A Finger in the Dam


I’ve been told a few times that I am honest. That I say the things that others are afraid to say, the things that isolate us come dribbling out of my mouth because I just can’t stand it – that feeling like I am the only one. When I see someone who thinks I have it together, I have to take myself down a notch in their eyes and show them what I am wrestling with. So often I find that they are wrestling with the same things. Only no one talks about these things. Shiny, happy posts on facebook never tell the inner hurts, we feel like we should have our act together about these things by now. But we don’t so we just stay silent in shame. I try to inevitably blab about those things.

But lately the shape of my life has left me feeling like it was time to keep my mouth shut. The issues that weigh the most on my heart have to do with my older kids, and I fear sharing details about their lives in my writings. And so it eats away at me. I feel like such a failure as a parent to these young adults that I dare not offer anyone another parental opinion on anything at all.

Brick by brick, I build this dam. holding all the ugly truths of my life back from here, from everyone. Until I can’t even write anymore because there is so much left unsaid that I don’t know where to begin.

Certain signs have told me that this is not working. There are cracks and fissures in my dam. I have kept my finger there, plugging the leak for too long. I am tired. I am lonely. Worse yet, I know that if I feel like this there have to be others who feel the same way. They need, I need, to know we are not alone. We may have failures as a parent, but if we let those paralyze us, we will be useless to our other children and to each other. We will be isolated and neutralized in the good we can do. That sounds like it is exactly where Satan wants us.

So I am taking my finger out of the dam. There is a lot being held back, and I don’t know how it will all come out, but I need to share and reach out.

To begin with, I have to say that my two older children are not practicing their faith. at least one doesn’t attend church at all. Another goes to church at times and even carries a rosary, but also wears a sack of crystal rocks around his neck, thinks hallucinogens are the way to clarity and talks about how Arabic is how we should be communicating.

What is a momma to do with these things? Confrontation has yielded accusations that I am just stuck in the mud, a slave to the old beliefs of a corrupt patriarchal system. I say my piece and try to love them anyway, wondering all the time if I am enabling their behavior more than I realize.

This letting go thing is so much harder than the months of colicky crying. This pain reaches deep into the pit of my stomach and won’t let go. It’s like seeing your child about to grab a cactus or touch a stove, times a thousand. There is that tense slow motion here too – trying to pick the words and realizing that they have been left unsaid while the child has marched off to do what he will.

I remember vividly some decisions I made that probably put my parents through the same feelings. I try to love my children the way they loved me. Condemnation closes doors, respectful honesty (and then shutting up) keeps them at least open a crack or so it seems. But is that enough?

My son leaves in less than three weeks for a new adventure. He says for right now that he doesn’t plan to come back. I look at the outdated pictures on my wall and wonder when there will be time to take more pictures together. Less than a year ago, my whole family lived under one roof, now we are scattered (and will be even more so soon) thousands of miles apart. And I don’t know how to do this part.

I feel like so much of my family is missing now – the two babies lost this past winter, the adult children going all over and doing whatever suits their fancy, the adolescents who openly disdain me at times, some without regard for the right and wrong we tried to teach them.

I am not a perfect parent. I do not have perfect children. I’m often not even sure what on earth I am doing wrong or if doing everything right would have given any different results. Should we have home schooled longer, been more strict, been less strict, ate more organic foods?

The hope that I hold is that their story is not finished yet. Things can change for them next week or ten or even fifty years from now, it is not for me to know. It is for me to pray. It is for me to learn to live with this hole in my heart and not let the anxiety overcome me and steal away my joy in life.

I see other older moms who have carried this cross. They never talk about it – no one wants to complain and bring down their own children. And maybe they are feeling just as lost as I am in this; this deep reservoir of hurt and shame and dashed hopes.

I’m taking my finger out of the dam. There may be a trickle or there may be a flood, but there is room for us to talk about these unspoken things, to pray for each other and our children, to try to find our way.


  1. I can relate. It is so hard because I want to protect the privacy of my adult children and yet it leaves me feeling like I can’t talk to anyone. The hurt is so real and I like you are walking the tightrope of what to say and how much to say and when to just shut my mouth and love Em up. I have often reminded myself and others that the last chapter hasn’t been written yet and I pray for them everyday. My hope is in the Redeeming power of Jesus. Thank you for being brave enough to be honest and share.

    • Thank you for your kind comment. I totally agree with “shut my mouth and love ’em up”. And hope and pray and keep it up. We need to support each other in our task (and victories and heartaches) as parents too.

