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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

My Parenting Failures

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On Christmas Eve, 1990, I learned an invaluable lesson about parenting. Two years earlier, we had moved away from our grown children. During that time away from them, I not only missed them, but I often thought of things I had done or not done during their growing-up years. Mostly, I thought of the ways I had failed them.

I hadn't always been physically available; I was busy making a living and staying on the go. There were times when I could have hugged my three kids more, listened more attentively, or just hung out with them.

I thought about that because I had been struggling over that very issue with my own dad. He was the typically distant father, and he was also an alcoholic. I had unconsciously stored up a lot of anger toward him. A decade after he died, I faced the pain, but it still took me a long time to forgive him.

After I resolved my own father issues, I thought about my three children. After I died, would they have to struggle over forgiving me? I decided I wanted them to be able to talk to me and forgive me while I was still alive.

For several days I had prayed for guidance. It wasn't going to be easy to say to my grown children, "Forgive me for failing you." I wanted to be prepared to open my heart and hear their accusations.

On Christmas Eve before we opened our presents, I cleared my throat and said, "I've failed you in many ways." I told them of my struggle to forgive my dad. "I don't want you to have to go through that. Whatever I've done and I know I've failed many ways please forgive me."

As I spoke, I particularly thought of Cecile, our middle child. She, like me, had been the rebel of the family. I had wept and prayed for her more than any of the others. When I finished, I closed my eyes and waited for their outbursts of pain and despair.

"I remember that no matter what I did," Cecile said after a long silence, "you always loved me." Tears streamed down her cheeks.

The other two said they knew I loved them; they had nothing to forgive.

I learned an invaluable lesson that night. I had focused on my failures and all the things I did wrong; my children focused on my love for them and what I did right. My children knew I loved them and that knowledge enabled them to forgive any of my mistakes when they happened, rather than letting them build up over the years.

What was the lesson I learned? I did my best parenting by the way I lived and not by the mistakes I had made. 

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