On Being LGBT, Christian, and Coming Out

LGBT2

Today’s question from a reader took me by surprise when I first read it. I suppose I was surprised because I don’t consider myself as someone who really “takes sides” on questions of sexuality and faith: if anything, I have written about why I won’t take a stand on gay marriage.

However, the topic keeps coming up. On the blog, I’ve been asked questions about being friends with someone who is transgender. I also wrote about our response to the World Vision controversy last year (here with a Screwtape letter, and here with a parable of a gay samaritan).  I’ve linked to articles in Pick of the Clicks discussing some of the issues at hand, and had books pressed into my hands by friends since then. So I suppose I am willing to talk about it, even though it’s not a soapbox issue for me. Having said that – I’m answering today’s letter as a friend, not as an expert, and my goal – as always – is to aim for the grace and truth blend which is found so beautifully in Jesus.

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m finally doing it: I’m finally coming out as bisexual. My spouse knows, but I’m ready to be authentic with everyone else. This poses a bit of a problem: as a Christian, I don’t think this is wrong, but I have plenty of Christian family/best friends who do. I know it’ll be hard for them. I’m ready for there to be misunderstandings and awkward questions. (Even gay people have a hard time with, “How can you be bi if you’re committed to one person? Doesn’t that make you straight/gay?”) But I want to minimize the pain for both of us, anticipate their questions with grace, and find some way to make this as easy as possible on everyone.

And, if I’m honest, I feel terribly vulnerable. I would really just like to know they still love me. I don’t know if that’s even appropriate to ask when you drop a bomb like this on someone.
I know you don’t necessarily agree with LGBT, though I’ve loved your posts on the subject. I was wondering: if your child, cousin, or best friend came out as bi to you, how could they best do it in a way that respects you and doesn’t get your guard up? What are things you would want to know or that it would help you to hear? What if this person lived far away and couldn’t do it in person?

Fearfully brave

Dear Fearfully Brave,

I’ve recently read a few books dealing with LGBT issues. My book club read Two Boys Kissing, a YA novel I would never otherwise have picked up. After that, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, a book which I didn’t know had gay themes until I was well into the story. So that made for two novels I would not ordinarily have read – and I”ll admit, despite being very well written stories, they were uncomfortable for me to read.

Still, reading uncomfortable things is something I am increasingly becoming comfortable with, as I am discovering that reading is not just about enjoying stories, but also about learning to hear the voices of the human condition.  As such, reading those two books were very important for empathy-building for me, because as someone who has a public Christian profile, I am one of the last people on earth likely to be expected to really hear the deep hurts and desires which someone struggling with their sexuality. It’s a bit of a catch 22, really: evangelical Christians are presumed to have little empathy, and so we are not entrusted with people’s deepest heart issues. But without hearing the real struggles of real people, how can we build empathy? I am grateful to literature for sharing some of that inner monologue with me where others have been unable to.

And it’s working, I might add. It’s working in that I feel my empathy and compassion growing, my love expanding for the wounded and vulnerable and confused. I’m realizing nobody chooses to struggle with this because they want to be ornery or sinful. Rather, they struggle – and dealing with others’ discomfort and disapproval is a large part of the pain that comes with choosing to come out.

So what would I say to you? I would say: say what you’ve written to me. That you’re still married. That you still believe. That you’re wrestling. That you want them to know because you love and respect them enough to want to be more fully known by them. Tell them you don’t need them to agree, or to endorse you, or even to understand – but that you would love them to let you know they still love you, if they are able to do that.

Some of the questions that would come to mind might be: what does this mean for your marriage? What will this change in terms of how you live your life? What will this change in our relationship? Also, is there anything you want me to do or to say? I think your willingness to answer questions as best you can communicates a great deal. The fact that you are married (and happily so!) to a Christian of the opposite sex goes a long way towards assuring a conservative Christian that you are (relatively) safe: a fact which is not insignificant in our concerns for our loved ones who are charting unknown territory.

