My father passed away more than a decade ago, and with him, issues were buried that have only recently resurfaced. Lately, my mom and I have been talking about my parents’ divorce and its lingering pain.
As we discussed the raw, hard things of the past, I felt the need to say, “You know, none of this is your fault.”
Tears flowed, her face fell in her hands, and she thanked me and said, “I’ve always needed to hear that.” She’s an amazing mom, and I never would have imagined how much that statement would mean to her. In my mind, things had been hard for all of us. In her mind, she never had gotten over the fact that things hadn’t been the way she had hoped for our family.
Common Pit of Parent Guilt
My adult life looks different than my mom’s did at my age. My marriage is flawed but strong. I’m not dealing with custody or child-support issues. But in our conversation I realized that I’m plagued by the same feeling of guilt: I’m not enough for my children.
I’m not the only one. I have single-parent friends who worry their children won’t understand what healthy marriages look like, since it hasn’t been modeled at home. My friends struggling with addiction or infidelity mourn their unfulfilled dreams of family life. Others are frustrated they can’t provide financially for their kids in the ways they always wished they could.
Many of us suffer simply because we know how our imperfections and misjudgments affect our kids. I’ve listened as my daughter shared the painful moments she faced last year when we “made” her play a sport. I feel guilt when, at the end of a long day, I’m drawn away from my family by the light of my phone. It’s easy to feel like I’m not enough for my kids.
Only in the past decade am I learning that my main role is to be a disciple of Jesus, pointing my children to him as the source of all they need.
When we imagine the success or failure of our children rests on us, the guilty feeling of inadequacy can be defeating and discouraging, even paralyzing. But God is enough for them in ways we can never be. We don’t have to be the perfect parent; our job is to lean on Christ through it all. Only in the past decade am I learning that my main role is to be a disciple of Jesus, pointing my children to him as the source of all they need.
Richness of the Dark
Most of us realize difficult situations shape us more than easy ones. During the most disappointing times of my life, my experience of God has been richer and deeper. Through those struggles, when I realized my life, family, and reality wouldn’t be enough, I learned that only Jesus would be. The very things that made my parents lower their heads in despair, including their divorce, became the reasons I felt need of Jesus.
Thankfully, my mom pointed me to Jesus in those times, and it’s the best thing she could have done. During the hardest years of growing up, the light of God’s presence began to shine in a way it can only do in darkness. He took the mess and through it showed me his beauty, in a way I couldn’t resist. I saw him in the mess. I saw him in the people in my church. I saw him in his Word and while we sang “A Mighty Fortress” on Sunday morning. He showed me rich parts of himself in the darkness that I may have otherwise missed. He gave me insight and wisdom I would desperately need for the rest of my life.
Light of Hope
To the defeated parents out there, you aren’t alone. We’re all feeling a little behind, like we’re not quite enough, silently grieving the ways our children’s lives aren’t exactly what we wish for them. We can know this: through their pain, the best thing we can do is point our children to the light—the gospel of Jesus.
Much of my role as a parent is modeling my actions after him, but another huge part is pointing to him, just as John the Baptist did: “I am not the Christ—Jesus is the Christ!” In practical terms, this means saying in the times when you clearly aren’t sufficient: “I’m not enough, but he is!” or, “You aren’t enough, but he is!”
To the parent struggling with guilt, battling perfectionism, or grieving that your children are experiencing hard things: may the light of Jesus, for you and your child, break through your darkness and bring great hope.