You grew up in the Church, attended Primary. Your father baptised you when you were eight. Soon you graduated, and went on to Young Women’s, where you eagerly completed the Personal Progress program. You were diligent in living a gospel centered life. You tried your best in every calling and went the extra mile in service. You did well at school, got a part-time job, and saved your money. As soon as you could, you held a temple recommend.
Your dreams came true. A wonderful young man came into your life. He had honourably returned from a mission. You had a beautiful courtship and then marriage in the temple. You were surrounded by family—his family and yours—and the day was beautiful.
Later, you welcomed a new member of the family as your first child arrived. The years rolled by, more children came along. You were a happy mother. Some of the stresses that go with young motherhood were yours, but you had a strong family and good friends. Your husband did well in school, and secured a good job. Everything was good.
Then things started to change. You gradually noticed that your husband worked later more often. He was more distracted when he was at home. The years rolled by, and one day you found yourself standing in a divorce court. Suddenly you were a single mother with young children.
Because you were dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you got on your knees and poured out your problems to your Saviour. You sought blessings and did the things you should do because you needed the blessings and strength from Heavenly Father. You were a diligent visiting teacher, and when you were called into leadership positions, you worked hard. You sorted out the issues from your past and spiritually matured.
You talked regularly with your children to help them understand that whatever happened to you would not happen to them and that their lives could be different.
Your children grew up. Those who needed to serve missions did so, and the others went to university, got degrees, and eventually they all married in the temple.
Then the wonderful joy of grandchildren began. You were able to enjoy this season holding these little grand babies. You delighted in watching your family grow.
Time passed until one day you noticed some of your children had became a bit grumpy. They were somewhat negative and critical. There were difficult conversations. You came away feeling not quite so joyous. Why were they so terse on the phone? You looked to yourself to figure out what you needed to do to improve things. You continued to pray and seek help and inspiration.
The day came when somebody yelled at you on the phone and hung up. Contention hung in the air. The days and weeks passed, and they didn’t call back. When you rang, they didn’t answer the phone. When you sent a text message, they didn’t answer. What on earth was going on?
You might have remarried and tried now to talk to your new partner. He endeavored to be supportive, but he didn’t understand. Or you were still single and cried many tears alone.
There wasn’t really a place to talk about this at Church. It didn’t seem to fit into Relief Society discussions. You hunted anxiously at local women’s conferences for a class, but nobody dealt with this. They talked about inactive children and how to be patient with the choices they make, but they didn’t talk about active children who reject you. You now walked through life with a broken-heart and felt very alone.
Years later you just let it all go because you realised you couldn’t change it. You and your friends couldn’t see anything you had done; there were no answers.
Unexpectedly a non-member friend mentioned to you that she was terribly upset that one of her children had announced she was not to come over anymore, that all she did was upset the family, and she was not to see the grandchildren. She was heart-broken.
You realised you weren’t alone; there was somebody else in this boat with you. You shared your sorrow and tried to lift each other along the way.
A sister from Church turned up at your doorstep heart-broken and upset. Through her tears, she told an awful story of being rejected by her children and how they told her to stay away. She caused too many problems and was too strange. She was not to see the grandchildren anymore because she would be a bad influence.
You worry about the possibility of attending the same temple session as your child. What would you do? You don’t really know what happened and what changed. You’re just lost. Nobody talks about this heart-breaking sorrow. Over time, you find other women who have the same challenges.
You sadly realise this is a crowded boat. There are a lot of mothers with adult children who are fully active in the gospel of Jesus Christ, have callings, attend Church every week, raise their children in the gospel, attend the temple, live their lives within the framework of the gospel, and never speak to their mothers.
How can mothers deal with this grief? What can you do? The first thing, of course, is to get on your knees and take your heart-broken sorrow to the Lord and ask Him for comfort. Many women have cried on their knees and asked to go home. The sorrow of this life becomes just too much, but you must get up and keep going. You need to exercise faith. It will help if you can hope and keep praying.
