen rich blood from the pulmonary vein to the left atrium to fill up the left ventricle, allowing the pumping of Oxygen rich blood back to the body via the Aorta….Whew!!  And it does this on average, about sixty to 80 times a minute!! But is it Love?

What about emotions? What about Love in the Heart? Isn’t that where it all resides?? How do we increase that??

We are told in poems and great literature how Love is the key to everything. It’s forgiveness; it’s marriage; it’s partnering; it’s parenting; it’s brotherly, sisterly, friendly and, the greatest of all commandments is to Love one another. And we keep saying that to each other over and over, especially on social media. We post beautiful pictures, memes and messages reminding each other to Love unconditionally and wholeheartedly. But deep down we realize that usually we are actually, really talking to ourselves because, sometimes, sadly, we don’t always feel it, give it or receive it.

Why? Well perhaps it’s because of that ingress (entering) and egress (exiting) thing in the Heart. Are we letting in enough love-blood? Or, sometimes is too much blood poured into the Heart and it becomes overloaded, like someone with congestive heart failure? Some folks may actually feel entitled to always receive. And some people only “take” Love and don’t give any away and thus they can’t remain healthy. Also, the reverse is true, sometimes the blood only pumps out to others, thus the person who is only a “giver”, bleeds out. The giver becomes a martyr, is depleted, exhausted, non-nourished in their own Heart and can’t remain healthy. We see this often in relationships and families and the imbalance can destroy both the Heart or the Love…

This Valentines Day, which is the calendar day promoted to tell others how much you Love them, show some balance. Don’t go overboard to others and don’t slight yourselves either. If alone, do something fun you like…walk in the park, go to a happy movie or an ice cream parlor! Try showing some Love to someone who may be forgotten or neglected in this crazy world, even if its’ you!  Buy some flowers and put them on your own table or hand them out at the grocery store, nursing home, to parking attendants, mail carriers or Ushers at your Church. Put a bag of groceries or magazines on a lone neighbors’ porch. Make some Valentine cards like you did as a kid and put them on car windows. Spread some joy from your own Heart but not so much that you are depleted. Go slow on the egress…and stay balanced with your Heart Love…then take a bubble bath, eat some chocolates, say some prayers, read a book and snuggle or sleep. You deserve it…God loves You!

 

If you’re feeling lonely or in Grief with Family Love or Family Estrangement, read about the issues in : “Recovery room: Surviving Family Estrangement” on Amazon.com

 

Standard

“The Hidden Star” by Anne Stewart Helton

Stars are often used to represent a turning point or change in literature or in someone’s life. Depending on how one’s heart feels at the time, contemplating on a heavenly Star can provide feelings of sorrow, change, promise, connection, direction and hope…even if looking for a Lost Star. Even if looking for someone you love who is gone from your earthly sight. We only see thousands of the billions of stars in the sky and it is overwhelming to think of how many more are ‘out there’ when looking up on a starry night.

In Literature, Stars represent the Eternal and in the Spiritual world, they are seen as the Light in Darkness, often as a point of direction and honor. A Falling or Shooting Star is usually seen as destiny, movement and an exciting event for the viewer!  In the Christmas Story we are reminded how the Three Wise Men followed a Heavenly Star to pinpoint Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. No GPS, No cell-phone, No Twitter, Instagram or Facebook Posts…just a bright Heavenly Star. They had been directed to find Jesus by King Herod when he heard they saw the Star. And in Matthew 7, in the Bible, Herod was perturbed and tried to trick them into following the Star and coming back to tell him what they had found, so he could go pay homage. Of course, he had no intention of that as he saw King Jesus as a potential major problem for him. And when the Wise Men indeed found the Star, they found Jesus, and they knelt and honored Him.  They were also given a warning not to go back to King Herod and, being wise men, they adhered to the warning!

