This month’s guest blog is written by Barb Winters, a mother whose son struggled with a porn addiction. For anyone with an addicted loved one or for those who are in caregiver roles, self-care is essential. Barb offers help and hope in her message.)
“For no one every hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:29-30 ESV
“What?! What did you say?”
“I was watching porn and . . .” I saw my fourteen-year-old son’s mouth moving but couldn’t believe the words escaping it. He was more distraught than I’ve ever seen him, in full-blow panic mode, and my brain couldn’t comprehend the situation.
I felt sick. Did he just say he was watching porn? We were standing in our yard surrounded by green grass, blue skies, and vibrant flowers. But my world was going dark.
In the hour that followed, I would learn my son had watched pornography periodically for the past year. He only confessed because he was being bribed, or so he thought. A fake warning had popped up on his screen while he was watching pornography, provoking him to tell his dad and me.
While that conversation opened my eyes to an underground world I didn’t know existed and prompted us to add filters to devices and update rules that were apparently too lenient, it wasn’t the end of my son’s porn use. A year and a half later, at age sixteen, he confessed again, this time disclosing the full story. He had been watching pornography since he was nine or ten and was addicted.
Between those two confessions and for several years afterward, my husband and I walked through his problems and the ramifications that spilled over into our lives, alone. I had one friend I confided in but was unable to reveal this secret to other friends, family, or fellow church members. I sought help online but kept hitting a brick wall. Most of the places I found offering advice to parents of children struggling with pornography gave parenting advice. I certainly needed that information, but additionally I needed emotional support. I felt mad, sad, hurt, guilty, ashamed, and alone. I longed for someone who had been in my position to put their arms around me and let me cry and shout and process.
During this time, I leaned into God. He held me and comforted me. He guided my decisions and offered me the space to feel all the feels. Later, I realized I was grieving, and He was walking me through the process.
6 Ways to Practice Self-Care
I don’t want any parent to go through this journey alone. For that reason, I support and encourage parents of children exposed to pornography at hopefulmom.net. Based on my experience as a mom and someone who has helped other parents, here are some thoughts.
It’s okay to grieve. We typically associate grief with a physical death. However, the day I discovered my son watched pornography I lost the son I knew. He had been replaced by a stranger, someone who lied, deceived, and participated in behavior I didn’t think was possible. And, not only was his past different than I knew it to be, his future would be different also. But God had not changed. On the days I thought my heart would break in two, He was there to comfort me. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4 NIV).
Self-care is vital. When we are dealing with a traumatic event or issue, our schedule goes to pieces. Our eating patterns and sleeping schedules are off. Our anxiety level increases. We may not be able to concentrate or perform basic tasks. Take a minute to evaluate your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Breathe. Go to bed early and sleep through the night. Eat even when you aren’t hungry. Eat healthy foods even when you’d rather gorge on chocolate chip cookies. Take walks to clear your head and move your body.
Forgive and receive God’s forgiveness. God’s directive to forgive and receive His forgiveness releases us from the burdens and weight of carrying around unforgiveness, shame, and guilt. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32 NIV).
Forgive your child, all those involved in his or her behaviors, including anyone in your household that played a part, and release your portion to God, allowing Him to purify you. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV).
I asked God to forgive me for being neglectful and not seeing the signs that something was amiss. But, then, I also let go of the part that was not mine. I could not walk around with false guilt hanging over my head. My son had made decisions that were his alone, and he had to take responsibility for his part.
Protect your marriage. Be there for each other. Do not blame each other or turn on each other. Instead, comfort one another. Remember you are on the same side. You both want your child to thrive and succeed.
Find a friend. I tell eighth- and ninth-graders they need a trusted adult. So do we. We need someone to confide in who will hold our precious words carefully and love us unconditionally. If you don’t have a friend, talk with a pastor, counselor, or therapist.
Persevere. Lean into God. When the problems appear insurmountable, He carries us through. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (see Deut. 31:6). Your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing is worth pursuing. So is your child’s.
That initial conversation on our lawn was six years ago. Our journey contained ups and downs, curves and obstacles. But my son is walking in freedom from his pornography addiction, and our relationship is as solid as ever. More importantly, the relationship we each have with God is strong and growing. And that’s my hope and prayer for you.
We come to you full of gratitude for your love for us and for our hurting family members. We pray we will trust you on this difficult journey. We ask you to remind us often how important it is to take care of ourselves while we are in the middle of our trials.
We pray for Barb as she ministers to those who are struggling. Strengthen her for this journey.
In your name we pray, Jesus.
Beautiful Blessings. Dawn
Barb Winters is a pastor’s wife and parent of four adult children, one of whom is a recovering pornography addict. She’s a hopeful mom supporting parents in a world of pornography and online relationships through her writing and speaking engagements.
Her book, working title of Healthy Relationships in a Hookup World, will be released in August 2023. Subscribe at her website, https://hopefulmom.net/