We’ve asked some friends to share some thoughts (anonymously due to the content!) on the topic of relationship with parents, especially when unforeseen singleness is part of the mix. We’ve cobbled it together and called this multi-faceted friend The Accidental Nun. You might hear more from her (or them) in the future.
Dear FastPray community,
I’ve been asked to step into the FastPray writing mix on occasion to share some thoughts – I’m the Accidental Nun, a woman unintentionally single, celibate, and called by God to learn to walk this unforeseen path with Him.
Recognizing the Impact of Parents
I’ve noticed, whether I want to admit it or not, similarities between my parents and me. Shocking, I know! There is the whole nature versus nurture discussion, but I think we all have tendencies in our personalities and perspective on life gleaned from one or both of our parents through DNA or proximity or example. And the absence (physically or emotionally or both) of one or both parents is just as powerful shaping force. As much as we’d like to imagine ourselves as autonomous beings, we are very much linked to our roots and our genetics. So how does all of this DNA and nurturing from our parents affect our interactions with the opposite sex? Does your parent’s marriage, or divorce, impact your view of marriage? The simple answer is YES!
Exploring, analyzing, and owning the impact our parent’s behaviors and beliefs is valuable to understand ourselves and what you bring to any relationship – but especially potent in dating relationships or a marriage. The influence of our parents can be very positive or very negative, but rarely is it neutral. Just look at David in the Bible – not exactly the best example of fidelity and wedded bliss, and then we see his sons perpetuating the family dysfunction. God is constantly using parenting metaphors to describe Himself, even though He is the only perfect parent! In Ezekiel, God challenged the children of the Israelites who were brought out of Egypt to not follow in the footsteps of their earthly parents:
“I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers or keep their ordinances or defile yourselves with their idols.’I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and observe them. ’Sanctify My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’
God recognizes the good, the bad and the ugly in the legacy of our earthly parents. Thankfully with the grace of Jesus Christ, we also don’t have to be defined or stuck in the patterns of our parents and our DNA. Jesus Christ has come to set all of us (our parents included!) free, and that freedom extends to the ways in which we feel trapped, controlled or defined by our parents’ experiences. I think this is a lifetime process, and never a finished work, and not a situation ever fixed by getting married.
I greatly appreciate my parents’ example of commitment and faithfulness, but there are definitely aspects of their relationship that I find lacking. This often translates to me being extra cautious in forming relationships with men. I don’t take emotional risks; I hide behind my “habit” and wait for the illusive relational safety before opening up in relationships. I’ve recognized this behavior and I’m working on being more open and emotionally available. But I couldn’t work on that before I recognized what was happening. And so, to that end, here are some questions we wanted to suggest for reflection on your parents:
- Are there aspects of your parent’s relationship that have you compensating or behaving in a way that doesn’t encourage building positive relationships with members of the opposite sex?
- How has your parents’ marriage or divorce, presence or absence impacted your view of marriage? What words would you associate with their relationship?
- What role (good, bad or none) do your parents play in your relational landscape?
- Where are there wounds with one or both parents that impact your ability to relate to others? Are there places you aware of where unforgiveness or bitterness persists in how you think of your parents?
- What things about your parents cause you to be grateful?
Dealing with Parental Expectations:
Another aspect of our relationship with our parents is dealing with their expectations for our lives. My parents, and I’m guessing many of yours, expected that we would get married in our 20s. Not an unreasonable expectation, but their comments reinforced that expectation over many years, and often (not intentionally) left me feeling like a failure as I passed milestones. Understanding my experience of single, celibate adulthood was something outside of their personal experience, and not exactly their dream path for me. How do you cope with the expectations of your parents, when you are wrestling with your own unmet expectations?
It’s not easy! My only advice is to communicate your thoughts and feelings about singleness. It has taken time, but I believe my parents have changed their expectations for me. Their hope for me has shifted from “When will a husband appear?” but “We can pray for a husband, and yet totally trust that God is taking care of her.” As the years progress, we’ve had some honest dialogue about holidays, seating arrangements, the current realities of dating, feeling left out sometimes, and the reality of unmet expectations. While I would have liked to skip these discussions, it’s helped to foster understanding across generations. I know that not every family, especially when parents do not share the same faith, is able to have these sorts of discussions. Or perhaps parents are deceased, and their impact is just as real but not shaped by
It’s a process – and we all have to start where we are today. It’s scary to trust God to open doors in our own heart and gradually in our families and broader communities as well. Seeing how God has used my experience of learning to trust Him more in singleness as a good thing for my entire family has also brought some level of redemption to our family experience of this unexpected path. Trusting that God is not wasting these relational faith-driven steps of learning to be more vulnerable and more dependent on Him is encouraging, especially when it’s scary and seems permanently awkward!
We will never stop being our parents’ children! Learning from our parents and relying on God in the process will help us move towards a healthy understanding of ourselves, and likely of them as well. We’d love to hear your stories of grace and redemption in this place of family, or also questions you are wrestling with in terms of singleness and your family experience. It’s a road we are on together – regardless of how rocky it looks on any particular day – praying with you for grace on today’s stretch of road.
The Accidental Nun