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May 8, 2013

Overcoming ‘Mother’s Day’ Guilt

Kids mess up. Guess what: It’s not your fault.

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Recently while cleaning out one of my dresser drawers, I found one of the many “contracts” my husband, Gene, and I made with our daughter Katie to encourage better behavior and family relationships. Katie’s high school years were turbulent. I remember thinking one morning after she left for school: I wish we could have one morning that we don’t fight before she leaves.

Of course, I was the primary one in conflict with her. Her sisters tried to steer clear so not to upset her and be on the receiving end of a verbal jab. Gene didn’t clash with her like I did. In an effort to be a good mom, I tried to talk with her and pull out her thoughts and reasoning for whatever not-so-good decision she had made. I became her safe place to process her messy emotions in her messy way. I did my best to help her unpack it all and make sense of it. But often we clashed—big time.

This time of year it’s easy to believe the commercials for Mother’s Day that show the other moms speaking the right words at the crucial time, never blowing up on their kids, keeping a tidy home, and always wearing a sweet smile.

That’s not real life.

So why do we expect to be perfect moms and for our families to be the first to mature without any bumps or bruises along the way? Why do we think it’s all our fault when the bumps and bruises come to our kids? Maybe you’ve believed (like I did) the indirect, unintentional promise the American Christian community makes to parents. It goes something like this: if you raise your kids exactly how we say, applying all you learn in sermons, Sunday school, Christian radio, podcasts—and don’t forget all those Christian books—then your child will turn out how as you had hoped—loving God, making a good living, and making mostly good decisions. If, however, you make one mistake, the promise is null and void. You will have failed as a parent. Strap on your lifelong backpack of mom-guilt.

I know that sounds harsh. I know it’s not what the Christian community meant to say, but it is what many of us heard. I know. I’m one of them. But we’re not perfect and neither are our kids. So what do we do when our kids make poor decisions and we feel that we’ve blown it? What do we do with that overwhelming sense of guilt?

1. First, follow God’s example. God’s first and second generation kids (you know them as Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel) inflicted sin and its consequences on mankind, murdered, lied, and tried to hide from God, and that was only in their first few years of life. Some might look at this scenario and say God wasn’t a very good parent. But we know that’s not true. So why do we as human parents take on ourselves what even God does not take on himself. He doesn’t blame himself for our bad decisions. God gave all his children the responsibility to make their own choices.

One day late in Katie’s teen years she came to me with that tone in her voice that said here comes another wild decision. I don’t remember what it was, but it was a doozy. I was about to load on another helping of mom guilt when I sensed God tell me, This is the day you will believe my truth. Katie is making these decisions. You are not the cause. What a revelation! I was not ruining my daughter’s life! Katie was the one responsible for her words and decisions, not me.

2. Apologize when appropriate. Yes, as parents we should do our best, but we will make mistakes. When you do, apologize. You may be surprised at the power of your sincere apology. In your apology state what you did wrong, you are sorry, and that you plan to make a real effort to not repeat that behavior. Then ask for your child’s forgiveness. She may need some time so let her process your apology.

3. Move forward. Show your child you want to build a healthy relationship with her. Show her love in ways that she receives it. An exasperated mom told me her daughter never keeps their lunch dates. I suggested to her that this was not the way her daughter received loved. She needed to study her daughter and try something else—a note of affirmation, a small gift, help her with her next project—whatever would say to her daughter, “I love you and I’m here for you.”

4. Don’t stay under the load of guilt. Life is comprised of many imperfect relationships. No one gets it right all the time. Then the best we can do (and all God expects us to do) is to apologize and pursue a healthy relationship. Let yourself off the hook. God has. It’s your child’s choice if he does. I know it’s hard but you must come to accept this truth and give him space to do so.

Being a mom is the best role in the world. It fills us with joy like nothing else, but it can prick our hearts like nothing else. The enemy would like nothing better than to sideline you with guilt. You have done the best you could and you continue to grow in your role. You are a gift to your family. Believe it. It’s true.

Brenda Garrison is an author and parenting expert. Her book Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don’t Agree With (Thomas Nelson, Inc.) released in March 2013. Visit her website at BrendaGarrison.com.

Related Tags: Faith, Forgiveness, Guilt, Letting Go, Parenting, Teenagers

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