A Loved One’s Addiction Changes Us

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Christians whose adult children deal with addictions change how they see the world. They must to survive.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? Ephesians 2:15-16

The car pulling into the gas station today caught my eye. Nothing special about it, I just noticed it because we jockeyed for the same pump briefly. We ended up on opposite sides of a different pump. The car had a handicapped placard, so I blinked in surprise when a young woman popped out of the driver’s seat. In one glance I knew. She’s an addict. How? There’s a look around their eyes. They have an unhealthy used, run-over appearance in their face. They tend to be skin and bones. I chided myself for thinking such things and went on and pumped my gas.

While I replaced my card in my wallet, she walked up to the payment window. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew my daughter. A few moments later, she returned. She noticed me watching her and veered toward me. “Can you spare a dollar or two for gas?”

I told her I didn’t have any cash. She shrugged and walked away. A wave of guilt hit me. Could I buy her some gas? Sure, but there was no way I’d hand any cash to her. And that’s really what she wanted. The gas request is a subterfuge. It’s not like a dollar or two would help.

While I waited beside my car, I heard her answer a phone call.  “Hello? Who’s this?”  she said this with a suspicious, sharp edge to her voice. Yep. I’ve heard that tone before. As I finished up, she left the car at the pump and headed toward the grocery store. I assume to beg from someone more amenable.

I found myself driving home replaying some stories my grandchildren have told me. My daughter pan-handled for gas money and food, her children in tow. One man threatened to call social services on her for exposing the children to this. I wish he had. I’ve heard some disturbing stories of the things she did when short on cash. I’ve experienced what I call “the shakedown” when she tried to coax money out of us.

Was I wrong not to help this woman today? I’m typically a very giving person. I feel empathy for the person in need. In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus says when we provide food, drink, clothing, or we visit prisoners, it’s the same as doing these things for Him. I can get very literal about this and say this woman did not lack in food, drink, or clothing. She was not in prison. She drove a decent car. I don’t think that’s the point in those verses.

Then there’s the passage at the beginning of this post. Ephesians 2 explores acts versus faith, so it may be out of context to point to it as a command to give to the poor. Yet, I’ve seen it quoted as guidance for dealing with those in need.

I struggle with this dilemma as I’m sure many other Christians do. Should we give to someone who appears in need when we suspect an ulterior motive? There is a flip side to this discussion. We don’t hear it talked about as much in our current society, but it’s worth remembering. Later in Ephesians we read:

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:25

If the woman honestly needed gas money, then it would be ok to help her. But when she walked away from me, she didn’t ask any other person at the gas station. She walked past a woman putting groceries in her car and didn’t ask her either. Someone truly in need would not shrug and walk away when I said no. They would tell the person who called them on the phone that they were in need of gas. They would ask everyone they could for help. She didn’t. She only asked me because she saw me watching her.

Whether I like it or not, I’m more cynical than I used to be. I can’t help it. Maybe I’m wiser. I don’t know. What I do know is having children with addiction problems changes the way Christians look at the world.

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When Called To A Difficult Purpose

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And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

Over the last few weeks (aka since school started), I’ve been ill. We didn’t make it through the first week of school without one of the kids catching something and sharing it with the rest of us.

Four weeks later, I’m still sick but with something else. When your immunity is down, it’s easy to get sick. I’ve had one or two decent days and one really good day in four weeks. This past Wednesday, I felt normal. Yet, as I went to bed that night, I knew my good day was over. After a night of very  little sleep, I went back to the doctor.

Why am I telling you this? Because people don’t get what grandparenting (being a grandparent raising grandchildren) does to us. I wrote about this  last week and heard from several grandparents in the same boat. They thanked me for saying what I did.

I’m guessing some readers, found my bluntness a bit uncomfortable. That’s ok. I’m not attacking or blaming people. I’m trying to create an understanding for the 2.5 million grandparents in my shoes. We are a growing population.

We do what we do for love. We trust in God to help us, but it’s terrifying to look at our retirement and realize we planned to support two adults, not to raise more children.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Psalm 71:17-18

That is what He’s asked us to do, to proclaim Him to another generation of children. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why He chose us to do it in this way, but He did. But herein lies the problem: my sickness.

As my illness continues, I’ve become weak and exhausted. At a time when income becomes most important, the circumstances make it hard to maintain that income. I would love to retire and focus completely on my writing and the grandchildren (not just the two who live with us), but I’m not retirement age, and I’ll probably have to work longer than I originally planned in order to make sure we survive.

And we’re the lucky ones. Most grandparents who are raising grandchildren, live below the poverty line.