Another thought about Stars and direction has been described in Luke 2, when the Shepherds in the field saw the Star. How did the Shepherds know to look up and even more importantly, how did they know it was significant? Luke 2 tells us that an Angel stood over them in all glory and told them Jesus had been born in the Town of David…Bethlehem. Significantly, it also says the Shepherds were terrified but heard, “Do Not Be Afraid, I bring you good news…” I wonder how many of us, working out in a field, at night, and being young would even stay around long enough to hear that prophecy if we saw a radiant Angel!? Despite their fears, the Shepherds congregated after the message, strategized and decided to travel to Bethlehem and they discovered the decreed message…the Baby Jesus lying in a Manger. They even delighted Mother Mary by telling her all about their Angelic message and the Star.

What kinds of messages are we receiving from Stars even today? Do we see Eternity? Light from Darkness? Hope? A comforting point of constancy, or connection, realizing the same Star we may be viewing is being viewed by someone we love?  Having been doing much research and listening on family estrangement issues recently, especially estranged adult children, it is a comforting thought, especially at this time of the year. Specifically, remembering that not all Stars are seen and may not be Lost Stars at all but Hidden ones. Thus, perhaps even a Lost Child, living or dead, is really a Hidden Star emanating light and hope to someone, somewhere. We may not see it with our own eyes but God created that Hidden Star and it is eternal.

The Holidays can be difficult emotionally for families. If you or someone you know is dealing with issues of Estrangement and Grief, consider my new book: “Recovery Room: Surviving Family Estrangement”. In Paperback or on Kindle at Amazon.com

 

 

Standard

Recovery Room: Surviving Family Estrangement by Anne Stewart Helton

Parents you can survive! Take back your life! You are not alone! On Amazon.com

If you have been estranged by an Adult Child, it can feel like an earthquake that is denied or ignored in the beginning but it never stops shaking and the walls, doors, sidewalks and trees crack, break and fall down. It is then that the consequences emerge in heartbreaking pain. Read this new book, “Recovery Room: Surviving Family Estrangement” by Anne Stewart Helton, it will help you understand the issues, the Grief and find survival steps for your life.

Standard

“Prayers Aren’t Always Pretty” by Anne Stewart Helton

So, why in the world does anyone pray? I mean, seriously?? Aren’t we all connected enough in this electronically, cyber-spaced up world? Doesn’t everyone have enough thoughts rambling around in their heads? We read about the importance of prayer but do we really believe it? And what about all the requested prayers on social media…do we consider a “like” click a prayer?

Every night as a child I heard my father trek from bedroom to bedroom to pray over his 5 girls and 5 boys and our friend and mothers’ helper, Ethel and everyone else. It wasn’t bedtime until we prayed:
“We love you dear God because you are so good and we are sorry for all our sins because we love you. God Bless Mom, Dad, Anne, Karen, Richard, Walter, Steve, Cathy, Julie, Mary, Jimmy and Billy and Ethel and everyone in the whole wide world. Goodnight Jesus.”

I guess it would have sounded something like the old Waltons’ TV show as each person said good-night to each other and the prayer words echoed throughout the hallways of the house. It was a ritual and it felt good, we were connected to each other and felt connected to God as we ended the day. Many carried on the tradition of this prayer.

Did the nightly prayer help? Well, life didn’t turn out perfectly or without storms for any of us but who knows what could have happened to us if we hadn’t prayed!? Also, I’m sure our Parents were thankful God didn’t answer any prayers we may have had for a Pony or an expensive new car, but I guess one of the main points about praying is that God did tell us to pray, boldly.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (KJV)

Our prayers don’t have to be perfect quotes from the Bible or devotional books or prayers filled with thee’s and thou’s; in fact, they can just be conversations, a spill-over of our hearts; bursting smiles of joyful, pretty words; tearful cries for help or specific, pointed requests or asking in agreement with God about a goal, a healing, an issue or a problem.
Mainly our prayers can begin with big, fat Thank-You’s for what we already have or for what God has already done for us. Sometimes our prayers may begin with some words of doubt or even anger: “What? Where are you God? How could this happen? Sometimes a prayer is even: “God, Why me?” In fact, some of the most heartfelt prayers are whispered along with an ugly-cry. Prayers aren’t always pretty.

