Responding to Your Grown Child About Pain Pt 1
by Cindi McMenamin
None of us want to hear that our grown children have suffered pain. Especially if we contributed to that pain or were around when it happened and could have prevented it.
It’s much easier to just believe we did the best we could, the past is in the past, and our children turned out fine. But as much as we’d like to believe that an accusation from our children is simply a matter of their misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or exaggeration, it’s important that we hear them out without becoming defensive, getting angry, or freaking out.
Whether their hurt was inflicted by you or someone else, chances are it could be an emotionally-charged conversation or even a shocking revelation if you’re not prepared. Based on more than 20 years of ministering to moms, here are 4 ways to respond when your adult child tells you about his or her childhood pain:
1. Abstain from reacting emotionally.
Upon hearing of your child’s hurts, your first impulse might be to react emotionally by interrupting, questioning, attempting to clarify, or denying the incident, altogether. If your child saw things differently than you did, you will have a strong urge to explain, clarify, or clear up his or her misunderstanding. Resist that urge at all costs. Your explanations could be interpreted as “discounting” their pain, denying responsibility, or defending yourself. Proverbs 13:3 assures us, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives [and their relationships], but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.”
When our children open up and talk about their pain they need to be heard. It’s possible they were hurt by something you don’t remember or didn’t realize was hurtful to them, but it’s important they get the chance to talk about it without the interruption or distraction of your emotional reaction.
2. Avoid a counter-attack.
Your child’s hurt may bring up hurts of your own. This isn’t the time to counter-attack with the things they have done to wound you or to have caused your hurtful remark or behavior in the first place. Rise above the opportunity to “get even” in terms of accusation and humbly realize this is your child’s time to be honest about how he or she is feeling.
If reconciliation and healing is your goal for your child, focus on listening and not formulating what you are going to say next. Let your child know you care about his or her pain, not your defense or reputation. James 1:19 tells us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Brokenness on your part can touch your child’s heart. But a “you hurt me, too” response will only add salt to their wound. As they are talking, if you feel your heart rate – or your need to defend yourself – rising, start praying silently that God will help you listen lovingly.
3. Acknowledge their pain.
Even if you disagree about how something played out or what happened from your perspective, your child was still hurt through the situation. Acknowledge their hurt by telling them “I’m so sorry this hurt you. I can’t imagine how you are feeling right now, but I’m glad you’re telling me.”
Resist the urge to downplay or minimize the event. It’s true, some situations that we thought very little about ended up hurting our kids. But it’s important to them that we acknowledge their pain, rather than deny it by telling them “that’s not what happened” or “you’re being too sensitive” or worse, “You misunderstood me” or “That’s nothing. I was hurt far more by my parents when I was young.” Try to remember it’s their pain and their attempt to sort it through, so avoid making it about how you feel.
4. Affirm them for their honesty and desire to talk.
If your child comes to you maturely to talk about an issue, it will be easier for you to respond in the same mature matter. It’s more challenging, however, when you are blindsided by an angry accusation or hit head-on from your child who has “had it” and needs to vent. No matter how your child brings the matter to you, respond by taking a deep breath and thanking them for bringing it up and caring enough about the relationship to want to talk about it. Secrets and resentments help no relationship. Appreciate their desire to talk and clear the air.
You might start by saying “Thank you for talking with me about this. I imagine it was difficult of you to bring it up. But I’m so glad you were honest with me and told me how you felt.” That will ease some tension and their fears that you might over-react or react defensively.
5. Ask if you can respond.
Upon hearing about your child’s pain, you may be loaded with questions, defenses, or explanations. But let them have the floor as they’re talking. And then, when it looks like they’ve stated their case, ask if you can respond. You might try wording it like this: “Would you mind if I shared with you my recollection so we can work through this, if possible?”
Realize your child may say “No, I just need to be able to say this and I need you to listen.” If that’s the case, respect that. If you have interrupted, explained, defended yourself, or even denied responsibility in the past, your child may be hesitant to let you speak into the situation. And any attempt by you to deny, defend, or blame could shut your child down altogether. Ask lovingly if you can respond and then wait for the answer. If you are not allowed to speak into the situation at that moment, ask if you can talk about it in a day or two, when emotions have cooled, or take it to God, prayerfully, and ask for wisdom from the Holy Spirit to respond to them in written form. That way you have a chance to think through what you will say.
Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mom, Bible teacher and national speaker who helps women and couples deal with the struggles of life through her books, which include, When Women Walk Alone (more than 125,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter, and When God Sees Your Tears. For more on her books, speaking ministry, and free resources to strengthen your soul, marriage or parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.