How healing starts to happen

Dancing with my father at my Grade 8 graduation

“not once,” i whisper. “not once did you or mum come into my room, sit on my bed and say sorry. not once did you ask me how i was doing; why i was hurting myself, and what you could do to help.”

his eyes are hazel-sorry behind rimmed wire, and we’re sitting at my kitchen table, dad and i, two decades later. it’s been 20 years, and only now, am i saying this.

he looks down at hands worn, 55-year-old hands, hands that fix. he is a tender man, but i hadn’t seen that then. i’d only seen the way he didn’t have time for me. the way he’d poured into ministry and sermons and spanking. i’d just seen a man who couldn’t understand me, who’d told me to eat and then sent me to counselors who’d pretended to care, when i knew they were being paid to.

but i should have looked harder. i should have seen the way he’d taught us french and sang us songs at bedtime and sat outside our bedroom door, reading, when thunderstorms scared us awake, and the way he’d eventually begun ‘dating’ his daughters, taking them for cinnamon buns at ann’s cafe and even though it had been hard to talk, even then, at least he’d tried.

and that’s all we faulty parents can do. lean hard into grace, and try, with the breath of a desperate prayer and a heart so very humble…

“would you have known what to say, though?” he asks. “i think that’s why we didn’t do that. why we didn’t ask. we were afraid of your reaction.”

i shake my head. “i probably wouldn’t have had the words,” i admit, “but the effort, the trying to see things from my side, the sitting there and holding me and apologizing, that would have really helped.” i pause. “i don’t think it would have taken me as long to want to get better, if only you hadn’t tried to fix me. if only you’d taken time to sit with me in the pain.”

i put dishes away and then turn as he begins to speak. “i see now,” he says, slow. “i see how, even if you hadn’t had the words, the very action of us trying to care would have made a difference. i’m so sorry.”

and those words. that long-awaited apology, peel back layers and healing begins, in a deeply rooted spiritual way that no food can ever fill.

entering into the darkness: walking in pain with your child when all you want to fix them. this, refusing to try and take control, but trusting God with life and death and everything in between while simply sitting, holding and saying “sorry” will do more for your little one than any amount of anything else.


…for more on the importance of walking with someone in sadness, read this post.

… and for more videos and discussion questions on how to walk in balance and healing, visit here.


28 thoughts on “How healing starts to happen

  1. Emily, this is exactly what I needed today…two teenage daughters and me trying so hard to “fix” what isn’t mine to repair…and of course it all comes from love, this desire to “fix”…and sometimes simply sitting on the bed saying “I am sorry” IS the best we can do. I did that this morning with my eldest daughter after an argument. We sat for awhile that way. I hope it helped, that she will feel my love, despite the cross words exchanged first. Love is complicated and oh so simple at the very same time.

    Thank you beautiful soul for including a link to my post about lovingkindness in compassion…I know this in my heart, I write about it to remind myself, for exactly the moments such as the one this morning when I caught myself forgetting and poured my heart into what was really needed.

  2. Sometimes I make mountains out of molehills. When my yougest daughter stopped eating I keep waiting for her to snap out of it like her sisters did. But she never did so I intervened. I made appointments with doctors and therapist. I notified the school for help. I did everything I could. She was always mad at me for it. It caused more fights then a typical mother/daughter relationship. I always wonder if I made more out of this then I should of..did I help the ED develop because she hated me so much. I am hoping someday when she is healed that she knows I would of done anything to make her better. I am sorry that somewhere in herself she needed to do this because she didn’t feel loved enough.

    • my dear laurie, your reaction to your daughter’s ed, i think, is very natural… it’s a parent’s prerogative to feel the need to save their children. after all, they made them… don’t blame yourself. there will always be things we could have done; my parents were very good parents. they just didn’t take the time to listen to me, which would have made a big difference–but my dad is now listening to me, and that’s helping me to heal, even 20 years later. so i encourage you to listen to her now, to take the time to enter into the darkness now, with her, and to apologize for not doing it sooner. it’s never too late to start. love to you friend. xo

  3. Emily – how amazing on both your parts, really – to face the past together. For you to be willing to hear him, for him to apologize, finally, after all those years.