It seems sometimes we believe prayer is thought of as just a request to be answered, only as we define it. “Please let me pass this test” or “Please heal my loved one.” And if we don’t get our requests met….well, ‘that’s that’, we think. God didn’t listen.

In this day of ordering a product online without even leaving our homes and then receiving it in the mail a few days later, it’s no wonder that praying for something feels empty if we don’t get what we want, when we want it!  In fact, with an ‘ask, order, pay, receive’ attitude of prayer words, some may get turned off if God doesn’t respond with the “receive” part of the perceived deal. With a quid-pro-quo attitude on prayer, it’s easy to become discouraged if we feel we did everything right and didn’t get what we ordered.
Putting an emphasis only on receiving what we want misses the relationship part of prayer…The beautiful, heartfelt words part of prayer with God, and especially with his Son, Jesus. When Jesus hears us talk, they are always pretty words…prayers…and then our own inner ears open up, in the stillness of our souls and HE talks back to us, deep within our souls. This relationship opens us up for discernment, wisdom, correct choices, reasoning, words for others and peace. We can hear Jesus calming our hearts and preparing us for whatever is coming our way in our life journey.

One of my favorite prayers is:
“Jesus, nothing will happen to me today that You and I can’t work out together.”

Pretty simple…right?  But it says so much. It acknowledges first that God is in control, second that I am starting the day off in Faith, and will do my part in whatever needs to be done and third that whatever happens, we will work it out together for GOOD. This simple prayer is a comforting few words of protection and peace. It acknowledges my part in working out my issues and not just praying and possibly being disappointed if something doesn’t happen immediately or easily fall in my lap. Daily prayer can center us in every aspect of life. It allows for a connection with God that is above all earthly things thus putting priorities in order. It strips away our PRIDE and it can be a spiritual anchor and provide a feeling of comfort during hard times.
Picturing a Prayer as an Anchor is comforting for me. Like an anchor, a Prayer connects with something solid, God, and prayer keeps me from drifting from where I don’t want to go or shouldn’t go. Or it allows me to stay in a specific place, have fun or work and be safe until it is time to move on. I then pick it up and take it with me to use the next time to connect with God. Sometimes I look up at the sky and just say this prayer:  “Wow”!

When temptations or confusing choices arise, if prayer is a daily habit, it can slow us down and give us some time to make the right choice and thus be in agreement with God. Or if a wrong choice is made, prayer can re-connect us and reconcile the wrong choices. With God’s forgiveness and mercy all prayer words are heard and received with unconditional love. And Jesus can be at our side 24/7 and be our best friend and guess what??…it can all be done in silence, if needed, or in the middle of a dark night.

Or sometimes a Prayer is in a song…What a wonderful way to send up thoughts and feelings to God.

Just remember, no one has a lock on HOW to pray. There are many ways we may have been taught that we are supposed to pray: specific, memorized prayers; repeated mantras; amen responses only; in nature; in the city; in tongues or never in tongues; out loud; silently; sitting down; standing up; kneeling down; heads bowed; eyes closed or eyes open; touching someone or not touching; head on our crossed arms; palms together, fingers straight; or arms in the air…all wonderful ways to pray but all individual and none required by God. Sometimes I see people wondering how they should pray and realize they are more focused on the method than any simple words spoken to Jesus. They look around and mimic someone’s method and stall their own spiritual method of prayer. Sometimes pride, competition and judgment of others can enter the heart when watching another persons’ demonstration of prayer. Sometimes the prayer methods are simply repetition of ones’ upbringing and custom or comfort.

It doesn’t matter if you pray louder than others around you, pray silently or sing in prayer, it’s all about the relationship with God and knowing that HE hears you and wants to hear you more. HE already knows your needs but wants you reaching to HIM and trusting in HIM with all of your heart to provide what you need not always what you want.

Pray, however you want to pray. Just pray, HE is listening.

2 Timothy 1:3 “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; (KJV)

 

 

from “Every Girl Needs a Pair of Red-Boots” by Anne Stewart Helton

Standard

“Every Girl Needs Some Red Boots” by Anne Stewart Helton

Boots are not just a Texas thing….

they’re a girl thing…especially red boots.

