I mentioned in my last two posts that being tenderhearted can cause problems, that it can make it hard not to interfere where you shouldn’t.
The thing is that I should have said that it just doesn’t work to have strong feelings about things that you just cannot change: other people’s choices, other people’s lives, other people’s consequences, etc. It doesn’t matter if the other person is your coworker, your neighbor, your sibling, or your adult child…if it is happening to another adult and you can’t do anything to change it, you probably shouldn’t be getting all worked up about it.
But what if you are worked up about it? What are you supposed to do now?
Let me start with an example out of my own life.
My youngest daughter K. had just turned 17 when she graduated from High School…a full year early. She had worked hard to get through school and we were very proud of her. She had a full ride scholarship to a local college and was certain to move on to great things in the coming years.
Or so we thought, her father and I.
And then K. met L. He had long hair, no ambition, and fewer brains. He was a nice enough boy, but dang that child was brainless and it made us crazy to see our daughter so smitten by him. We figured she would quickly move beyond him…but instead K. became more and more involved with him, taking on some of his habits and beliefs, hanging out with his family, and taking up his habits…including the one where he smoked marijuana. We were horrified!
Long story short, her grades weren’t terrible but they also weren’t high enough to maintain her scholarship, which meant that suddenly she had to find a way to pay for school. Her father and I told her that her failure to maintain her scholarship was not going to become the occasion for us to be punished by having to pay for her tuition. She had earned a scholarship that covered two full years of community college and she lost it because she wouldn’t focus on her schooling instead of her boyfriend… so we told K. that she would need to pay for her schooling herself. Let’s stop right here for a moment and take notice of a non-codependent behavior: my daughter’s consequences are not mine to absorb. K. isn’t 12 years old anymore, and if she lost the scholarship, then she’s the one who has to find money for tuition now. And isn’t it great that I didn’t behave codependently? Uh, yeah, sure…but I still was all codependent emotionally. Behaviorally I had gotten better. Emotionally…not so much, and so the saga continues.
The problem was that K. had no job and wasn’t really interested in getting a job. We told her to get a job as soon as possible, and she pretended to apply to places and assured us that she was working really hard to get a job. We weren’t fooled at all and expressed increasing amounts of frustration with her bad attitude and failure to get a job, and K. became more and more belligerent. As soon as the spring semester was over, we told her that she had until August 1 to get a job or she would have to move out. K. called our bluff and moved out before July 1st, choosing to move with L. and his brother N. to their grandfather’s abandoned home in a remote city we’ll call Crapville. Gee…do you think I have negative feelings about Crapville? Yes…yes I do.
Literally, my daughter was living rent-free in an unused home that had electricity but no hot water because they couldn’t afford to pay the gas bill. Neither my daughter, her boyfriend L., or his brother N. had jobs, so they did their grocery shopping at the local food bank. Essentially, K. was living by choice in relative poverty, in a home that lacked some of what I considered to be basic necessities.
My husband and I were horrified. What could we do? They didn’t have jobs, they didn’t have hot water, they didn’t have enough food. You cannot imagine how badly it messes with your head when you know that your daughter doesn’t have enough food!! The more I thought about it, the more upset I became.
But I had to admit: K. had chosen this life. She didn’t have to move out. All K. had to do was get a part time job, which she steadfastly refused to do. She could have gotten a part-time job and lived at home with free room and board while going to school. Apparently K. had decided that she’d rather live in poverty and skip the job. Any time I thought about what she was doing, I became so upset that I got sick to my stomach.
I knew that I had to let it go. Getting upset wasn’t solving anything. Getting upset wasn’t changing K’s choices and it wasn’t helping me any. Even worse, my attitude about K’s choices had the potential to do damage to our relationship. I didn’t want to become one of those mothers who complained and criticized every time I had any interaction with my daughter. I was upset enough that I knew my attitude would bleed into my voice whenever we spoke and I didn’t want to risk my relationship with K. for any reason.
In an attempt to get control of my feelings about K’s choices, I started forcing myself to admit that I had no idea what path God might have for her, and admitted to myself that perhaps my daughter’s time in Crapville was a major part of God’s plan. Parents often think that we know what is best for our children, and while they are under the age of 18 we are usually right (usually…not always). However, my lovely daughter was over 18 and her life and future were in God’s hands, not mine. After a bit of prayer, God assured me that He was more than capable of handling my daughter…and suggested that I might want to handle myself. After that point, whenever I found myself thinking of her or complaining about K’s choices to another person, I would force myself to say out loud “I don’t know God’s path for her.” It was a true statement: I truly didn’t know what plans God might have for my daughter, or what paths those holy plans would cause her to take, but I needed to trust that God could get her to where she needed to be. I found myself saying “I don’t know God’s path for her” over and over, sometimes multiple times a day, and to be honest it was soothing. I actually felt a little better every time I said it.
Here’s the deal: lots of us start feeling all sorts of strong emotions when we start thinking about what is going on with our kids, or with our parents or our siblings, and sometimes even when we think of what’s happening to our friends or to our neighbors. It’s easy to let those emotions run away with us and get us all worked up…but it’s incredibly UNWISE. Remember, I’m not talking about a situation that actually impacts you, like when your best friend is diagnosed with cancer, or your spouse up and quits their job, or your children move across country. Those things impact you quite a bit…and it’s still wise to be careful not to let the emotions you feel about those situations get so big that you forget that a) you don’t control the other person’s life, and b) they have decisions to make and your opinions and feelings don’t figure in those decisions.
What self-soothing phrase do you need to help yourself let go of your emotions? What do you need to remind yourself of so that you can stop being anxious/controlling and just let things happen naturally?
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
Ask yourself where God is in all this. Ask yourself what responsibility you have regarding the issue. Ask yourself if the issue is still unfolding (not yet finished.) Questions like these may illuminate what you need to self-soothe and stop freaking out.
Here are a few suggestions to help you start calming yourself down. It won’t stop you from being upset immediately, and you may need more than one phrase, but if you keep reminding yourself of the truth and of God’s presence, you may find yourself less upset about things than you think you are right now.
God is still in control, no matter how bad it looks.
I don’t know what God’s plan is for them.
I am trusting God to somehow bring blessings out of this crazy situation.
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
This is not my problem to solve.
It ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and I don’t hear anyone singing.
If it’s not over, God hasn’t had His say yet.
And finally: I didn’t cause this and I can’t fix it either.
And if you are wondering: K. lived in Crapville for two years. She ended up getting a job and actually doing quite well at her job…then lost that job and really hustled to get another job so that she could pay her bills. After two years, she broke it off with the guy she started dating after she kicked L. to the curb and moved home. K was so much more mature I couldn’t believe it! She was so helpful around the house and so incredibly calm and wise that I loved having K. live with us. She learned a lot from those two years in Crapville…and I never could have seen that coming when she first moved out. Truly, God did use that time to grow and mold K. into a wonderful woman! She moved in with her sister almost a year ago now and is engaged to be married to a sweet young man. I did not know God’s path for her and God knew far better than I did what K. needed.