Another question which might present itself from your immediate family is the question of causation: whose fault is this? will people blame us? and what caused it? There is still much disagreement on whether sexuality is biological or environmental, and those who were part of both our situational nurture and our genetic nature will feel some sense of responsibility in answering for the information. (Aside: I am currently reading Nicolosi’s book A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, which is a fascinating and surprisingly compassionate read. Its Amazon reviews are all either 5-star or 1-star… which tells you a lot about the presuppositions of the readers). So, perhaps you might want to address the fact that no matter how it came to be that you find yourself identifying as bisexual – you’re not blaming them.

It is, as you suggest, likely that some family members may need some time to process, and even to grieve, your news. You can do nothing else but give them that space. I hope, though, that in time they will be able to see where you are coming from and affirm their love for you and welcome to you.

I daresay a letter might be easier, given the distance. The letter might be hard to write, and harder still will be calling them after a while to ask if they’ve read it. There are a 1000 hard ways to do this, and not a single right, easy way.

I, for one, would want to welcome you with open arms. Not because I think homosexuality as a lifestyle is okay (I think the Bible is clear that this is a temptation which we are called to bring under Christ’s clear rule about the way in which we govern our sexual relationships)… but because the Bible is also really clear that the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and we are not to throw stones or pass judgment on those for whom Christ died. We are the church, you and I.

I”ll be praying for you as you share your news.

Bronwyn

Growing Up Social {And a GIVEAWAY!}

GrowingUpSocial

Dealing with screens ranks way up there with potty training and discipline as the Top Parenting Challenges we are facing, and so when I was offered an advance copy of Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane’s new book Growing Up Social (raising relational kids in a screen-driven world) – I jumped at the chance.

But then, once I got the book – I didn’t want to read it, and it languished at my bedside for several weeks.

Why? Because I was afraid of what it would say. My husband and I already battle personal fights with screens (as do many others, as evidenced by this post about smartphones in marriage being the most popular one on my blog ever), and resisting the urge to check my screen while driving remains a battle. We already have had to password protect our devices so that our children don’t steal them, the toddlers already would mimic typing on a computer or talking on a phone  – so I resisted reading the book because I was waiting for a hammer of judgment to come smashing down on my already guilt-laden conscience about this issue.

Which is, of course, exactly why I needed to read it anyway.

Chapman and Pellicane’s treatment of the topic was grace filled and refreshingly un-judgy. Compassionate, resourceful, eye-opening: they trace the challenges of raising kids in a world where screens abound. While they do touch on some of the direct dangers of too-much-screen time (the commonly touted wisdom of increased exposure to violence, a sedentary lifestyle etc), the strength of this book lies in how they reveal all the good we and our children are missing if we while away hours in front of a screen. Necessary life skills such as learning how to appreciate others, to manage anger, to apologize, show affection and to pay attention (both to people and the world) are all skills forged in the field of relational-time: creative play time, the sports field and conversation – and it is exactly those times which are forfeited when we allow screens to buffer our families.

I may have spent the first two chapters on my guard, waiting to be told off for being a bad parent, but as I was reading I soon dropped my defenses and began to read in earnest – highlighting sentences here and there, circling practical tips of ways to engage my family on certain issues. And yes, I realized (once again) that I need to revisit my own attitudes towards screens – for relational behavior is ultimately caught more than it is taught.

I feel I should add that this is not a book with Luddite sensibilities. Chapman and Pelican are not anti-technology, or even anti social-media. However, they are cautious about allowing these things a proper place in our lives. As they wisely state at the opening of the book: the question is whether technology is brining your family closer together, or whether it is driving your family further apart? 

Friends: it’s a good book. And more than that – it’s a NEEDED book because this is the world we live in. We all want to win at parenting. We want children who know how to navigate life, love well, and thrive relationally. If they are to do that, screens and social media need to have a healthy place in their lives, and this book is a really helpful resource in thinking the issue through.