Boots can make you taller, warm your feet, accent an outfit, boost your spirits, add some sass, help you dance, kick butt and be there to step on the devil, if needed.

Girls need red boots. 

Once, I witnessed a girl about six years old come to Church each Sunday for a few weeks. She walked slowly down for prayer, holding her Parents’ hands and holding, especially tightly, a little doll. She was frail and pale and wore a printed, tied scarf loosely on her no-hair head and she slid forward with her feet, wearing soft slippers. She obviously did not feel well. It was painful to see her Parents cry softly with the Prayer Partner who was praying in agreement over her…praying for healing of the obvious cancer she was fighting. We silently prayed for her too and also prayed for the Physicians and Nurses to have the knowledge and skills to help heal her.

Weeks later I could see the head of this little doll-like girl, sitting with her Parents and getting ready to go down again for prayer. She looked stronger, a little heavier, had a great hat and scarf on her head, was wearing a sassy looking dress and as her full body came into view…we saw that she was wearing red boots. This time she didn’t wait for her Parents to pray for her she lifted up her head and voice to the Prayer Partner and with confidence proclaimed her healing and asked for more.

She thanked God, thanked her Parents and her Doctors and Nurse. She had a big smile on her face and then she stomped her booted feet as she walked back to her seat.

It was obvious she felt stronger and was determined to be well.

Now, I have no idea if the red boots helped her get well. Chances are she just felt better so she wore her boots to Church. But what if she really felt horrible that day but wanted to feel stronger and decided to look stronger? What if she actually chose to step on the sickness and wear those Boots? What if her Dad suggested she wear her boots to Church? What if by putting the boots on and then looking at herself in the mirror she suddenly felt taller, stronger…protected?

At Lake Livingston once, my little Missy girl was determined to go fishing with her brother Bobby and her cousin Will. The boys were brave, covered in mud, handling worms and hooks and wearing boots. They had caught some Bass fish with their Grandad and little Missy was definitely not going to be left out of that. She lobbied hard for a pair of boots too and marched down to the fishing Pier to catch her share of fish. She felt equal and capable and she proved it with some catch of her own.

Again, it wasn’t the Boots, it was the symbolism to her of putting on the Boots to help her do something strong and brave.

She wore those fishing Boots out and graduated to cowgirl, skiing and riding boots later. She was so full of girl confidence and self-assurance that when she was enrolled and studying a self-assertion psychology course in college, after a few weeks, the Professor asked her to help teach it!

So often in life girls receive messages of how they should look and what they should wear and especially how they may not look as good as other girls. Girls are often bombarded by the media to fit in by decorating their bodies according to what popular performers wear or worse, girls are sexualized to ignore their inner gifts and dreams and to only portray their sexuality in seductive ways. Thus, they are programmed to meet other peoples’ needs or desires. It’s okay to have fun trying different styles and trends but not at the expense of who you really are and definitely not at the expense of your own values. The opposite of this is oppressive institutions or religions trying to cover girls up, giving mixed messages of shame and submission! So, Trust them, Girls know how to do it…recently this little cousin party girl wore her pink gypsy boots to celebrate her 85-year-old Aunts’ birthday!

Sometimes it’s a tough road for girls to travel especially if the ditches on the side of the road are filled with people, songs, tweets, and posts, giving conflicting messages:

“You have a great singing voice.” versus “Show some skin and you can be famous.”

 “You are so smart.” versus “Boys won’t like you if you’re too smart.”

 “Make your own wise decisions.” versus “Everybody does it; just go along.”

 “Stay healthy, exercise.”  versus “Have some fun, everybody drinks or smokes. Loosen up.”

Girls have to grow up through a mine field of messages that can build or hurt their self-worth and confidence. This is especially true if girls are ignored or sexualized early in life and believe their self-worth is tied only to physical attractiveness or sexual behavior and not to their skills or other characteristics. Parents can help with clear communication, praise for accomplishments and not just for their looks, by not speaking negatively about other girls’ appearances, and by being careful about what girls watch in the media or what their friends do. And it is especially important to have DAD involved in teaching girls how to do things!

