My parents keep fighting and I hate it, It makes me so scared.
I remember the very first moment I felt God’s love in my life. My parents, too, had been fighting (more specifically, my father had been yelling at my mother.) I dashed out the door in a moment of panic and found myself crouching in a small grove of trees in our front yard. I wrapped my little arms around my knees and squeezed them as tight as my 6-year-old strength would allow. I remember feeling that the strength of my squeeze was the only thing I had control over; it was the only thing I could change or manage, the only thing I felt I had the power to make different. This was a Monday evening, and in primary the previous afternoon, we had learned the song “A Child’s Prayer,” so I hummed the tune softly and reviewed the lyrics in my head; then I started to cry. I cried and cried and don’t think I really stopped crying until the day I graduated from high school. My father showed up to my graduation very drunk and for some reason, his inebriation that night felt different than all of the others–worse–and yet, it wasn’t different at all.
My father, with his undeniably impressive ability to connect with people, to put them at ease, to make them laugh, also had an undeniably impressive ability to toss back dozens of beers in one night, often mixed with a cocktail of hard liquors. And day after day, I’d pray to God in desperation, confused at why I wasn’t given a father who treated my mother with love and kindness, or one I could trust to pick me up from late night dance rehearsals without the fear his blood alcohol level might be far above the legal limit. I didn’t understand why I was born into a family different from that of my friends’ families, families who would kneel in prayer, or visit the park together, or simply sit in a room for an extended period of time without bouts of unprovoked anger. I longed to be part of a family whose daily routine wasn’t entirely manipulated by the dysregulated, manic emotions of a father who loved his children and their mother, but simply didn’t have the capacity to show it in a meaningful way. When he showed up drunk to my high school graduation, it wasn’t any different from the experiences I had been living for 18 years, but it was the catalyst I needed to begin the long journey of recovery and repair and forgiveness, which I’m sorry (and also thankful) to tell you, you also will need to begin someday. I don’t know the specifics of your family dynamic, but I do know you’ll need to learn to forgive: your parents, and likely, yourself. But rest assured, not until you’re ready and willing, and I think you’ll wake up one morning with the knowledge that it’s time to begin.
It breaks my heart that you’re experiencing the fear and abashed sadness that comes with living in a home you perceive as broken. And oh, Scared, how it pains me to read about how your parents’ have caused you so much difficulty. I’m not sure what it is about them or their marriage or relationship (because their marriage and their relationship seem to be independent entities) that’s causing contention. But to all of these things, this is what I will say:
Love is so powerful that it’s caused some of the most destructive fights in history, and while it’s the glue that both creates families and holds them together, it too can be the wedge that drives them apart. Most of the time, people fight because they don’t feel enough love, and then, most people aren’t very good at expressing love. Sometimes, no one has taught them how to do it. Sometimes, like my father, they simply don’t have the capacity to show love in a meaningful way. Most times, they are afraid, because love necessitates vulnerability, and nothing is scarier than being vulnerable. I think if your parents wrote me a letter, Scared, they would sign it just like you did, because I believe that’s exactly what they are.
I’d guess they’re afraid of their own demons, of their dysfunctional relationship, of waking up and realizing that life is so much more challenging than they ever thought it would be. Maybe they’re scared of money, or under performing in a church calling, or the pressure of a challenging job. Like the little girl who sat squeezing her knees in the front yard all those years ago, perhaps your parents feel a lack of control over their current circumstances and the best way they know how to cope is by taking it out on each other. But, my darling Scared, you are loved. Though your parents don’t seem to be very proactive in expressing it (albeit via their immature choice to fight in front of you), they do love you. I don’t even know you, but because I feel connected to you through a mutual life experience, I feel love for you. And I believe within the greatest depths of my soul that somewhere out there, God exists, and he loves you too.
The ironic, and yet, perfectly predictable thing about all of this is, my own earliest memory of God’s love is indubitably linked to a moment where I felt so unloved. My earthly father could never love his daughter in the ways I needed at the time, but my Heavenly Father always could. And thus the most important rule of life is once again demonstrated with potency and clarity: there is opposition in all things. We will never know joy without sorrow, we will never understand how important it feels to be loved until we go without. And one day, Scared, when you’re faced with the choice (because it is a choice) to love your spouse or your children, your parents, or even yourself, I do hope your own experience in opposition will strengthen you in your resolve. I hope it gives you courage to love when it isn’t easy, which to be honest, is most of the time.