I have one copy of Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane’s book to give away. Enter to win below. Entries close Friday 10/24/2014 at midnight PST, and the winner will be announced in this weekend’s Pick of the Clicks.

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pick of the Clicks 10/18/2014

Pick of the Clicks

I think this week may be the best pick of the clicks week EVER. OH. MY. WORD. Enjoy:

Drake Baer’s article for the Business Insider, Harvard says the best thinkers have these 7 ‘Thinking Dispositions’, made for fascinating reading. To make the point, he asks just two questions: can you play the piano? and do you play the piano? Sooooo interesting.

Lindsey Ellison’s essay on the #1 Secret on How To Engage A Narcissist is a quick and TOTALLY eye-opening read. We all know someone like this, or someone in a relationship that looks like this – and this is a must read if we are ever prone to give our thoughts/opinions/encouragements on relationships!

Likewise, Christy Sim’s piece on How to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence is incredibly tactful and practical. It’s an essay worth bookmarking.

Jessica Kelley’s essay Can Christians Support Brittany Maynard’s Decision?  is truly excellent. In it, she shares her thoughts on Kara Tippett’s open letter to Brittany Maynard, the 29-year old terminally ill woman who (may) end her life on November 1st. Coming from the perspective of a Christian mom who cared for and buried her terminally ill preschooler, Jessica’s thoughts are nuanced, respectful, clear and incredibly thought-provoking.

The Rise of Bibilical Counseling by Kathryn Joyce is a lengthy but significant read about how the church handles psychological and psychiatric struggles. I remember reading “Competent To Counsel” nearly 20 years ago, and feeling swayed that there was no ailment which a clear and consistent application of Scripture could not handle. My views have changed since then: I have seen mental illness and depression close up, and while I still am very much in support of counseling (and Christian counseling), I also think that mental illness and depression are scary realities and we can’t spiritualize our way out of that aspect of our fallen world. It is a really thorough, balanced read.

Fabienne Harford’s article on Sex and the Single Woman is a magnificent read  (Thanks, Dorothy Greco, for the recommendation). I don’t know that I have come across a more truthful and hopeful piece on the topic, and even as a married woman – I learned so much from this.

Michael Horton’s essay What If Having an Extraordinary Life Isn’t The Point is so very, very good. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was so good I read it twice, and I have it open on my browser because I intend to read it twice more before closing it.

Sara Hagerty’s post over at Amy Julia Becker’s lovely blog What I Learned When My Children Fell Apart In Front Of Me is poignant and wise reflection on adoption, suffering, and grace. She writes:

Pain is an invitation and loss isn’t a curse when it peels back the layers over the heart to reveal the hunger buried underneath — inherent in every human, no matter the circumstances — for a personal, intimate brush with God.

This made me snicker: I am that crayon-smuggler.

1901614_10154758993285501_4487244687795160387_n

 

Links from me:

What women want over at Ungrind this week, a little reflection on God’s kindness caused by my daughter’s incessant nagging to get her ears pierced.

Also, at RELEVANT magazine this week: 9 Things Everyone Should Do When Reading the Bible. This essay at RELEVANT was adapted from a post long-ago on this blog (you can find the original here) – crazy that it was read by just 200-300 people on my blog, and has been read by hundreds of thousands now at RELEVANT. Just goes to show that the size of a blog doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the quality of its content :-)

Top of my blog this week: That time my pot got me in trouble. Don’t be deceived by the title – this post was actually one of my more serious reflections on culture, faith, and the words we use to talk about them :-)

Thanks for reading my little blog :-) And happy clicking!

What women want

I’m over at Ungrind again this week. Here’s a sneak peek – click over here to read the whole thing :-)

WHATWOMENWANT1

I settled down at the table and watched my daughter compose her face in her “now-I-have-something-important-to-say” expression: eyes level, chin down, forehead hopeful.

She paused dramatically and in a butter-cream-smooth tone, said: “Mom, if you just gave us more of the things we want, there would be less crying and being angry with you.”

