Toxic Families


I’ve been hearing a lot of sad stories about parents and their adult kids lately and they’ve been bringing me down.

I know.  Breathe.  It’s not about me.  How would I feel if I were in their shoes?

My wife and Pastor Mom had to run out of town unexpectedly yesterday because a friend’s adult daughter was on her deathbed in a hospital more than two hours away.  She had already flatlined and they thought that this was it.  Turns out she had been using drugs for a long time.

They returned tonight because, well, life in the parsonage goes on.  The friend’s daughter is still alive, but her heart is so damaged that they don’t think she’s going to make it.

I hear that another family member who also does drugs said she needs to take this as a lesson and stop.  I hope she follows through with this, but I am not too hopeful.

Drugs represent just one thing that can tear families apart.  What I can’t understand is how parents and children continue to stand by one another when the relationship has become toxic for everyone involved.

Everyone tells me that blood is thicker than water.  You have to stand by your child.  You have to stand by your parent.  No matter what.  Today, on one of my favorite blogs, a commenter posted “parents don’t divorce their kids.”

And kids are not supposed to divorce their parents.  I thought about this yesterday while editing a term paper for my niece’s freshman English class.  She described a teenaged character in a novel who tried to move heaven and earth to keep her family together despite having a mentally ill mother and a drinking, gambling father.  Of course, she failed.

I probably have no right to even think about these things because I don’t have children of my own and, as I am often reminded, I can’t possibly know what it’s like.

But, having once been a child, and having parents, I think I can see things from one angle at least.

I think about our homeless friend who we’ve been trying to help.  His mother lives just across the fence from us.  Not only will she not allow him to stay in the house, she won’t even allow him to camp out in the cold, wet grass in the corner of the property unless he pays part of the water bill.  Which, of course, he can’t do.

I already wrote about the fight he had with his family last week and what happened when the cops were called.  But the guy keeps coming back for more.

It’s his family, I’m told, what do you expect?

No, no, no!

Our friend needs to understand that the toxic relationship he has with his mother and sister can only lead to disaster.  He needs to leave the area.  Go somewhere else and start over.  Let his hateful family stew in their own juices.

But wait.  Now I’m playing advocate for our homeless friend.  Let’s walk around the other side and see how things look from that vantage point.  What about his family?  Why should his mother maintain a relationship with a son who has anger management and probably other mental health issues, is an ex-con and is homeless and penniless?  Why should she enable him to continue in bad habits that perpetuate self-destructive patterns?  Doesn’t she have the right to close the door on what she must surely find to be a toxic relationship?

I would have to say “yes.”  But if you’re going that route, go all the way.  Don’t say one night he can stay here, one night he can’t.  Now he can camp in the grass, now he has to pay the water bill.  Now he can come eat chicken and dumplings, now he has to forage and beg for food.

Do it or don’t do it.  Fish or cut bait.  Shit or get off the pot.

But it’s not going to happen.  Families will continue to have relationships with their adult children who are on drugs or who are homeless, no matter how much yelling and screaming ensues.  And adult children will continue to have relationships with their parents, no matter how toxic those relationships are, no matter how many times the cops are called.

The whole thing is insanely frustrating.

And then there is the case of another friend of ours, whose heart is broken because she can’t see her grandchildren.  For reasons not wholly known to me, the daughter feels that her mother did something she doesn’t agree with somewhere along the line.  And so she has effectively divorced her mother.  And withheld her children from their grandmother.  Which, to me, is hateful.

But who am I to say?  As a mother, I’m sure she feels that she is protecting her children from toxic influences.

Well, hold on a minute.  Isn’t this what you wanted, Uncle G?  Remove yourself from toxic relationships with family members, right?

The punk rock band The Clash said it:  “Should I stay or should I go?”

We are torn in both directions, like Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu.

I have no answers.  I only know that families were created to be the font of happiness.  And that it hurts my heart to see the bitterness that they engender in today’s world.

And that I am truly blessed to be a part of a family whose members love one another.


NaBloPoMo November 2013

One thought on “Toxic Families

  1. I thought about this post again today while watching an episode of “Teen Mom 3.” When violence erupts in a family, Dr. Drew asks a mother why she didn’t call the police. “You can’t call the police on your kid,” she said. “Of course you call the police on your kid!” Dr. Drew replied.

    There is a family in this area that has a violent preteen son who is on heavy duty medication for ADHD. Many medication changes later, the situation has just gotten worse. Someone is likely to get hurt, but still the parent will not remove the son from the household. “Parents don’t divorce their kids.” I pray that no one ends up in the hospital or dead.

    When will we learn, O Lord?

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