Dear Mom:

Recently, I was speaking with a dear friend who felt like a failure as a mom. I heard her frustration, her anxiety, her helplessness, her shame and disappointment. I listened to her explain the circumstances, the decisions she had to make, and the fear of not making the “right” decision. While I listened, my own thoughts surfaced: the many mistakes I made, the constant quest to find the “right way” to do things, the striving to be the best mom, the best wife, the best Christian, the list goes on.

My friend was caught in a circle of hopelessness. She, like so many of us, carries the burden of her children’s choices—good or bad—on her shoulders. It is as if all of their decisions in life are a direct result of her parenting.

“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”  John Wilmot

True, she has failed countless times. So have I. In fact, we all do. It doesn’t matter if its mothering, dieting, relationships, work or other. We cannot escape the fact that we fail. Sometimes those failures effect our children as well as our friends, spouses, family, and coworkers.

However, the truth is not everything is your fault. I know the world blames you. Maybe friends and family blame you. Maybe it’s your own kids. Maybe you blame yourself.  Please STOP! I know this easier said than done; it is necessary for you and your children.

Photo Credit: Kishivan
Photo Credit: Kishivan

Somehow we forget that we are humans and humans are fallible. As adults, we carry the positive and negative aspects of our own upbringing  into our adult lives, including our parenting and relationship styles. Our parenting and adult decisions and choices are directly and indirectly influenced by our own parents and they theirs and so on. Some are lucky enough to grow up in good homes. A home filled with love, laughter, safety, and togetherness. Yet, to believe a home with all of these things somehow escapes failures, mistakes or our sin nature, which is inherent to all humans, is ignorant bliss. It is equally naïve to assume a home that is completely destructive—laden with abuse, abandonment, neglect and so on, like mine was, results in generations of destruction. The truth is there is always an anomaly. Some really destructive homes produce amazing children who grow into amazing adults and parents without repeating the same patterns of behavior. Just as some children who grown up in good homes somehow become destructive adults.

There is no guarantee.

But that’s what we want. We want  assurance that if we do everything right then we can somehow ensure our children will make the right choices as adults. Unfortunately, we buy into this mentality and live a life full of anxiety, depression, confusion, and desperation. We spend our time looking for the best five-step-plan to produce happy healthy children and are left bewildered with our kid’s behavior. No offense to the experts. There is a great deal of good parenting advice and expertise out there .  However, no one can offer a surefire plan in raising happy healthy children who become vital and productive members of society.

I spent twenty-six years of parenting to discover that all my efforts to be what my parents were not (in my mind) in vain. I judged them harshly. This is not to say they did not make some serious mistakes or that some of their actions were destructive, but to say, I cannot assume I would respond differently unless I walked in their shoes. In fact, I became the very thing I despised—them. And then, I got the opportunity to walk in their shoes and make some of the very same mistakes, and then some. I also got the opportunity to make different choices with different outcomes.

It took years of counseling, of learning new parenting skills, of both failures and successes to realize that parenting, like all of life, is a journey. A journey of learning along with my kids, of making horrible mistakes and enjoying wonderful successes. I spent their early years forming their values, shaping their worldview, and defining their boundaries. Sometimes I controlled them too much. Sometimes I was too lenient. Other times, guilt and shame caused me to overcompensate as a mother. I desperately wanted to spare them the life I had. I looked at the pain of my life as a curse rather than an opportunity. I cannot say a blessing because somethings like abuse or rape are not blessings in disguise. Instead, they are examples of sheer evil. I  have experienced evil firsthand. In some ways so did my children; a fact I wish I could erase from their lives.

Yet, those experiences taught me a great deal about human nature. They gave me greater compassion for those who suffer. They taught me  to see the world differently, and to see my parents differently. In fact, my experiences helped me to understand my parents as well as help shaped my marriage, my parenting, and who I am as a human being.

I also discovered that my kids have a will of their own. In other words, they are free to make choices. I taught them the difference between right and wrong: I taught them the truth, the difference between love and hate, between serving and taking, all the while praying they would  grow up and own those values for themselves.

Somewhere between the tween and teen years my role shifted from enforcer to influencer. In other words, I had to trust that the lessons I taught them as well as the mistakes I have made would weigh on their minds as they make their own choices. I also discovered that I could not control all of their decisions or actions. At some point, I had to allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their bad decisions. Likewise, I shared their joy when they reaped the benefits of good choices.

Some of their actions and behaviors were a direct reflection of my mistakes as a parent, some were not. Those that are mine, I own not without regret. Since I cannot erase those mistakes from their lives, I pray grace and mercy cover me. I also pray that when they become parents, they realize they will also make mistakes and fail at parenting. And when they do, I pray they will find the same grace and mercy I found in Christ, and from them.

Parenting is complicated. There is no guarantee. We fail. We succeed. We do not and are not totally responsible for all our children’s choices. However, we must be acutely aware that we are their primary influencers and the impact it has on them while growing up.

Please remember parenting does not come with a  five-ways to raising happy healthy kids plan. Parenting is a combination of failures and success. If you make a mistake, be humble and learn from it. If you succeed, be humble and let them shine. Most of all, don’t carry the weight of their decisions on your shoulders. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Learn the difference. Trust in the fact that if you “train them in the way they should go: and when [they are] old, [they] will not depart from it” (KJV Prov. 22:6).

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