Reader, I literally snorted with laughter. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed until the tears streamed down my cheeks, infuriating my daughter more with each passing second. In hindsight, I probably should have laughed a little less.

I laughed because this was not the first time I was getting advice from my kids on how to do a better job as their mom. Not unlike the young tyrant from Calvin and Hobbes, my children are full of suggestions on how I can “improve my ratings,” or secure better responses from them.

In this particular instance, my 6-year old was angling for me to change my mind about whether or not she could have her ears pierced: a decision we had already said no to. She entreated us daily. For weeks on end. Sometimes with tantrums. Sometimes with stony silences. And on that particular day, she resorted to cool, calm reason. If we would just give her what she wanted, she’d be less angry with us.

Somewhere in the midst of that laughing, I felt the Holy Spirit tap me on the shoulder. Once again, He directed me to consider that panoramic vantage point into God’s parenting of us, His children, which we become privy to when we become parents ourselves.

(continue reading at Ungrind…)

That Time My Pot Got Me In Trouble

That Time My Pot Got Me In Trouble

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.*” We pulled over at the side of the road to admire the handmade pottery of a Zulu craftswoman. Her earthenware was rough: clay scooped by the handful from the earth, shaped into a rustic earthenware pot with a sturdy swell at the base tapering into a gorgeous, distinguished neck. I knew we were flying half way around the world just a few days later and that our luggage allowance was limited, but I had to have it.  It was all the rough beauty of Africa in a single urn.

My brother-in-law constructed a custom box for it: repurposing old computer boxes with tape and tenacity. We stuffed its graceful neck with strips of raggedy, old newspaper. I remember brushing away mouse droppings and wondering if they would cause the sniffer dogs at customs any alarm: animal products, and all that. I found the biggest red marker possible, and stenciled FRAGILE! THIS WAY UP!! in alarmist lettering on every side.

I checked my bags through one, two and then three flights, but kept my cardboard box with me on each. I cradled it baby-like through each security checkpoint; held my breath through every bumpy landing. 11,000 miles later, I exhaled slowly as we taxied down the final runway. I was nearly home.

A long, snaking line at Passport Control. Arrivals forms efficiently scanned. A scurry through baggage claim. And finally: the last stop at customs and excise duty – a checkpoint which had only ever required a polite nod and a wave before the blessed reunions of the arrivals hall.

But not this time.

A man in uniform politely waved me to a counter, where I dutifully unpacked all my belongings and watched in fascination as my underwear and toiletries appeared in ghostly X-ray outlines on the screen. My polite chit-chat was interrupted by the customs official.

“What’s in the box?” she asked.

“It’s my pot,” I answered proudly, ready to tell her of the lovely road running from Ixopo into the hills. The expression on her face stopped me short.

What is it?” she snapped.

I pointed to the screen where the graceful outline was clearly visible. “It’s my p…… ”

In slow motion, I realized how incriminating my South African noun sounded to her Californian ears. My scalp prickled.

“It’s my vase! It’s my vase!” I sputtered. “I promise! There is absolutely NO pot in there whatsoever. Just a vase. Made of clay. Nothing else.”

*******

It’s not the only time my words have raised eyebrows. Our first year in the States was replete with moments of social humiliation and hilarity, but slowly our comfort with the local language grew. Our settling into life and community was matched (and facilitated) by a settling into the language of the community. A growing sense of belonging wasn’t just about getting to know people, or being known by them. Grafting into our community included grafting the vernacular into our conversation: once we talked like locals, we began to earn street cred. All our words were still said in a South African accent, but the actual words themselves changed too: diaper, not nappy. Faucet, not tap. Gas, not petrol. Oh for the love: eraser, not rubber.