    I am still waiting for that, from my Dad. I think it will never come. Giving up hope seems so horrible but hoping and hoping for something that will probably never happen hurts too badly.

    My mother tried, years ago. Apologized, in tears, for being a “horrible mother” and I just held her woodenly, unready to open my scarred heart to her and now… now that I’m ready to try she is the one unable or unwilling to respond.

    And I just hurt all the more because I don’t have either of them, not really. Never did and who knows if I ever will?

  4. again you reach into the pain and challenge of teen years for the whole family.
    Many times I wished to say sorry to my mom for the ways I treated her at times as a teenager now that I have parented two of my own and know what it is like to stumble through those years as the mom .. but she was gone already…

    I know you will remember these intense prose you have shared so beautifully as you enter each phase of development with your own Emily .. they all have there challenges and joys to be sure .

    blessings my friend . ELK

  5. Thank you so much for posting. I hope thousands of parents of teens read this entry.

    I appreciate Nicki’s post as well, though it grieves me to hear the pain she is still experiencing. (((Nicki)))

    As a parent, I feel for Nicki’s mom. As a parent, I want to shake Nicki’s mom.

    When I first began to humble myself to my own daughter, she also stood there woodenly. She was so numb by then. I remember the hurt, but I also remembered what I was apologizing for: demanding in my actions if not my words that she always feel, think and respond the way *I* thought a good Christian girl should (feel, think and respond). I remember that in my hurt, I reminded myself that “when I said I had no right to demand anything from her, that I should’ve have loved and accepted her as she is/was, without shaming or trying to change her”, it was time to practice it.

    I didn’t deserve honor for admitting how wrong I was. I did it because it was true, and needed to be said. As a person of faith, I hoped it would bring restoration and healing, but I had absolutely no right to demand that from her.

    I know I posted about it on a forum for healing daughters of patriarchy, how sad it made me that she seemed so unmoved by my heartfelt apology, and yet admitting I had no right to expect, well, anything. I repented to her because I wanted to bring healing to her heart, and any unspoken desire that it turn out well for me was just more self-centeredness and my problem, not hers.

    I hope your mom comes around, Nicki. You deserve to be loved and embraced by the woman who gave you birth. You really do.

    As for me, my own mother will never come around, but I *did*. My daughter and I are very close now, and though I still have places I have to fight my inner control-freak, I love how strong she is to resist me at those times. I really respect and adore the person she is, and I am privileged to have a part in her life.

    ((((Nicki))))) (((((all))))) May love and peace surround your hearts today and bring you joy.

    • hello friend,
      so good to ‘meet’ you, and i love your heart… your beautiful repentant heart. if only more mothers had your heart. but, we are each on a healing journey, mothers included, and some further along than others… and everyone deserving of forgiveness and healing. i’m so glad to hear how close you and your daughter are. that really encourages me. the fact that you respect and adore her–that is beautiful. that will give her such courage.

      bless you …

  6. Ack! I wish I could edit that above post! Why did I write ” You deserve to be loved and embraced by the woman who gave you birth.” ? That was not what I meant to write at all!!!

    My own angst leaking into my words with others. My own mother will not only never apologize, she will never stop disparaging my character to the rest of the family or stop using me as the scapegoat for her own crimes. She stole my family from me- my sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins- and I will never have any family but the one I made for myself. I humbly apologize for confusing my life with yours!

    Nicki, obviously your mother DOES love you very much- she apologized! She may not be supported or mature enough emotionally to have handled your response well, but she DOES love you. That is such a gift.

    She DOES love you. I will pray for that love to come in ways that help heal your heart.

