Family Ties – Part 1

» Posted in Family Life | 7 comments

 family ties

I could hear my voice becoming shrill. As my agitation increased, I sensed my sister’s growing bewilderment with my over-reaction. Gripping the phone tightly, I talked loudly over her, angry at what I took to be her meddling.   I resented her implication that I wasn’t doing enough for our mother who was facing a health crisis. When our phone call unexpectly cut out, I hung up the phone, angry tears pouring down my face.

Deep within me, I knew I was losing it. Tired and overwhelmed after a long day at work – and this after a late night spent in emergency with my mother – I knew I had handled my sister’s concerns poorly. She really only wanted to help.

No matter how old I get and how far I’ve come in my growth, there’s nothing like family to trigger old wounds. I am blessed with a loving family who loves the Lord and God has done remarkable things in our midst to bring about healing and reconciliation. I am so thankful for my family and I love them dearly. But throw in one crisis and just like that, we’re emotionally triggered and fall back into old dysfunctional dances. Same old, same old. This ever happen to you?

I’m a therapist, for heaven’s sake – I know all of this stuff. And yet, I’m just as susceptible to family ties that bind. There’s no one in the world who can make me feel guilty like my mother, even when I know she has no intention of trying to manipulate me emotionally. It’s just those old scripts that play out, especially during times of crisis. Boom – on goes the burden of responsibilities, fear of disappointing our parents, unspoken expectations and unresolved tensions – like a 200 pound weight on our backs. We end up feeling trapped and stuck. And then guilty for feeling this way. You ever feel like that?

As Christians, we are even more susceptible to the “shoulds” of family, and so we end up marching to the tune of duty rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit. As a therapist, I get more questions about how to balance personal boundaries with family obligations than almost anything else. And the number of people I see who are burned out from family responsibilities is growing – impacting health, marriages, and emotional well-being. For those of us who are in the sandwich generation, the pressure to care for our family is incredibly overwhelming. And the guilt that we’re not doing enough is immense. Where is the joy and freedom in that?

Many of us feel trapped by the expectations of our family but we also want to honour our parents as followers of Jesus Christ. And for many people, this challenge is further layered with the sad reality that they come from dysfunctional families that are fraught with tension and anger, unhealthy control and even bullying. Many marriages fall apart because couples haven’t successfully separated from their family of origin – which is a very bad recipe for beginning your life with your own family.  It can feel like no matter how far we get away from our family, just one look or word from them can take us back to feeling like a child once again.

For me, layered over the guilt and burden was grief colouring on the edges of my consciousness as I witnessed my mom’s growing frailty at the hospital.  Not knowing the prognosis or cause of her condition made me feel even more helpless –  thinking of how long I will have to take care of her mixed with the realization I could lose her.  Today, as I write this, sadness lays heavy on my heart as I contemplate a time when she will be no more.  There’s nothing like a crisis to bring us face to face with the fickle promises of time, to force us to look at our family ties, at what’s important to us when all the chips are down.

So how do we navigate through this? I don’t have all the answers but I invite you to journey with me over the next few weeks as I examine family ties. Please feel free to send me your questions, stories and insights along the way.


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  1. Merry thank you for sharing so transparently, and gut wrenchingly honestly. My heart aches for you and I continue to pray for you and your family.

    This is such a charged subject, one I can relate to in spades. Thank you for encouraging me by sharing your heart and your journey.

    • Thanks, Julia, I really appreciate your prayers and support xo

  2. Merry
    I think we are living the same journey right now. This post was very timely as we are facing the reality of being in the last days with Deans dad.
    Facing the expectations of others as well as your own guilt and desire to do the best you can for your parent is more complicated then we knew.

    I look forward to this series and will remember you in prayer as you face the road ahead.

    • Thanks, Lorie, I’m really sorry to hear about what you’re going through with your father-in-law. But I would certainly appreciate any perspective you can bring to this topic if you’d like to wade in with your opinion and experiences! Thanks also for the prayers – I so appreciate it.

  3. Merry I am praying for all of you. As you know I have had my parents live with us for 16 years, they do not really get out, Tim and I do the shopping for them, they have no friends, it’s hard in Tim and I. Our marriage sometimes has suffered too, we now try to go away for the weekend, or just our for a drive on a warm summer night. It’s especially hard because my siblings are not close, don’t even call us to see if there is anything they could do for us! With Gods grace he will help us who ave given to their parents. One day they will not need us, and that too will be an adjustment!

  4. Merry I’m praying for all of you, it is a difficult time, we are going through the same thing. My parents have lived with us for 16 years. Only God knows the future, and he’s plans are perfect ! Even though we struggle, especially with our marriage when we get stressed. We know try to go away more, even if its fir a drive in the evening, I just wish ther siblings would appreciate what we do for their parents too, check up on us, see if we are okay! I pray for all of the sandwich generation. To God will give us strength to del with every day struggles.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Debbie, especially since you’ve walked this journey before!

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