Tagged: dysfunction

When You Suffer For Your Mother

This isn’t your typical dysfunctional family post (though I have plenty of those). Instead, this is a post dedicated to all of the hard-working, beautiful-but-you-don’t-see-it, self-sacrificing Catholic Moms out there. And I have just one message for you:

You are God’s gift to your children. Act like it. 

I don’t mean this in a mean, scolding way. Because moms of all ages and of all family sizes need our support and encouragement over everything else.

I only mean this to help you see that no matter who you are or what your flaws are, God has decided that you are the absolute best parent possible for your children. 

So no matter what you think you’re bad at or what you think you’ll regret later… it’s so, so worth it now to stop and reflect on whether or not what you’re teaching your children accurately reflects God’s plan for your life… and God’s definition of godly men and woman.

My mother is a beautiful and lively mother of four. But there’s just one thing — she grew up in a family that was cruel to her about her looks and in a city and state that is particularly superficial. As long as I can remember, she has been negative and critical about her body — even when she looked absolutely beautiful to me, my father, and my brothers.

Suffer-For-Your-Mother-Catholic

I am 31, and this week I spent my EMDR counseling session processing a lot of the messages I received about my body through how my mom perceived her body.

Her small comments about how “Everything would look better on her if she were thinner,” and her exclamations that we delete every photo of her that she didn’t find flattering (and guess how many photos she found to be flattering?) were a few pieces of a million-part puzzle that taught me how to measure the worth and beauty of my own body.

Growing up, this quickly transitioned to a fear that her daughter might be fat, so she put a lot of emphasis on what it meant to be a lady and how ladies shouldn’t have too big an appetite (while my brothers were free to hork seconds and thirds at every meal).

And then, you know what, I got fat.

All I felt when I looked at my mom, my food, or my body was pressure. Everything I ate, said, and wore spoke to me about whether or not I was the ideal, normal woman. And as a girl child destined to be 6 foot tall, there wasn’t much I could do to avoid being bigger than most people (and being out-sized at all your normal clothes providers).

Body image aside, the real damage here (and the real power Catholic moms of the world have) is understanding what it means to be a woman. A biblical woman. A Catholic woman.

Because pant size somehow doesn’t come up in the bible. Neither does plastic surgery or height or the ability to have children. None of these things define our womanhood. You know what does (and what was a refreshing realization late last night?)? Our hearts.

Our hearts! A womanly heart. Not a womanly size 12, a womanly svelte-looking arm, or a perfectly crafted face of make-up. A woman is measured by her godliness, her desire to dress herself in good works, and her fear for the Lord.

… and so many families (including my own) didn’t pass that message along.

A woman’s husband has every right to take pleasure in her God-given good looks, but the rest of us (including her father and mother and family members) should be working hard to see what’s in her heart and cultivate a peaceable, tender nature in her soul.

And those are the very things we destroy when we exclusively focus on outward appearance, physical size, and attractiveness.

If the only message your daughter or son ever gets about womanhood is the best way to figure out if she’s hot or not, then you’re setting her up for her own bad decisions and counseling sessions 30 years from now and you’re depriving her of the peace and love that flows from our God.

There’s your message for today: before you consider yourself in the mirror (or look at your overweight or otherwise imperfect child), try to look beyond the surface to see what you see in your and your child’s heart.

PS If you want to figure out what it means to be a godly woman and how you can have an impact on how your children see their femininity in God, What Christians Want to Know has a great Top-10 post.

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Setting Up Boundaries With Dysfunctional Families for the Holidays: How We Did It

The first time we emailed my in-laws to say that we wouldn’t be joining them for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we hit “send” and literally ducked for cover. We calculated how long it would take his family to drive to us (about 4 hours) and played through a few scenarios for what to do if they showed up to beat down the door or something more sinister.

Of course, none of that happened. His family was politely confused (and likely grumbled among themselves). Which just goes to show how off-the-wall dysfunctional families can be: whatever you expect, they’ll likely do the opposite. And whenever you think it can’t get worse, they go off the deep end.

Family Function Then & Now

When we first started dating, my husband’s family seemed normal to him. Unmarried couples slept together under the family roof because that’s just what they did. All of the kid’s “best friend” was their mother, because that’s just what they did (and you called her every day… and God help you if you did not pick up your phone every time).