Just like Boys…Girls can’t be protected from everything but they can be encouraged to try to do things on their own…paint the front door, learn to change a tire, ride a horse, build a garden, as well as other interests also…sewing, painting, writing, singing!  This is where Fathers are particularly important. Girls can still be strong, silly and girly-girls…from pretty clothes, perfume and make-up, to singing in the car, and slumber parties, to softball games, soccer kicks, diving meets, horseback riding, and marathons…girls should be encouraged to try it all and they need to be challenged and allowed to fail, if needed, to grow in real self-esteem and courage.

But the greatest gift a Parent can give a Girl for her whole life is the connection to God…to teach her the words of Jesus which will give her the life long Protection from the lessons of the Bible. These will be lessons she can pull out whenever needed, when she’s alone or if she meets the devil on the road, at a party, at a concert, on an airplane, at work or even at Church. Sadly, evil can be anywhere, and with the protection of Jesus’ words, she will have her armor on… AND her boots. The Book of Proverbs alone can help her to recognize and be protected from biblical fools she may meet in her life; or from seeking material things over the real treasures of her heart; or from using her tongue for gossip and destruction instead of for good.

Girls can also get over hurts and disappointments and learn from reading and discussing Old Testament lessons too like: Genesis 50:20 “What was meant for your harm will be used for your good. “ or  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you.”

When girls feel it, own it and speak it, it becomes real in their brains and then they begin to live it. So, start with Prayer and reading the Bible to get your Protection going.

But remember, sometimes it takes putting on your big girl boots and stomping on the devil yourself to move forward, whether you’re kicking cancer, fools, fights or fish, you can succeed. That little Missy girl in fishing boots long ago, went on to graduate to ski boots and cowgirl boots, as she worked hard, had fun, raised four children AND a husband!!

So, keep those Boots on …You are the strongest…Girlfriend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________________

Standard

ERASED MEMORIES by Anne Stewart Helton

What does one do when someone erases you? What does one do when the history of your life is distorted or recreated by someone else? Someone you love? Someone you thought loved you, someone you raised? Someone you birthed? I have avoided being specific about this issue and how it has impacted me but perhaps my thoughts and experiences will help others with this growing problem.

I’m not talking about memories being gone from Alzheimer Disease, dementia, head injury or stroke; I’m talking about deliberate, take you out of their heads and hearts type of memory erasing or the rearranging of history type erasing. It sounds crazy, right? But it happens around us everyday, and mostly, I have come to realize, there is nothing that can be done about it unless both sides want to fix it. So, Parents, stop beating yourselves up!

What is this curse? It’s the pain of family estrangement and all the characters in this type of family drama know their lines well, they play their chosen roles, they enter and exit stage left with a smile or a tear and they can even construct plot points one and two and completely turn the drama around…especially if they have a Greek chorus, an audience, to take sides, root for them, and cheer and cry at the twists and turns.

With any estrangement there is never and always a reason for the estrangement, depending on who is doing the talking but especially when the players grip tightly to their grudge ropes and hang on. Especially if any of the parties stay stuck in the “and then he said this and then she did that” mode of life but most especially if secondary gains are received for the act of estranging. For me, my adult child has decided that he had a bad childhood. His Father and I know its’ not true but it took us awhile to get to a place of peace about it. We know that we raised him, beginning as teenage parents, with all the love we had in our hearts, with all the time, nurturing, work, money and devotion possible, giving him guidance and educational experiences well into adulthood. We had fun with him, cheering him on as he played sports, excelled in school, developed his many gifts, especially his sense of humor! Even when he became an adult and went through some bumps in his life, we were always there for him. Mistakes made? Yes, but wouldn’t everyone love to turn back time as Wisdom is gained?