Accidentally choosing my native words in conversation was like waving an “outsider” flag. Conversation would stall while we awkwardly stumbled to translate our intention. An offer to “fetch someone on my way” was met with suspicion and a shudder of offense. “Fetch” is a verb used for dogs chasing sticks. The more appropriate word here was “to give someone a ride”, or to “pick them up”. We made dozens of these adjustments: taking down linguistic barriers so we could reach across to form deeper friendships.

*******

I noticed it in the church most of all, probably because it was the place I needed to belong most keenly.

The cultural phenomenon of figuring out “who belongs” as defined by their language is a heightened reality within the evangelical church. Aware of theological threats on every side, we parse our words carefully. Some of Christendom’s deepest divides have been chiseled by disagreements over words. Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom parted ways over precise words, because of course it wasn’t just about the words – but rather that the particular words represented very nuanced (and divergent) theological views. Church history is littered with word-wars.

And the church today is no different. We think carefully about whether we describe ourselves as reformed, or evangelical. As a Christian, or a Jesus-follower. We choose those terms because they represent something significant about the way we understand our faith. It means something to be a Baptist rather than a Presbyterian. To be an Anglican rather than an Episcopalian.

Beneath the layer of formal Christian titles, there is the second tier of language, in the way we talk about everyday things. Do we talk about being “born again”, or having “come to Christ”, or “becoming a believer”. To move from a culture where people are “born again” into a culture where people “come to Christ” presents some challenges. When you tell the new group that you were “born again” – instead of initially seeing a similarity (yes! you are one of us! you belong to Christ!), the hearers might at first hear difference (that’s not how I would have put it. I wonder if she’s one of those hellfire and damnation folks. They talk about born again a lot. If she says “the blood of the lamb” in the next sentence, I’m outta here.)

It took nearly a year in the US for me to feel I could really trust my new church theologically. They spoke a different dialect of Christianese: similar enough to mine to understand it, but just different enough for me to be on guard. Just in case. Like the maps of yore, the edges of my theological map contains seas marked “here be dragons”. After a year, I had learned enough to know that even though the expressions of faith were phrased a little differently to where I’d come from – we were still kin, and the bedrock of our faith was common after all.

******

Every new believer we meet, whether we intend it or not, faces new customs when they visit our churches, and not unlike the Customs Official I met, we find ourselves wondering: what’s in your box?

Let’s not be alarmed if the answer comes out as something like ‘pot’.  It may well be that they really do love Jesus,  but they speak a slightly different Christian dialect. We have eternity to figure out the details – but for now, let’s give some grace to those who speak with a different faith ‘accent’ before we jump to conclusions.

  • The opening lines from Alan Paton’s most beautiful book, Cry, The Beloved Country.

Pick of the Clicks 10/11/2014

409741849_1fd70dbc1c_z

This has been a week of hope for us. After weeks and months of some very hard things, this week saw little glimmers of encouragement seeping into the shadows. This week’s lunar eclipse felt particularly poignant. I spent a lot of time thinking. I spent a lot of time thanking: God and friends and all those other stalwart encouragers along the way. I did not write much, but I did read a bit – and these were things that caught my attention – even in a week of navel-gazing.

Enjoy. They’re pretty fabulous.

Cindy Brandt’s article on Co-Creators From The Beginning is another one of the winners from the Junia Project’s blog competition. Men and women alike should read it – but especially women: since we have all felt that we ‘ought’ to quash our creativity in the greater service of others. Taryn Hayes wrote a fantastic guest post a while back called Giftedness before Godliness, and this article by Cindy gives (I think) the other side of that coin…. why giftedness STILL matters as a woman.

Dorothy Greco’s essay on Bridging Racial Divides by Listening Beneath Our Shame is such an insightful piece on why, as privileged people, we often feel so uncomfortable/angry/ashamed when confronted by discussions of privilege. More importantly, she has some thoughts on what we can do to respond better when we find ourselves twisted emotionally and conversationally on this topic. Her wisdom on this is tremendously helpful.

John Piper tweeted a misguided comment earlier this week about how “we should give and pray and risk in the battle against Ebola. But even more against the Ebola of unbelief.” (jaw drop). I appreciated Tim Fall’s response.