  2. Julie M says:

    Jenni, breaking the “perfect family” look online is brave. I’ve never been sure how to do that without looking terrible. You write so well. I had seen your photo blog before, but I’m not sure I had read this blog. You are right — so often, at least when the kids are now adults, the best response is love and prayer — Fr. Groeschel said this to a mother who called in about her son who had stopped practicing his faith. He said that after she had made her statement, saying it over and over wasn’t helping the situation (he didn’t want to listen) but prayer was powerful. I also read a story in, I think, Sr. Briege McKenna’s book (“Miracles Do Happen”) about a mother whose son was into some bad things and a priest told her to recite his baptismal vows for him. She did this, regularly, and one day he called and said he had just been thinking of his baptism, and didn’t want to pursue that way of life anymore (I honestly don’t remember the details as I’m typing). It was pretty impressive.

    Your prayers and sacrifices will go far. May God uphold you. 🙂

  3. Jenni, I too worry about your kids. We still have children living lives that we wish we’re different. I keep going back to what Karen Holt told me. God loves our kids so much more that we ever could. I pray for each of you by name. I believe in their goodness.

    • Thank you! Those are wise words from Karen and good to remember – I think I will put them up where I can see them regularly. I love you!

  4. Beverly Moore says:

    Jenni, how I understand your thoughts, frustrations and yes, fears for your children. I guess God protected us from the realization that once you become a parent you are for the rest of your children’s lives, or at the least for the rest of your life, a parent. Maybe we just block that part out when we think of having a sweet, loving child. Along with them come such diverse feelings, love (many times unconditional), frustration, fear and helplessness along with so many other feelings. All we can do (maybe not all) is trust in God’s faithfulness and pray He will bring them along to return to Him. It is scarey when we see them dabble with such dangerous ideas and actions and we have no control. We question what we did to damage our own loved ones out of desperation or perceived selfishness. It is out of our hands when they are grown and we must trust God and continue to pray for them not knowing if or when our prayers will be answered. Just remember, “God is not wiling that any should perish”. And he has also told us in Psalms, “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”. What does old mean? I don’t know. I have been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and am still wearing it! I will continue to pray for the lovely grandchildren you have given us, and trust for some special intervention in their lives even as I pray for my children and their spouses. I love you more than words can ever say.

    • Thank you, mom. I love you so much too, and I cringe thinking of all the times you probably were close to despairing over my own choices. It does give me some perspective over how those choices eventually helped to bring me around to knowing God better, but in the mean time I am sure I made you crazy – just like my kids now do to me.

  5. Annamae says:

    There are VERY small and MUCH MORE distant ways in which I can relate, and yet mine are also different (don’t worry the absolute tininess in any possible similarities does not for one moment escape me). I so often feel your, powerlessness, when it comes to my step-kids. There is SO MUCH I wish I could change in their lives…could have changed in their lives, over the years, and in the years to come. I see K blossoming into a young woman, who at 17 already has a very serious boyfriend, and a mother who causes her so much stress, her eczema rages nearly out of control. I see J growing like a weed, but with his nose either constantly in his phone, on the computer, or watching TV, which I’m sure affects his ADHD which he also never gets his medication for because his mom is…well who knows? Too busy? Too lazy? Too selfish to care?
    You have always been, and continue to be, a hero in my eyes. Your strength to birth and raise 9 children, your constant thirst for knowledge and God, and now for the perfectly worded bravery in your confession of weakness.
    I know quite often we feel like prayer doesn’t actually do anything. What are we really doing? Talking to the wall? The ceiling? I don’t know if you’ve even heard of or listened to Jesse Duplantis, but he talks about how when he was younger, he was very much “in the world” and his mama was praying for him. And he would get himself into situations and inexplicably get out of them, and he recognized that it was because his mama was praying for him! It took years of prayer…but he realized that God was after him for a reason and he needed to stop, and listen.
    Sadly, we are creatures of pleasure and stubbornness. I try to very honest with myself about why I have chosen to not ever have children…eventually letting go is one of them. So many people try to tell me that I will change my mind…but there is just too much that I don’t think I am strong enough to handle. You are a rock, Jen. And sometimes rocks have cracks. And that’s OK. It’s OK to not be OK. Sometimes you have to fall apart a little.
    I will be praying for each of you. I love you so, so much. And I’m very sorry we are both often so busy (or on completely opposite schedules) to see each other. I hope we can make that change sometime soon.

  6. Jenni:
    The only human being who ever truly saved anyone is Jesus Christ. Your job is to be the best example you can be and to hope that your children (and the world) notice. In looking to your own salvation, you will draw others onto the path. As I recently read in a book called “Stitches” (I believe by Annie Lamott): “We are all just walking each other home.”

    Look to St Monica and ask her to give you the strength that prayed her son Augustine into heaven – but she showed him the way.

  7. Good point!

    Living the walk towards (and sometimes wandering off from) salvation is hard, but watching it in someone else is so much harder. Those muscles of Faith, Hope, and Love sure get a workout!

    Thank you for your reminders and encouragement!

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