The Prodigal Son. It’s a timeless story. If you don’t know it by name, you’ve heard the storyline. Even if you aren’t the church-going type, you’ve heard the real-life version.
The Prodigal Son. Every family has one…or two.
The parable can be found in Luke 15:11-32 and goes a little something like this… A father has two sons. The younger, impulsive, less responsible of the two asks for his inheritance. His father gives it to him, only for the son to blow it and hit rock bottom. The son is forced to tuck his tail and crawl back to his father with nothing to show for himself and beg for a place to stay and recoup. The father accepts his baby boy back–surprisingly very happily–even at the judgement of the older, more responsible son, who didn’t squander his inheritance. When big brother refuses to celebrate little brother’s return, the father says, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Whew! Powerful, right? I mean, I have so many questions, though.
Questions aside…we can insert any “thing” and any family into this parable, can’t we? Baby Boy could have blown his money on clothes, cars, drugs, girls. Baby Boy could be the youngest girl in your family. Baby Boy may not even be the baby in your family…he or she may be the middle child. Or the oldest. You could have more than one in your family.
Any way you shake it, a prodigal son is going to fall from your family tree.
In the family I grew up in, we have two prodigal sons. One is the baby boy; the other is the middle daughter.
Middle Daughter had a problem with boundaries and rules. Despite the walls erected to contain her and keep her safe, she ran the roads at a young age and found some of the worst people to call “friends.” She said cruel things to her parents and made horrible decisions that affected her life for years. Her journey lasted 20 years, beginning in high school and ending in her 30’s. She forgot her skills and passions. She let go of her family and friends. She lost her sense of self. After suffering in silence and in a self-made bubble, she crawled back to her father. She couldn’t even muster the strength or find the words to beg for forgiveness. Her father welcomed her back with open arms and celebrated her return. He nursed her back to some version of her old self. After years of recovery, Middle Daughter found her way back to her real self…all the way back to her original self…her light was reignited and she was recognizable again.
Baby Boy had a problem with boundaries and partying. Like the younger son in the parable, he blew his money on things that would bring him joy in the moment. Much like Middle Daughter, he spent most of his years battling with demons meant to destroy him. He also forgot his skills and passions. He hurt family and friends. He lost his sense of self. His suffering wasn’t silent like Middle Daughter’s, but he had formed a bubble around himself and his addictions. He bounced off rock bottom many times before getting enough momentum to stay afloat. He returned to his father over and over; each time being welcomed with love and compassion. Though his battles still rage, Baby Boy has found his way back to himself. His eyes shine with a familiar light.
If you know, you know. Middle Daughter is me. I am her.
As someone going through it, I didn’t realize how much damage I was doing. But hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, everything is clear. I didn’t blow my inheritance like the son in the parable–I squandered precious time and important relationships. I gave away pieces of myself until there was nothing recognizable left. But, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, people…and I followed it. I found it. And here I stand on the other side with a strong self-love, unbreakable bonds with family and friends, and a positive, focused outlook on my life and future.
I was lost but now am found.
Here I stand as a mother of four–almost five–sons. And, I now have one of my own. We have a Prodigal Son. We already see it. We identified it last night, while discussing his latest antics. “He’s going to be our one,” I said. My husband solemnly nodded in agreement. It makes me teary now because I could see the hurt in his eyes and the sadness in his face. He knows just as well as I do what that statement means for us and for our son. He’s seven and has been through more than most young kids his age, losing his mother at four and struggling with some inner demons we can’t see. I now feel what I saw on my parents.
How can we be like the father in the parable? How can we let him ride this path that’s been laid for him without interfering? How can we change or buffer his ride? Where will we muster the strength to wait for his return so we can celebrate?
It’s an interesting thing, this parenting journey. So many things have resurfaced for me…and have become clear. So many similar struggles. So many similar situations. But I see them differently because my vision is different. I’m using parent glasses now, and it’s heart wrenching, y’all. Like, for real. Heart wrenching.
What do we do?
It’s obviously a rhetorical question because I know you can’t answer me. So, I’m going to attempt to brain dump my thoughts and ideas.
What do we do?
Well, we do what my mom said she did–we love him through it. There’s a fine line between “loving him through it” and enabling him, though, and I have to be clear in my mind about that. We don’t want to enable behaviors that are unhealthy or not in line with our family values.
Consistency is necessary…across kids, across ages, across the house, across the dern board. Whatever is expected of one is expected of the others. Age-appropriate, of course.
High expectations are important. I don’t think we should lower our expectations because he isn’t meeting them right now. I think we should continue to expect his best and hardest effort even if he’s not successful all the time.
Last, we should continue to help him rewrite his story. That’s pretty powerful. My husband and I had a conversation about this over the past weekend. We weren’t referring to this recent epiphany about our youngest child…we were reflecting on our parenting up to this point and how our children have turned out. But if we apply it here, it’s enlightening. Our children have been through a lot of big life experiences in their short time on Earth. They’ve been through more than I had at their age; they’ve been through certain things I haven’t been through yet as an adult. BUT we cannot use that as a crutch; we cannot let them use it as a crutch. We can’t say, “oh, poor thing” as an excuse for every situation they encounter. We can’t let them slide because it’s hard or makes them sad. We can’t excuse every misbehavior and bad choice because they’ve had a rough go of it. I have told many parents over the years–“you think you’re doing it for your child, but you’re doing it to them.” We can’t let them pitch a tent, roll out a sleeping bag, and make a fire in a camp of excuses and ease. That’s not real life.
So, consistency, high expectations, and no crutches. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, I’m gonna go with a no. It won’t be easy. At all. But hopefully, his path will shift because of our hard work. Hopefully, he won’t catch a glimpse of his rock bottom. If he ends up finding his way there, hopefully, he won’t find comfort in that rock bottom. But if he does, hopefully he’ll find his way back to his father…who will be waiting with open arms and a compassionate smile.
Hope. I once was lost but now am found. How ’bout that for amazing grace.