But our son has decided that his reality is different from ours thus, like many estranged parents, we have finally realized there is nothing we can say, do or ask to change that. So much time lost. Through the years, we have “taken the high road” when his words have hurt us, like when we stayed up late at night just to hear his voice on the radio speaking about his new writings or accomplishments only to hear him eventually blame any troubles or poor decisions on us, his parents. We have anonymously gone to book signings, standing in the back, to see and hear him speak and support him but then left when he took a negative turn. Most recently we watched him on C-Span talk about his latest book and he was really interesting and we loved his passion and heart but then we heard him describe that he had a bad childhood and that reading books helped him escape from it; he actually laughed as the narrator prompted and validated the response from him! He had a choice to recant but he smirked as he verbally threw us under the bus again and effectively ran over us and the interviewer didn’t even blink! But you know what?? I felt sorry for him that he couldn’t or wouldn’t at least remember the many times he was on my lap being read to as a child, being taught to read and write, being listened to and encouraged to help others, study and seek higher education or the deep discussions he had with his father over many, many books and movies, especially on their long-distance runs and adventures.  It has made me question stories people tell about their childhood or when I read so-called memoirs, even those described as fictionalized. It has made me wonder what students are being taught in schools…is it to avoid responsibility and to blame others? Thus, with some wide-awake, righteous anger tears on my computer keyboard and to set the record straight before I am too old…I write this to estranged parents everywhere.

We all have our filtered memories but they’re best explored for insight and self-correction not as justification for hurting others or especially not in the name of “truth-telling”. Friends have told us perhaps we should seek legal action or actually confront interviewers about spoken distortions but we realize that it could just add fuel to our son’s displaced anger toward us. Additionally, we have noted that our son’s writings are negative toward many people he has met in his journey of life, so we pray for his heart to soften. We believe that deep down he has a good heart. Like many Parents in our situation, we have tried everything possible to change the relationship with him…letters, cards, gifts, apologies for whatever… but he has used the bad parent platform to surround himself with supporters, write and sell books, do book readings, radio programs and television, and tell others, all evidence to the contrary, that we raised him with a bad childhood…

AND noting this is when I frequently say out loud “Help Me Jesus”!

Estrangement is often started by a sort of self-induced filter of many defense mechanisms about past mistakes by everyone in the drama. As in any memory, strong feelings may add more significance to an event, even some with seemingly small issues. What a Parent may feel is minor is remembered forever by some children and vise versa. But then the memory can take on a life of its own with stories and excuses that are embedded in the travails of the brains’ synapses leading to deep ruts of revised or reflective memories, real or exaggerated.  Some family members stay stranded in certain decades or time periods, or even on certain political issues and they never move forward. Some may repeat the same worn-out stories that by now they firmly believe. Yes, sometimes estrangement is definitely due to less than perfect parenting, or to outside forces (drugs, alcohol, mental illness), to shame, guilt, or bad decisions of selfishness, like we hear about when parents abandon or abuse their children or when adult children are addicted and abuse their parents. But mostly estrangement is actually a choice, a choice made by the adult child to disengage emotionally and physically from a relationship with a Parent or other family members. It’s a choice. It offers some sort of psychological safe-space, a corner in the mind with a feigned apathy, which becomes increasingly difficult to crawl out of…and crawl is what must be done….for all of us. If we do cross those created boundaries of estrangement it takes crawling out from under pride with humility, empathy, forgiveness and GRACE. But if those  boundaries are crossed, the parable of the Prodigal Son can change the Script and GRACE abounds.

Other than actual illness and death of a child, estrangement from an adult child is the most painful arrow in the heart for parents. It creates an active bleeding then a slow-drip wound that doesn’t go away. It is a rejection that can’t be described, only felt and anyone who helps or enables the process is contributing to that pain. It can be band-aided but without the medicine of acknowledgement, empathy, forgiveness and GRACE it never heals. To reconcile, old issues don’t have to be re-hashed and all parties must agree to “let-go” but that also means behaviors must change not just words.

With estrangement, when others ask normal questions, like “how’s your son?” or “have you heard from your daughter“,  Estranged Parents come up with responses like “It’s complicated” or “We don’t get to see him/her much” but then we often see the questioners’ downward glances intimating “Wonder what they did wrong to their child?“. Then we blame ourselves more. It is like a death without a funeral because no one really wants to hear constant parental pain and you can’t blame them! Mostly other people just pretend your adult child doesn’t exist.

