Two years ago, my oldest son, Roger, graced my Father’s Day with a lengthy email detailing specific events where I had blessed him. He recalled one of our U-Haul trips:
“I think one of my earliest memories of us together was in the moving truck as we headed north. You probably gave me some words of wisdom on that trip, but unfortunately being in the truck distracted me, so while you said, “Son, think about this…”, all I heard was “big truck, big truck, oooo, big truck”. But, see, the importance of that story is that you let me ride in the big truck with you. You easily could have had me stay in the car with Mom. I imagine I wasn’t the easiest rider at times, but you let me ride anyways. Although, I am peeved that you didn’t let me drive. But, given that it is Father’s Day, we’ll let that one slide for now.”
His email was full of other words of encouragement. I read it several times a day! Exaggeration? OK, but I have re-read it. Mostly, I read it to counter the memories I have mistakes and tears and frustration I created for my children. Parents have a kind of indelible memory of their failures with their children. Failure memories invariably eclipse and block any light from the “did something right” moments. Failure memories dominate.
I have many. There is the time(s) I punished the wrong kid. The time I forced a child to eat spinach to the point of gagging. The time I wrongly accused a child of lying. The time I pulled the car over and reamed out one of my kids for simply being scared, reducing the child to tears. How desperately I would love a parenting do-over for the angry outbursts, the false accusations, the wrong assumptions, and the misguided rules.
This is why parents desperately need to hear from their kids what they did, or are doing, right. The memories they can’t escape are the things they did wrong. The grace of my son’s letter was the reminder that I was only partly wrong.
Still, I hate being wrong as a parent. I love my kids, but I know that my failures leave marks. That is hard to live with. Getting it wrong with our children is different than almost any other kind of failure. The self-talk that comes from such failures is especially harsh.
I am such a loser.
My kids deserve better.
I am not fit to be a parent.
I am ruining my kids, and they are probably going to become axe-murderers.
Even worse, parenting failures create a temptation to retreat or disappear, creating even greater pain. The dad, haunted by his angry tirades, buries himself in his work, avoiding his children. The mother, grieved by her anxious controlling, finds peace in a wine bottle. Partly wrong with your kids is a terrible weight that can set the stage for even more damage.
Don’t let it.
What may help is the realization that your wrongs can set the stage for some rights. Your wrongs can create losses for your children, but they can also create blessings. Stay with me.
In the Father’s Day email I mentioned earlier, my son, Roger, would later thank me for admitting I was wrong. My daughter, Carrye, echoed this same theme in her autobiographical book, Gray Faith: “Two of the greatest gifts my parents gave me were their willingness to think critically about the applications of faith they had grown up with, and their ability to admit over time their own shortcomings and faulty beliefs.”
My daughter says that one of the greatest gifts we gave her was our ability to admit our wrong behaviors and our wrong ideas. Our partly wrong enabled us to give her an invaluable gift that she could not have gotten otherwise. Our partly wrong enabled us to repent, to apologize, to confess. I love her gracious and accurate words “over time.” Strugglers that we are, our admitting was not always immediate, but when it came, it was a gift. A good. A source of blessing.
Oddly enough, our wrongs can be a gift to our children. Failures create a teachable moment that we will miss if we retreat. Your wrongs and mistakes give you a chance to talk to your children about anger and addiction and humility and grace and forgiveness and mercy and confession—conversations that can indelibly mark their lives for good.
Your frailty and weaknesses—when acknowledged—are an invitation for your children to share their own fears and struggles and failures. I have been both stunned and humbled by some of the deep personal struggles my children have shared with me through the years. It is a trust and gift almost too great for words, and I tear up thinking about it now, but I realize that I had to be a screw-up myself (and be honest about it) for those moments to happen. My partly wrongs set the stage for some wonderful partly right moments with my children.
Here is yet another gift of partly wrong parents. Three of my kids are parents now themselves, with their own failures, frustration and negative self-talk. But they can never honestly say, “I am the only struggling parent.” They can always look back at their parents and find a strange comfort. My parents screwed stuff up too. They yelled and overreacted and worried and neglected and over-controlled too. If Joy and I had been “always right” parents, our kids would sense an impossibly high bar in their own parenting.
So, stop trying to be the perfect parent. It isn’t possible or healthy. When you became a parent, you became an instant member of the partly wrong parent club. And your membership is never revoked, even after all of your kids have left home…if in fact that actually happens. Don’t mope over your failures or dwell on them. And whatever you do, don’t retreat from your kids. Instead, confess and entrust your failures to God’s grace. Acknowledge them to your children. Let your partly wrongs become an opportunity for grace and good.
[Feature photo by Bellazza87 at Pixabay.com]
For each weekday of the month of July (and Aug. 1-3), I am blogging a chapter from my book, Partly Wrong, to be published this fall. This blog is chapter twelve. I welcome any feedback that will help to make it a better chapter.