We do have the Bible verses like those in this post to encourage us, and for those of us whose faith already sustained us through many trials, our faith brings  comfort. But we’re human and struggling. In the moment it’s hard to remember to turn to God. That’s probably why my last post came across strong to some people. I’m not apologizing for that. It’s important to help people understand the struggles other people experience. You can’t do that by sugar-coating the truth.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

This is the main purpose of this blog: helping people understand the struggles of others as well as revealing how my struggles built my faith in God.

Will you take a moment today to stop and pray for the grandparents and grandchildren in this situation? It’s not easy, and we need your support.

Are you a grandparent raising grandchildren? What’s your biggest struggle? I want to hear from you! If you’re a grandchild who was raised by a grandparent, I’d love to hear from you, too.

What Not to Say to Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren

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Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. James 3:5

Odds are you know a grandparent involved in the raising of their grandchildren. Over 13 million children in the US are in households with grandparents. In many of these homes, at least one of the parents resides, but today, there are roughly 2.5 million grandparents taking on the sole care of their grandchildren.

My husband and I are one of these statistics. For the last two years, two of our grandchildren, Victoria (10) and Amari (6), have lived with us. We are young for grandparents, both of us in our 50s, but this was not the plan. When we married, I had two children and he had three. Since we married with children already in the mix, we looked forward to the empty nest years. When the house emptied out, we embraced the time for just the two of us. It lasted such a short time, though.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love my grandchildren, and I am glad we are able to care for them. But let’s face it, this wasn’t what we planned on doing at this point in our lives.

People mean well. They see grandparents raising grandchildren, and they try to say something positive about it, but I’ve heard some doozies over the last two years. With that in mind, I thought I would share some of the things you should NOT say to grandparents raising their grandchildren.

  • You’re doing the right thing.  More people say this to me than any other statement. I realize people mean well, but I find this statement patronizing. Did I choose to raise my grandchildren because it was the wrong thing? Or maybe you think I’m having second thoughts, and you’re trying to talk me out of it? Of course, I’m doing the right thing. I don’t need you to remind me.
  • Grandchildren make you feel young again. Alright, let’s expose the myth in this statement. Grandchildren exhaust you. You are not in your twenties or thirties anymore. Interrupted nights of sleep are harder to bounce back from. Your body doesn’t fight off illness as well as it did when you were younger. I once heard someone restate this myth in a more accurate way:  “Grandchildren make you feel young again…for about thirty minutes. Then you feel really old.”  If you have grandchildren, and you’re not raising them, sure it’s fun to spend time with them. I relished in the times I spent with my grandkids when I was just the grandmother, not the parent. It’s non-stop, now. It doesn’t end. I can’t hand them back at the end of the day.
  • I’m sure you have more patience with them then when you raised your own kids. Not necessarily. Look at the paragraph above. The “no rules at my house grandma” can’t live at my house because this is 24/7. They live here. I push them to do their homework, eat their vegetables, go to bed, get up and get ready for school, take a bath, brush their teeth, etc. I’m older and tired. In my specific case, I’m juggling all of this plus running my business. At least when I was a single mom, I came home from my job at the end of the day and didn’t think about it. That’s not so easy when your office is in your home.
  • Can’t someone else raise them? Who? Foster care? When the social worker contacted me she assured me I didn’t want them in the foster system. I know there are good foster parents out there, but these are my flesh and blood. My grandchildren. I shouldn’t have to raise them, but I will do so before I let a stranger take on that responsibility.
  • What’s going on with their parents? If you are close enough to me to know the answer to this, then you won’t have to ask. If you have to ask, it’s none of your business. And PLEASE don’t ask in front of the grandchildren! Seriously. Just don’t. Also, please don’t ask about the missing parents every single time you see the grandparent. Believe it or not, they don’t want to dwell on that. If they feel like talking, they will.
  • I can’t believe your son/daughter is so irresponsible. Grandparents already suffer the pain of the messed up lives of their child. They don’t need you to cast judgement on their adult children. In so doing, you cast judgement on the grandparent, too.
  • Aren’t you enabling your son/daughter’s behavior by raising the children? Of all the things people have said to me, this one shocked me the most. It’s not like I whisked in and grabbed up my grandchildren at the slightest sign of poor parenting. This was not done on a whim. The decision to raise your grandchildren is a heartbreaking one to make. You do it for the safety of the grandchildren. They should not have to pay any more than they already have for the mistakes of their parents.

After reading over these statements, you may be wondering what you should say to the grandparent raising their grandchildren. Here are some welcome comments I’ve received:

  • How are you doing?
  • Can I help?
  • Why don’t you let me take the kids for the day?
  • Are you getting enough rest?

Even this is better because it expresses empathy:  I don’t know how you do it. I had mine for just a day and it took me two days to recover.

If you’ve said any of the “don’t say” statements in the past, don’t beat yourself up. There’s a reason I felt this post was necessary. I’ve heard most of them many times over. So, now you know.