His sister and brother-in-law drank nonstop (finding beer cans in the bathroom trash and the car cup holder) because that’s just what they did. On Thanksgiving night, the tween daughters were driven over an hour to the nearest Victoria’s Secret to buy things because that’s just what they did.

When I started coming around, my husband changed. He went to bed at a normal time (not 3AM every night of his holiday). He ate healthy foods at reasonable hours (forgoing the 10PM fast food dinnertime). He exercised. He sometimes said things that… dun dun dun… disagreed with his family. Eventually, he converted to Catholicism (before I came back tot he Church). Very quickly, these changes were attributed to me and I was person non gratis.

At first, being person non gratis was incredibly stressful. I felt controlled and pushed aside. I felt like I had no right to an opinion, and that the only way to participate was to smile and agree to everything everyone said (because in a dysfunctional family, disagreeing is the #1 sign that you hate everyone and reject them completely.)

Over the months of our initial courtship when we went to visit his family or his family came to our town, I would frequently play it off as “not feeling well” and hide in our room alone. When I did have to see them, I would end the night in tears and we’d stay up late rehashing everything that happened.

Catholic Marriage: Two Are One

But that’s the thing about Catholic spouses. It’s kind of hard to accept one but not the other, love one but not the other, or have a relationship with one but not the other.

In this case, my husband’s first instinct was to please both sides. He would sympathize and cater to his family when I wasn’t around (staying up late, eating crazy food, and passively agreeing to whatever was said or done), then sympathize and cater to me when we were on our own again (complaining about the family, spreading gossip about who was making bad decisions).

Can you see where this is going?

That quickly lead to a strain between the two of us as I interpreted this appeasing, duplicative behavior as two-faced. In my family, these things simply were not done. In my family, we valued good decisions. In my family, you speak up when you have a crisis of conscience.

Fortunately, we came across the book Boundaries by Dr Townsend and Dr Cloud and it got us on the path to a normal, healthy relationship between the two of us and then between us and his family.

 Catholicism Calls You To Guard Your Heart And Love

The true beauty of the Boundaries book is that it gives us Biblical permission to guard our hearts and defend emotional territory from family members.

God did not design Christmas to be a horrible, stressful, and self-loathing holiday. God did not make us to be pushovers. God did not make us to be the constant companions and servants of our parents or family members.

God designed us to be peaceful, happy, and loving. God designed us to respect our parents (not to be enslaved by them or guilted by them). And the very first step in having love to give is closing off a place in your life and in your heart for peacefulness and God’s presence.

Strong fences make good neighbors, right?

Do my in-laws still annoy me now, or make me uncomfortable sometimes? And do we have to have a 10PM dinner every once in a while? Definitely.

But now that my husband and I are on the same page about what we think is healthy, what is tolerable, and how we will act when things go wrong (including when and how he will speak up for his thoughts or feelings), it is much easier to make decisions about spending time with his family and feel confident that we’ll be able to do and say the right thing when things go downhill.

Where are all the #Thanksgiving posts about family dysfunction?

This article was originally posted in 2014. 

Seriously, I can’t be the only one with insane in-laws and drama-filled holidays. But somehow everything I’m reading is about being thankful for your family, cooking amazing food, and relaxing with loved ones over the holiday.

What if instead of expressing thankfulness for your family, you’re trying to set boundaries and say “No,” to your family? What if instead of settling in for a fun holiday with laughs and good times, you’re crying with your spouse about how mean his family is, and yet how strongly he feels he wants to see them and be a part of their lives?

For us, that means dealing with my husband’s tendency to respond to abusive behavior to make everyone happy: No one has called to make plans? Well maybe they think we don’t want to talk to them, so we need to be nicer! Short-notice plans 3 hours away? Of course we should go, it’s cold not to!

One big happy family? Nah.

One big happy family? Nah.

This is more like it.

Translation: I’m stuck respecting his desire to have a relationship with his family of origin and battening down the hatches to protect him from their manipulative behavior. Oh yes, a holly jolly holiday for us.

Just once, I’d love to see a headline on The Huffington Post that reads “How to Deal With Dysfunctional In-Laws,” or “What to Do When Your Spouse Wants to See His Abusive Family.”

No, no sir. The media does not talk openly about dysfunctional family holidays. After all, that writer would have to put her name on the article and that would lead to a dysfunctional holiday indeed.

How about you: are you anticipating a typical happy holiday, or lots of stress and tears like us?