Parents have the opportunity to export security or insecurity to their children. The type of behavior they exhibit to their children will have a generational impact on the kids, for good or evil.
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Mable couldn’t get a handle on her insecurity. Burdened by a failed marriage, teenage children in rebellion, and too many relational conflicts to count, she was frustrated, angry, and bewildered at how “the same old thing keeps happening to me.” Though she recognized that she had a lifelong problem with anxiety, fear, and insecurity, she did not understand it or why it had such a stranglehold on her life.
As we began to chat, it quickly became apparent where her fear initially took a grip on her life. Mable was the product of parents who had an on-going and unresolvable conflict. Mable had fussy parents!
Children Are Born Insecure
One of the effects of the fall of Adam is inherent fear. All of us are born fearful. Insecurity is part of our original wiring. This problem is an aspect of what it means to be born into sin. If Adam had not sinned, we would not have a broken relationship with God and, thus, there would be no fear. But because of the fall, we are not the way we’re supposed to be. Only when Christ fully redeems us to Himself will we experience something akin to the pre-fall experience of Adam.
But, until then, children need secure environments, and the primary caregivers of security are the children’s parents. The wise and careful parent seeks to provide structure, consistency, and, above all else, relational harmony for their children. Kids are little people living in a big world, and two big things are working against them:
- They cannot take care of themselves.
- They cannot correctly interpret the big world in which they live.
Little People in an Adult World
Kids know they need their parents to protect them. Though they cannot articulate this truth as we can, they know when things are not right. They become afraid. I have heard many “adult children” talk about how the fussing of their parents left them feeling alone, vulnerable, and fearful that something terrible was about to happen. Because they were “Adamically wired” to be scared, they panicked when bad things did happen, especially between the only two people in their world who could protect them.
Mable said she panicked on the inside as a child, but had no one with whom to share her fears. She had to internalize them because her primary “protectors” were on the verge of a marital breakdown. She said that many nights she would ball up and cry herself to sleep as she listened to the verbal warfare on the other side of her bedroom wall.
Things grew worse because her parents, who were Christians, told her that no one in their church was ever to find out what was happening in the family. Mable was afraid to tell anyone. This mandate only exacerbated the fear that was slowly sucking the life out of her. She believed that one day she would come home only to find her parents gone.
Parenting Our Kids
Kids Interpreting an Adult World
Because she was not able to bring an accurate interpretation to what she was observing and experiencing, she drew the worst kinds of conclusions about the problems her family was experiencing. Mable said most of their arguing was about money. (One of the most common arguments between couples.) Though it seemed like all roads led to an argument, it was money that kept coming up again and again. After a while, she stopped asking her mom for things.
Whenever there was a new fad or dress fashion, Mable never told her mom how badly she wanted what all of her friends had. Her mom never discerned the knot in Mable’s soul that was twisting tighter and tighter. By the time Mable was a teen, she had begun to look for security through any means possible, though she did not dare try out for anything like sports or cheerleading, because her fear of failing was too intense.
Her avenue of “escape” was through boys. And that was the path that would prove to be the total unraveling of her life. Her craving for protection and love was so intense that it blinded any common sense or wisdom she should have possessed. She knew all her boyfriends were using her, but she dismissed this knowledge because of her fifteen years, pent-up craving for affection that was uncontrollably lapping up any affection and approval she could find. She was easy picking, and she was glad. From her perspective, this was the path to freedom.
Mable felt a sense of power and control that she had never known before. She was carving out an identity: her looks were defining her. Mable was a modern-day Samson: her strength was in her hair. Her appearance and latest fashions brought her everything she ever needed (Read: craved). But underneath this fashion facade was a young woman growing needier by the day. The door had been flung wide open for her insatiable appetite for love and affection. Her path to freedom was a downward spiral into relational incarceration and dysfunction that would spill over into nearly every one of her future relationships.
She began to suck the life out of all of her relationships especially with her husband and children. She was motivated and driven by a “Need-Based-Theology.” As long as folks met her expectations and needs, things were okay, but as soon as anyone disappointed her, let her down, or did not meet her expectations, she either retaliated or dropped them altogether.
Looking for Love
I spent many weeks introducing Mable to the gospel. Her parents were supposed to teach her about God and how He is the One who removes our fears and replaces it with faith in the works of Christ. Though her parents were Christians, (at least this is what they professed to be) their fussy lifestyle smothered and displaced the religion they hoped to transfer to their daughter. Not only did Mable not get to know God, but she was angry with God because her only snapshot of what Christianity looked like was through the lens of her fussy parents.
In time, Mable was able to come to a fuller and accurate understanding of God as well as a relationship with Him. Though she has known God all of her life, she never worshipped Him as God. The same fear that Mable had about her parents were overlaying her interpretation and understanding of her heavenly Father. She became a legalist, believing that at any moment God would ditch her as well. Mable lived on “eggshells” concerning her relationship with God. She did not want to displease Him, so she made sure she kept all of the rules.
As the gospel began to crystallize in her mind, she began to be transformed by the power of the cross. She learned how to apply the gospel to her life, and incrementally her life began to be characterized by faith rather than fear. The God she interpreted through the lens of her parents was now a distant memory. For the first time in her life, she was experiencing what it truly meant to be secure. It was the incredible message of the gospel that brought the love, approval, acceptance, and security that she had longed for all of her life.
Call to Action
- If your parents are messing up your life today, will you reach out to your church leaders to find help?
- If you are in a similar situation as Mable, will you find help too?
- For further study, please read the linked articles in this post.
Also published on Medium.