It can’t be easy watching your son or daughter suffer through a breakup, no matter what the circumstances. Emotions are strained to breaking point, and a few words from a parent can seriously influence a young adult’s frame of mind for better or worse. My relationship with my parents was strengthened as a result of my experience, because they were able to offer me precisely what I needed: affirmation, understanding, counsel, and prayer.
For a week or two after my boyfriend dropped the bomb, I basically didn’t eat. Honestly, I’m still not sure how I managed to not pass out—but for some reason, that was how I reacted to the hurt. I just didn’t know how to manage the variety of emotions and mood swings that were constantly changing. And though my friends at school supported me with all their love and care, there were limits to their knowledge and experience.
My parents were not only voices of understanding, but also took an active role in counselling me, helping me make sense and move forward. There were a few pieces of advice that really hit home, and that I’ve repeated to other friends in past years. From my mother, one of the best pieces of advice she sent was a list of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. “These aren’t linear and one can bounce around the stages, even after reaching acceptance,” she said. That struck the bulls-eye! As I looked at myself, I realized that I could pinpoint each of those stages. Suddenly, my frightening, frustrating lack of emotional control became a pattern of purposeful healing.
My dad’s best counsel was to find an adult that I trusted to discuss the situation with—so that I could hear reason from someone who was balanced and disinterested. The resulting conversation with a professor was precisely what I needed to kick me out of a cycle of depressing over-analysis into sanity and better eating habits.
Parental counsel doesn’t mean telling your son everything he did wrong in the relationship, or challenging your daughter to get a grip and move on. Wise counsel means dropping a word or two where you see it will do the most good, and crossing your fingers that your distraught teenager will listen. A word of advice from a parent may be just the thing your child needs in his or her morass of emotions.
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When my relationship with a human fell apart, my relationship with God took a major hit. I kept my routine of daily Mass, but lost touch with the daily Rosary I’d been in the habit of saying with my boyfriend. I found it difficult to talk to God; I didn’t reject Him, but I lost confidence in my ability to love Him.
One day, my mother texted me a quote from Padre Pio, "Pray, hope, and don't worry." She added her own spiritual advice, telling me: "It will take time to heal. You are learning a valuable lesson in conquering self. Turn to the Sorrowful Heart of Mary." I know that my mother’s words came from her own prayer for me, and those words were the last little push I needed to open my heart to God and His Mother. Slowly, I started rebuilding my relationship with God, which in time came out stronger than ever.
The best support my parents gave me was the gift of their prayer, and their constant reminder to pray. I couldn't tell you precisely how much my mom and dad prayed for me, because I was four states away; but I know, because of the number of times they talked to me about the spiritual component of my experience, that it was foremost in their thoughts. I have no doubt that I was part of my mother's morning prayers, and in their minds at Mass.
Parents have the advantage of the long view when their children are overwhelmed with the here and now. As Catholics, your responsibility to guide your children to heaven doesn't end when they turn into hormonal teenagers or young adults stretching their wings. At this time, perhaps more than ever, a gentle reminder of the value of suffering and the importance of prayer can open an opportunity of grace.
But perhaps your young adult doesn't want to talk about their situation - perhaps they even reject your understanding and counsel. Pray, then! Join your prayers with those of St. Joseph and our Blessed Mother, St. Monica, Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin - and never fear, your prayers will have an effect. While that effect may not be visible to you, it cannot fail to impact your child’s life.
Many circumstances went into my breakup, some my fault, some his, some no one’s. The fact remained that it was a difficult, heartbreaking situation. Yet in my parents’ unconditional love, purposeful understanding, wise counsel, and intentional prayer, I found consolation and a sense of direction. A long time passed before I could count myself emotionally healed from the experience, and a longer time before I truly forgave all of the people involved. But my parents had my back, and that kept me going through the darkest moments.
Do you have any stories or lessons to share about your own experiences with your children's breakups?
Copyright 2016 Rebecca Willen
About the Author
Rebecca Martin serves as Associate Editor for Our Sunday Visitor’s trade books, and Daily Gospel Reflections editor at CatholicMom.com. A native Hoosier and Christendom College alumna, she lives in southeast Michigan with her husband and three cats. She is a Lay Dominican, book addict, Shakespeare fangirl, amateur baker, and musician.