Jen Michel’s post on Breaking the Bread of Belief: Naked is a tightly woven, deeply insightful call on what it means to be really KNOWN. I love the deep things Jen mines out of the Scriptures, and the beautiful ways she expresses them.

I could not breathe while reading Alia Joy’s Open Letter to the Ones Whose No Didn’t Count. Trigger warning: this post is about what you think it’s about. But it is SOOOOO important. If you are able, read it.

I had heard a lot about the uprisings in Hong Kong, but to be honest did not have a clue what to think or feel about it since I had no context for understanding the protests. Dorcas Cheng-Tozun’s article Why Hong Kong Matters: More Than Politics At Stake gave a brief, clear explanation of the situation, but more importantly showed me the heart of the matter: why I should care. It is excellent reading.

I have tried to watch Dr Who before, but gave up fairly soon: feeling overwhelmed by all the Doctors I had not known in the FIFTY YEARS of television I had already missed on this. However, Sarah Bessey may have convinced me to give it another go with her Beginner’s Guide to Doctor Who. Seriously, Sarah writes so winsomely I think she could sell hip hop to a blue rinse brigade… but her love for the show is contagious. Her guide is the most delightful hard sell you’ll come across.

Just for fun: Mallory Ortberg posed a question on Twitter – “What’s the most Dad thing your dad has ever done?” The responses were fantastic. Here are a few of them: Mallory Dad Greatest Hits.

Next week is Columbus Day, and perhaps you’re wondering what to make of it?10 million internet points to The Oatmeal for the most brilliant cartoon explaining the whole thing.  (It’s not what you think)

Finally: I am a word nerd, so loved this post on 25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites. English is a STRANGE language!

On my blog this week? An Ask Me Anything question about how to honor your parents (or your spouses’s parents) when your relationships with them is tricky. I got a lot of email about this one.

Photo Credit: Andre Van Rooyen (Lunar Eclipse 3/4 March) – copyright Flickr Creative Commons

When relationships with the in-laws are tricky…

Advice for when relationships with your in-laws is tricky

Dear Bronwyn,

I read your RELEVANT article on honoring parents when we are adults. I was  wondering if you have any practical tips for honoring parents when a circumstance is difficult?

My husband and I live near his parents and see them regularly. Although we’ve been married six years, and both just turned 30, there are times when his mom becomes a bit of a ‘helicopter parent’ and treats him like he’s a little boy again. As if he needs to be a ‘son’ first and a ‘husband’ second. It stresses him out for sure and I’m looking for ways to support him in this. We’ve had several (kindhearted and respectful) conversations with her but not sure if they resolve much. We’re a bit baffled on how we might help her see us as adult children instead of just kids that need to do nearly everything with the family still. Any thoughts?

– a Baffled Daughter-in-Law

Dear BDiL,

I grew up hearing some truly alarming stories of difficulties my parents had with their own in-laws. My mind is etched with tales of my late grandmother refusing to eat a pork roast my newlywed mom had cooked. Legend has it that she shuddered and sniffed: “I never eat pork, it’s so like human flesh.” My mom was devastated and poured her heart out on the phone to her own father on the phone. Recounting the jibe about pork being like human flesh, my ever witty grandfather came back with: “well, how would she know?”

Jokes aside: navigating relationships with adult parents can be incredibly tricky, and when one adds a spouse and then children into the mix, things become even more complex. I want to commend you and your husband for your desire to honor his parents, for the loving conversations you have had with her so far, for the prayers you have prayed and are continuing to pray. It can be hard to remain warm and welcoming and prayerful in a situation where you feel criticized and the other party lets you know they are disappointed with how they are being treated – even though you’re doing your best.

So first thing: good job. God sees your heart in this, and I believe he blesses your desire to honor them.

