Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Our family counseling continues. Joseph and I hold to it lightly. Asher appears willing to express himself and openly acknowledges how wonderful it is to feel heard. There is a bit of rub to that. We are working ridiculously hard to remove any impediment the enemy could use to keep Asher’s heart from us. However, that also means that we are most often listening and showing ourselves reasonable rather than expressing how our own hearts ache from the awful ways Asher has chosen to treat us.
The single largest benefit from counseling is the presence of a mediator who can continue to express our thoughts to Asher even when we are not in the room. It took several appointments before we believed that Jon was truly interested in supporting us. It appeared, in the beginning, that he only saw his position as an advocate for our son. His questions were hard and could put us on the defensive. For instance, we do not allow casual high school dating. We have never allowed it and Savannah and Ginny both went through their young teen years without boyfriends. Asher bucks at this rule and Jon has told us, emphatically, that Asher has no desire to submit to it. But his demeanor in sharing our son’s perspective was not one of mere expression. “Just so you know, Asher has expressed his intention to break that rule.” Rather, he shared it with us almost as though he respected Asher’s frustration with us. “Asher sees himself as an adult and wants you to respond to him as such. He makes up his own mind regarding relationships, and he wants to have one.”
It took a few more meetings before we realized this is just his style of communicating and does not necessarily mean he approves or justifies what he is sharing. Even knowing this, it still makes us a little uneasy. However, we recognize that our son trusts him and that makes him invaluable to us.
At our last session, Jon probed Asher with some difficult questions relating to Drake and the abuse he suffered as a victim. We listened as our son talked about feeling helpless and scared. We acknowledged why he would feel that way even as we made sure to address the reality – that we wish nothing more than that he had come to us. Then Jon pressed into the area of trust and how Drake broke down his trust. The grooming techniques Drake used and their consequences on Asher’s impressionable mind. We weren’t exactly sure where Jon was taking the conversation, but Asher was willing to stay open as he gave his answers.
It took a few more questions before Joseph and I saw the plan. Jon was subtly creating an awareness in Asher that he didn’t trust us as a result of Drake’s lies – not as a result of our own inconsistent or neglectful behaviors. And because Asher’s trust was broken based on lies, there was little we could do to fix the problem.
Asher suddenly recognized this significant issue. He believed Drake, which in turn caused him to distrust us. His lack of trust towards us made him more prone to acting out and disrespecting us. Those behaviors were seen as rebellious in our home and we addressed them (often without enough grace or nuance) as such and our response only appeared to further validate Asher’s assumptions about our motivations – namely to reject him or communicate our lack of approval/love for him.
It is a vicious cycle.
So, now we are trying to figure out how to move forward. Jon left Asher with the heavy task of truly pondering whether he is willing to work at giving us trust. Since he has no remembrance of our relationship before his own abuse began, we can’t rely on his memories to inform him in the face of fear. He will need to step out on a path that feels entirely unfamiliar to him without any real guarantees of success. As adults, we recognize that the pain of rejection is still utterly worth the possible connection we receive when we feel truly loved by someone. And when that loves is nurtured, the possible pain is such a tiny factor that it becomes, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. But as a 15-year old boy, the higher reasoning needed to grasp and then embrace that profound truth is tantamount to alchemy.
For our part, we are fighting to stay soft. I feel a bit like a toddler pounding my fist into the ground and yelling, “When is it MY turn?!” The answer is: not yet.
We had nothing to do with losing Asher’s trust as a result of our son’s believing Drake’s lies. But Colossians 3:21 says that fathers (and mothers) are not to provoke their children, lest they become discouraged. The Amplified Bible adds depth by teasing out the full breadth of Paul’s intention in the original language. Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with loving-kindness], so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated [with their spirits broken]. As young, inexperienced parents, we were far too quick to demand obedience without looking at deeper heart issues. The sad irony is that it was Asher’s own out-of-control behavior that played a significant role in our reflection and growth. Unfortunately, he has no ability to appreciate our changes.