    Crawling back under my rock now. SO SORRY if I caused hurt to anyone here!

    • i understand… your heart was in the right place sister 🙂 no worries. i am so sorry for the pain you’ve experienced in your own life. may God strengthen you each day to forgive and love. peace to you… e.

  7. I related so much to this post. I was not taught as a child how to label or cope with my emotions. At times I was punished for expressing things like anger and sadness because my parents were never taught how to deal with them either. We didn’t know what to do with them so we ignored them, stuffed them, numbed them with drugs and alcohol as adults, etc.

    As a mother myself now, I started repeating the same patterns of teaching my kids to stuff their emotions by sending them to their room until they settled down when they were angry and crying about the unfairness of life because it hurt me to see them upset and if it was something that I wasn’t letting them do, I felt guilty and couldn’t deal with that emotion either.

    Then, by the grace of God, I recently started realizing that my guilt was unfounded for I cannot let my kids do everything they want and try to make everything “fair” between them because that is not how the real world is anyway. Life isn’t fair and that sucks sometimes and getting upset over it or angry about it is ok; emotions are not good or bad, they just are. It is how we express them and cope with them that becomes a matter of healthy versus unhealthy.

    So, that realization, in addition to the guilt taken from me by God, I am now able to hold my little ones as they cry and feel their anger or disappointments. I am able to hold them without words, without taking away their right to feel what they need to feel. Because if I take that away, as it was taken from me as a child, then they will never learn to experience and get past life’s pain and disappointments. They will never mature emotionally or spiritually.

    How come it seems so much easier to help our children mature socially, intellectually, and physically but the emotional and spiritual side is so difficult? Ego is the answer that comes to my mind first. Ego tells us that life should be fair, that we are weak if we cry, that we can take care of ourselves, that pain is a bad thing, that there are more important or pressing matters in life than our relationship with God.

    Just my experience and two cents. Thanks Emily for these thoughful posts.

    • oh wow, sheila. this: I am able to hold them without words, without taking away their right to feel what they need to feel. Because if I take that away, as it was taken from me as a child, then they will never learn to experience and get past life’s pain and disappointments.

      that really, really spoke to me. the whole not sending them to their rooms, but choosing to look into the faces of disappointment and hold them close, to walk with them through it… you are physically living grace. this really moved me. thank you friend.

      • Although I have to say that sensing them to their rooms isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m not trying to change what the Lord is teaching, as eery house and every family is different. There isn’t a cookie cutter solution. You do want your children to be able to express how they feel but not throw a tantrum or scream. They are expected to honor their parents, and sometimes they do need to chilax so they have time to think about how they’re feeling, able to put it into words. Yet calm themselves down enough to still do it in an honoring way. Sometimes my kids will have feelings Of anger with me and we will talk. When they see things from my perspective their attitudes adjust. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I’m wrong and it needs to be changed and sometimes I know best because they are kids and hopefully they’ll understand when they’re older. The biggest thing is realizing I can only do my best and trusting God, who loves them more than I could (and perfectly) with them. Thegood thing is we are all here hoping to learn, and to grow as parents. We aren’t set in our ways and bent on repeating the mistakes. We aren’t sticking our heads in the sand as if everything is fine. We aren’t pretending our kids are perfect without any hurt. We are doing our best to ease their pain, teach them how to cope in life. Because life isn’t fair. Life sometimes does suck. And sometimes we have to be Jobs and Moses’ and Daniel’s and Stephens. Sometimes that is god’s purpose because it refines us makes us holy. And His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is looking at who we will be in the end. In the end, love never fails.

        Sorry about any typos. My iPhone doesn’t let me scroll up. And when I get on a roll my fingers go fast. Lol

        And… Another song.

  8. wow! to have the courage and strength to confront a parent & have this “that long-awaited apology, peel back layers and healing begins, in a deeply rooted spiritual way that no food can ever fill.” Amazing!