My second thought is this: I think there are some significant limits on what we are able to “help people see”. We can explain as lovingly and clearly as possible, but sometimes people can remain at an impasse. She may not want to “see”. She may not be able to see, due to a hurt or different worldview or radically different perspective on things. You did not mention whether your husband was an only child or the eldest son, but if he is – I hear that can have a big impact too.

So what do you do then?

I take great comfort in the words of Romans 12:18:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

If it is possible… God knows a peacefully resolved relationship is not always possible. It might be that we try and try and pray and pray and do everything right – and healing a breach might not be possible.

but: as far as it depends on you, live at peace. I love that the Scriptures are clear about delineating healthy relationship boundaries. Healthy relationships depend on more than one party – and so as far as it depends on you – do what you can do keep it peaceful. The fact that you and your husband are on the same page about this is a huge help (sometimes I get letters from people where the wife feels the Mother in Law is interfering, but the husband seems unaware of or unwilling to address the problem. My advice there would for the couple first to figure out what they want from their relationships with the in-laws).

So often if a couple is having a hard time with a parent who they feel is overly (and unhealthily) involved in their family affairs, they fall into the trap of allowing the parents to set all the relational expectations – and then they believe that honoring the parents means trying to meet as many of those expectations as they can. The parents are often disappointed because their children aren’t “honoring their wishes”, and they interpret their disappointment as disrespect. So, for example – a mother in law might simple assume that her married, adult son is spending thanksgiving with them, or coming over for every Sunday dinner – but fail to actually invite the couple, or to give them a reasonable space to say no, not this time without the threat of The Great Dump Truck Of Guilt being heaped upon them.

In that circumstance, though: the adult children are not disrespecting the parent. The parent is just disappointed, that’s all.

My practical advice for you is this:

  • Create your own boundaries as a couple. Figure out what you and your husband CAN and WANT to do to honor his parents and include them. As a family unit, prayerfully decide the ways in which you feel you could honestly and openly welcome them into your lives and home. You set the terms of what you both feel you can, in good conscience, do. I think it would be healthy to reach a space when you can say that you are CHOOSING every interaction and visit you have, instead of trying to just minimize the number of times you disappoint her and being driven by guilt.

So, for example – decide if you would be happy to have lunch once a month/once a week. Tell her you’re often invited to lunch with other young families after church on Sunday but you still want to make time to have lunch with her because she’s important to you – so ask her if you can write a date down in the calendar in PEN, and tell her you are really looking forward to it.

Have you and your husband decide how much phone conversation or texting you are willing to do – and have him call her regularly. If she calls at inappropriate times, I would say it is okay to let the phone go to voicemail on occasion – but then he must call her back when he has time to talk, and make a good effort to really listen :-)

Cloud and Townsend’s book on “Boundaries” is so helpful for things like this. Say yes and no to what is healthy for your family, and then stick to that. If you decline one of her invitations, you do not need to apologize profusely or promise to make it up to her, NOR do you need to give her a reason why you can’t go. People who are invading your space then often feel that they have the right to evaluate your reason and see if it’s “good enough” to justify the no. I find it better to say: “Thanks for the invitation, but we can’t this time! Sorry to disappoint.”

* Help your mother in law with the language of disappointment if you feel she is pushing too hard or starting to hover. “Mom, I know you’re disappointed we can’t come over tonight. Thanks for understanding, and we are looking forward to that Sunday lunch…”

* Ask her some questions: about her own relationships with her in-laws. About her favorite memories with her children. And if you have the openness of relationship to ask directly, maybe you might even be able to say: “I know we aren’t always to spend the kind of time with you that you would like us to. You are important to us, though, so I was wondering what some of the most important things are that you would appreciate from us?” Who knows what might come from that?

I hope this is of some practical help. If it is possible, and as far as it depends on you, I hope your relationship with both your parents  remains a peaceful and rich one.

Got an “Ask Me Anything” question? Click over here

 

Photo Credit: Grant MacDonald “Vine and Brick” (copyright from Flickr Creative Commons), edits by Bronwyn Lea.