Erin McCole Cupp brings home the affirmation and support she finds outside her family, to relate to her childrenin a more present and approachable way.
The ages of all of my kids are in the double digits at this point, and let me tell you something: it’s been getting real teenager-y around here lately. Intellectually, I understand that my kids are still growing. Part of growing is recognizing — and being free to voice — those things they don’t prefer.
These days, it seems they don’t prefer anything I do. While I mitigate that statement with the word “seems,” that “anything” is not an exaggeration.
I imagine this stage of her child’s mental and emotional growth is difficult for even the least traumatized mom to navigate. Teenagers are still maturing in mind, heart, and soul. They’re allowed to ooze out to their margins to a certain degree as part of that process. I get it. It’s necessary. None of us is perfect, especially as we grow, and ideally we’re all growing all the time, even those of us whose second digit of age is greater than the number one.
These days, however, my children sure sound a heck of a lot like another subset of emotionally immature people: my parents.
I survived family abuse and dysfunction. Through therapy and other modalities in my recovery journey, I have learned a harsh reality of being a fallen creature in a fallen world: the people who are “supposed” to be there for us and show us unconditional love, often enough, just don’t.
We could play the blame game, but where does that get us? Blame is just another form of the criticism that my parents taught me by criticizing me — my legit mistakes and sins, but also my childlike wonder, my creativity, my joy, even my attempts to be holy.
It is natural that I want to turn to my family — the family that bore me and the family I myself bore — for the real-time experience of God’s love here on earth. It’s also a function of this fallen world that my fellow fallen creatures, especially the ones I live with, just aren’t in a place to be that love.
Often enough, the fallen creature I see in the mirror isn’t in a place to be that love.
So what do I do? I have learned not just to accept that the life and love I seek in the moment may not be in the people directly around me, but that I have a duty, an opportunity to look for that love in other faces. Godly friends. People I’ve met in support groups. Even my therapist. Occasionally, strangers on the internet. God saw my need before I did, and He has created a garden where just the love I need grows and waits for me to discover it. I just need to seek His face patiently, and I will see it.
This reality reminds me of Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter Sunday. She went looking for Jesus in the tomb, because that’s where he was supposed to be. He was somewhere else. Because she had the courage to ask someone unexpected, she received unexpected joy. From there, God sent her to share that love, even to those who were closest to her — the first to doubt her.
When I look in unexpected places for the affirmation, support, and connection I may miss from my family in the moment, I am transformed, and that love is spread. I am sent back to my family and am able to be more present to them, less angry, more approachable.
And slowly, slowly, those teenagers grow, and, no matter how teenager-y it may be today, I see them growing in love, too.
Copyright 2021 Erin McCole Cupp
Image: Zack Minor (2015), Unsplash