  9. First of all… thanks. Really. So much.

    And apologies. I’ve had this page sitting open in a tab on my computer…it’s what? A little more than a week? Feels longer. I’ve been back here, rereading this, every day. Emily’s response, and Shadowspring’s… touched me and although I can’t cry, not now, I feel this deep shaking that tells me I WILL. Soon. Once I can get my feet on the floor again.

    I’d been waiting for months, you know. I’d sent my mother an email and approached these issues and I’d been waiting for her, waiting to find out if she could ever decide I was worth the amount of pain it would cost her to try this, with me.

    Mother’s day came and I couldn’t even bear to call her. Felt horribly guilty over that you know? This withdrawal on my part is not going to help heal this relationship but I just couldn’t bear it, to Skype and smile and pretend, again, that I was whole and everything was alright when it wasn’t. It was so far from ok.

    Maybe that’s what finally pushed her over the edge, you know? No mother’s day call, and she had to know why. I don’t know. But Thursday after, there it was, 9 paragraphs of gut-wrenching sobbing apology.

    I wanted to come back here and tell you, I knew you’d rejoice with me. But I’ve been in shock somewhat, I think. Floating detached from the deep emotions I know are coming. Joy, relief, pain, grief, anger. There’s so much there that it’s been hard for me to focus. On anything.

    So thank you. For writing this. For writing it when you did. It’s helped me know I’m not alone with this. (And I am not alone in other ways, truly. I have help, professional and otherwise.) And thank you for the things you said to me, above. I’ve been hanging on to them. Maybe you didn’t know it, but what you wrote to me made a difference.

    • wow. nicki… wow. nine pages of sobbing apology… oh girl, this is incredible. what an answer to prayer. i am so humbled right now… and i’m asking God to continue this healing in your life, this beautiful restoration of your relationship to your parents. it all starts with the apology though, hey? makes SUCH a difference when we know they’re sorry. love to you dear girl. thank you so much for sharing. xo

  10. I think our daughter was 9 or 10 when she started throwing up. We knew something was wrong but couldn’t get us to tell us. That didn’t come until she was about 18 when she told her fiancee and he insisted that she tell us. We did everything we could think of to fix whatever the problem might be. Her eating disorder started because a friend of ours who is her age told her that she needed to lose weight, that she was fat. Our daughter has never been fat a day in her life, not even when she was pregnant with our 4 grandchildren. She is a petite and pretty like my husband’s mother.

    She also didn’t want to go to school and wouldn’t tell us why. We visited the high school assistant principal who knew nothing. He was totally ineffective as an assistant principal. He ignored everything that was going on in his school. We talked to her teachers to no avail. They didn’t know either. She was a good student when she was at school. Only this year (She is 33 years old) did she tell me about the bullying that she was getting at school. She was small and pretty so she was being sexually harassed by boys who were much bigger than she was. She said she was terrified for her life and others if we said anything.

    Thank you for talking about this topic and your healing from an eating disorder. I am an incest survivor who blogs about healing from incest so I know how important it is to share our stories with other survivors who are just starting out on their healing journeys.

    • oh patricia… what a hard journey you’ve walked, friend. thank you for sharing about your daughter… it must have been so hard to not be able to fix the problem. it breaks my heart that her friend would tell her that. 😦 … an ED becomes a way of coping, a fall-back plan. it’s a lifelong battle. but she’s had four children! is she doing better, then? and i applaud you, for sharing your story of incest so openly and vulnerably. God’s redemption and grace shines through you. blessings, e.

  11. “not once,” i whisper. “not once did you or mum come into my room, sit on my bed and say sorry. not once did you ask me how i was doing; why i was hurting myself, and what you could do to help.”

    and that’s all we faulty parents can do. lean hard into grace, and try, with the breath of a desperate prayer and a heart so very humble…

    These words hit me hard. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. Pingback: How Healing Starts to Happen | Shining City Blog

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