Over and over this problem of estrangement is growing in many homes and actually being encouraged at times by “professionals” and media programs or self-help and trendy groups. Adult children are encouraged to “get more space” from Parents; explore their own needs and sadly, not to worry about senior Parents as they age or become ill. Self absorption is rewarded in our social media age. Certainly Parents can’t be emotionally dependent on their children but they do have the right to expect friendship and respect! I suppose estrangement started increasing as families were ripped apart by changes in societal norms or also as parents were ridiculed on television and in the movies. In fact, currently parents are often portrayed as dummies, bigots, and uncool as family traditions or morals are mocked.  Instead of adult children, siblings, parents, cousins…being encouraged to talk, maybe even argue, through a problem or issue, with help if needed, people are often encouraged to not rock the boat, to disengage, estrange, ‘ghost’ or even gaslight family members, and the problems never get resolved. We also see Parents who enable abusive adult children because they are so fearful of being estranged by them! These Parents often develop physical and psychological illnesses. They are hurt constantly by their “bully” adult children and ride a roller coaster of pain with them. They never put up real boundaries because they are emotionally blackmailed by the potential loss of grandchildren or being left alone. With estrangement, excuses are bountiful…Parents are blamed for every problem or labeled ‘toxic’, other family members may listen, gossip and even offer encouragement to the estranged child, never once confronting them to say “you know what…I knew your parents, your mother, your father and they were pretty good folks”... thus the problem grows and the gulf between parent and child becomes too wide as time marches on and the bridge that is needed is washed away by tears.

And then, suddenly, you wake up and realize that as parents you have effectively estranged from your adult child. The difference though is empathy….your door is still open, albeit with a weak chain-lock on it before you open-wide trust again. You haven’t cut the adult child off and you want them to have peace and love, however you now have “let go” of trying, constantly reaching out and waiting for a real phone call from them just to check on you or to hear your voice. You have been desperately wanting them to want to talk with you! You then realize that you want to hear their voice…however they don’t want to hear yours. You realize that all along you were believing in reconciliation through your own filtered memories of love.

As all parents do, we only want the best for our son and we have to let go, pray and hope he finds some moments of gratefulness for our parenting. We will always be his Parents, that can’t be erased.

As a Nurse, do I have a Prescription, a RX for Estranged Parents?? Well, there is no particular one, there is no magic pill and Parents will be at different stages. We have learned it is a Grief Process and its’ much like any of the Recovery Steps.

We call it a Benign Detachment.

  1. Surrender your feelings to God. He knows you love your child, that you did your best and He loves you and you are His child.
  2. Surround yourself with others who care for you, make new friends, even if you have to find strangers everyday to give you a smile.
  3. Seek and Share ways to help others as much as possible. You will encourage someone else and renew your self-worth.

 

4. Stay grounded in health, fun and prayer.

5. Stop thinking and living in the past or blaming and beating yourself up. Trust me, your estranged adult child does enough of that about you!!

6. Self deprecate…It may take awhile but try to laugh at yourself through your tears. (Sometimes it is pretty funny now for us as we see ourselves getting jerked around by estrangement control games, like the no relationship allowed “one-text only response” game from our son or the passive aggressive “pretend I didn’t get your phone call” game by his spouse or the “block parents on all social media” game.

7. Stay away from enablers when you can, especially the passive-aggressive kind who say they “don’t want to take sides” (Parents don’t want sides but when someone says that to you, trust me, they are betrayers and have already taken a side and it’s not yours!)

8. Scrutinize your own heart as much as possible. Don’t make decisions out of spite or revenge…I’m not saying I haven’t done this, just advising that it doesn’t usually work out!

9. Schedule down time for yourself…Rest, read, pray, exercise…you ARE worth it!

10. SCREAM if needed….but then SING. You’re a survivor, and as my well-known Preacher says all the time: “Be a victor not a victim”.

Excerpt from soon to come new book “Recovery Room” @ by Anne Stewart Helton

 

 

Standard