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Q. Recently my daughter-in-law left her family—my son and their three little boys. My son called me right away and I flew across the country to help him with the boys. She’s back home now, but is facing some painful abuse from her past with the help of a therapist and is on a heavy dose of anti-depressants. She seems very distracted from her responsibilities. I’ve stayed on to help out, but how can I help without helping too much? Where do I draw the line? I was a stay-at-home mom and I am afraid I will take on too much responsibility, but the children, all under age six, need attention. SA
A. Bless your heart for being willing to help out during this family crisis. As to how to draw the line, I believe the secret lies in maintaining your own mental health. You need to give, but you also must reserve some time and energy for yourself so you do not become overwhelmed. To do this, I encourage you to develop a life outside the four walls of your son and daughter-in-law’s home, even if you are only with them for a short season. One way to start is by finding a good church in the area, and taking time to get involved, even if it means taking your grandchildren with you. By involved, I mean attending Sunday services, and maybe joining a small group Bible study, not serving in any capacity. Right now your service is to your family, so find a place where the music, teaching and presence of God feed your soul, not a place that needs your help.
Secondly, pay attention to your body. Are you stressed? Tense? Our bodies serve as fantastic early warning systems that let us know when we are heading for trouble. If you are tense or stressed or experiencing negative emotions, let yourself know what you are feeling, then follow it back to an earlier place where you felt that way before. With sadness or anger, let yourself feel the intensity of the emotion and then offer it up to God. When you are in the light you will feel gratitude, peace, calm and compassion. If you pay attention to your body and your heart, they will warn you when things are out of balance.
Thirdly, it can be easy, in a situation like yours, to take responsibility for problems that are not yours. One concept that helps me is from the Equipping Ministries International class Renewing the Mind, which encourages us to ask if the problems that concern us are in the throne zone or the home zone. The throne zone is made up of problems that we are concerned about but have no control over because God, or other people, have the power and control. An example would be your daughter-in-law’s behavior. You can’t change her or fix her; it is up to her and God. The home zone contains the problems that are our responsibility. For example, you can chose to be good to yourself, to do things that you know are life-giving such as taking a walk, a hot bath, reading a book, or getting out in the sun by taking the boys to the playground. We often get into trouble because we stress about problems in the throne zone, where we are powerless, instead of dealing with situations in the home zone where we are in control. Even if you have to do it hourly, release those throne-zone burdens to God.
It is all too easy to get anxious or overly involved in situations like this. We often see where the person needs to go, but we all processes pain at our own speed and God gives us that freedom. The best way to help your daughter-in-law is to listen to her so she can process her own pain, then let her find her way. Do not try to fix or rescue her. Just reflect back what you are hearing. She has to work through her own issues. It will take time and it will hurt, but she will come through it if she perseveres.
It is tragic that so many of our young people have been abused and I often feel profoundly sad, even to the point of tears when I hear their stories. Let yourself know that sadness and offer it up to God. He is the burden bearer and bears our grief.
One more thought, your grandchildren are the innocent victim’s in this sad situation but God is in the business of redeeming all of our lives. As their mother attempts to come to grips with her past abuse, their needs still need to be met, as much as in humanly possibly, so focus on them and let the house and other tasks go. It won’t be easy, but there may be times when you have to step away, so your daughter-in-law can step forward. Sometimes the fact that we have to do something is what saves us. I suspect that with God’s help you will know when those moments are there. The most important thing is for you to have good mental health. You are modeling that for all of them, including showing them how to grieve life’s losses, and that is life-giving.
I’ll be praying.
A prayer for S,
You know S’s heart to serve and her deep love for her family. They are in crisis now and she wants to help, but it is so easy to get entangled and take on false responsibility for another actions. Show her the way. You see it all. You look deep into the hearts of every person, including her son, and daughter-in-law and the grandchildren. Help her to know what she needs to do to maintain her own balance and move toward wholeness. Help her know what to do and what not to do. We pray for healing for her daughter-in-law. Give her strength to face her pain and be healed. Weave their lives together and make them whole. Release the grief. Life was not as it should have been, but you were there. You know, so help them to turn toward you, not away.
In Jesus’ name,