Elder Brent H. Nielson spoke at the April 2015 General Conference (‘Waiting for the Prodigal‘). He prayed that you and I would receive revelation to know how best to approach those in our lives who are lost. He told the story of his sister, Susan. She allowed her faith in living prophets and apostles to diminish. You don’t know if that’s the problem that you are dealing with your adult children who disconnect from you, however, the lessons from Elder Nielson’s experience with his sister are profound and helpful.
He talked of how he and his family felt devastated. That feeling is the same for mothers with children who reject them. They struggle with the same broken-hearts. Elder Nielson’s extended family sought to serve Susan. They extended invitations to her. They reached out with efforts to rescue her and invite her back, but she only pushed them further away.
‘…we sought heavenly guidance,’ he said, ‘as to how we might properly respond to her…’
‘…with renewed love and kindness, we watched and we waited.’
Are you a broken-hearted rejected mother? That’s what you need to do as well: watch and wait.
First, though, take your sorrow to the Lord, cast you burden upon Him, and then let it go.
While you watch and wait, never stop loving and caring. As Sister Burton reminded us, we need to ‘first observe, then serve‘ (Linda K. Burton, ‘First Observe, Then serve,‘ Oct. 2012 General Conference).
You need to pray daily for your children, and for yourselves. Give gratitude. (See Elder David A. Bednar, ‘Pray Always,‘ Oct. 2008 General Conference.) Ask for insight. Ask for comfort.
Invite your children to all family events. It doesn’t matter that they might not come. Send them invitations. If you can’t ring, e-mail, or text, send an old-fashioned letter. Make a pretty card and invite them. Find ways to reach out. Brace yourself for rejection.
As time passes, there will be times when the sorrow is greater. Watch and wait because in addition to your working with loving concern, Heavenly Father will be doing everything to resolve the situation.
Keep busy. Occupy your mind. Create. Serve, and develop your talents. It’s harder to do that when the people you love won’t join you, but you have to be wise. You can’t just tread water while you wait.
Send birthday cards; send Christmas cards. If you travel, send postcards. Even if you are rejected, your decision to love regardless is in your control. Don’t let their coldness creep into your heart. Love from a distance is still love. Eventually, Elder Nielson’s sister Susan came back. The watching and waiting were over.
For many a mother the watch and wait are not over. You may have days, weeks, months, even years in front of you. Sometimes these things will be resolved in the eternities.
First, you must recognize two foundation principles:
- While there are many things you can do to help a loved one in need, there are some things that must be done by the Lord.
- Also, no enduring improvement can occur without righteous exercise of agency. Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings (see D&C 58:26-33) (Elder Richard G. Scott, “To Help a Loved One in Need,” Apr. 1998 General Conference).
The ironic twist, the paradox is, we are now talking about adult children who are fully active in Church, hold callings, pay tithing, raise children in the gospel, attend temple recommend interviews, attend the temple, and yet remain distant and estranged from family. It’s a bittersweet twist.
The only counsel can be to watch, wait, and love—to believe, hope, and go on with your life so that you may be an example of the joy of the gospel.
You may find you experience a range of emotions as you work towards letting go. There may be tears; you may judge yourself harshly. Don’t. It’s not your fault. You may identify things you could have done better, but all mothers can do that. If you find you are becoming depressed, please talk to someone. A trusted friend. Your Relief Society president. Your bishop. Call (USA) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255; (Australia) Lifeline 13 11 14; (Canada) Suicide Action 1-866-APPELLE; United Kingdom +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate), +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom) 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate), 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom).
Be patient with yourself.
In your sorrowing days, in the moments wherein you could choose bitterness, don’t. In the long nights of grief and tears, remember you are not alone. Sadly you are in a crowded boat.
Dearest sister, Remember ‘joy cometh in the morning‘ (Psalms 30:5).
In the fullness of time, when all is restored, the once crowded boat shall be empty, drying to dust as family love flourishes.
Dream of the joy that is to come and press forward…
As an adult Jane moved north to Queensland, here she experienced an intense sense of belonging. She quickly took up Australian citizenship. Research shows that relatives had originally arrived in the states capital in 1881 and built a home which remains standing today.
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