Monday, March 19, 2007

Parental Guilt

This morning on my drive into the office I was listening to Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson for a few minutes before I switched over to Mike and Mike on ESPN radio. Dr. Dobson had a guest on that was apparently doing the talk show circuit, what there is of one in the Christian talk show world, hyping her book about parenting and guilt. The basic premise of their conversation, and I have no argument with this, was that moms generally feel more guilt than dads about raising their kids. Further more, that moms can harbor this guilt their entire lives. She mentioned research that she had done, and by research she means collecting surveys from women who had attended conferences she had been to, that had moms as old as 87 who still struggled with feelings over things they felt they had done wrong when their child was young.

I made me wonder for a moment how my own mom might be feeling. Those of you who have moms, and you know who you are, know that they come in all varieties. Some moms are the typical June Cleaver mom and some are the Mommie Dearest mom and every where in between. Still, even with the Mommie Dearest mom, and I don't remember anything about the movie except the coat hangers, I suspect that guilt plays a big part in their psychological makeup whenever they ponder their children. For a tough old bird like my mom, who I am very much like, she would fight tooth and nail to not have to own up to any failings, or any fault, on her part as to how my siblings and I may have been affected by our childhood. I don't think it's a matter of denial, rather it's a stance of 'why must we talk about this?'. For me, trying to empathise with her, albeit from the distance forced on me by my maleness, I would think her approach is: 'I know what I did, you know what I did, I can't do anything about it now, this is who I am, I love you, let's move on'.

Now, I realize I could be very wrong on that point, but for the sake of discussion, and for the millions of readers out there who CAN empathise with those feelings, I feel I must say something. There is something you can do. It's never too late to grow as a person and to heal relationships. I don't care how old or young you are, saying you're sorry, and meaning it, is magic. It's good for you, and, usually, good for them. Our pastor told a wonderful story this weekend about a fight he and his wife had over the phone a year ago, and how he gave up his desire to win the argument and chose to do the thing that was best for his wife. It was as simple as 'I'm sorry, I love you'. Granted, years later, and it might be 50 something years later for the 87 year-old mom, it might take a longer conversation to hash out what the problem is. Your child may not even remember the hurt, but the essence of the matter is forgiveness and trust. Once you have identified your fault to those you feel you have wronged you give them permission to hold you accountable in the future. It's like taking a wall down that has to be scaled every time you want to get close to someone.

I'm all for saying I'm sorry. I wish I did it more often. I pray I have fewer and fewer occasions to have to say it as I grow older. But I also pray for the wisdom and humility to continue saying it.

No comments: