Sometimes Parents Feel Guilty

Are My Child's Problems My Fault?

My daughter was going to rehab. She had graduated from high school only a few months earlier. I didn’t want to believe it. I was so hard on myself. Guilt set up residence in my heart. When your child has a problem with alcohol or drugs, self-harm (an eating disorder, cutting, etc.), sexual promiscuity, same-sex identity, is incarcerated, has thoughts of suicide or a mental health issue, guilt is a common reaction. We, the parents, wonder if it’s somehow our fault.

There’s no rest from the questions that plague our minds:

“How could this happen to MY child?” “Is it my fault?” “What did I do wrong? “What did I not do that I should have done?” “Could I have prevented this?”

The revolving door of What ifs and If onlys torments us. I could find no other way to answer these questions other than blaming myself. We tend to examine our parenting record, looking for that moment, the one mistake that flipped the switch. Why do we do this to ourselves? Guilt.

Guilt is a natural response, yet it doesn’t solve anything. Our child’s issues remain the same and we feel hyper-responsible. But there’s one thing it does do very well . . .

Guilt causes embarrassment that shames us into silence.

We erroneously believe if had we done a better job of parenting, our child would never have fallen into trouble or turned against God. That’s what I believed. We put all the blame on our heads, then we isolate, too embarrassed to let others know.

Mom, dad, if there is a valid reason for your guilt, then be honest with yourself, talk to someone about it – a trusted friend/pastor/counselor – then give it to God. He freely offers forgiveness to all who confess from a sincere heart.

Look what the Bible has to say about forgiveness:

“For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11, ESV).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9, ESV) and,

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).

If you’ve dealt with your guilt, but are still carry a heavy load of shame on your back, then it’s false guilt! It’s from the devil, not God. He never expected us to be perfect. He knows we’re flawed people doing one of the toughest jobs on the planet – raising a child to adulthood in a fallen and sinful world. But we’re super tough on ourselves, especially if we’re in ministry or a leadership role.

In some situations, we may need to ask our child to forgive us for things we’ve said, done or not done. This is by no means an excuse for their choices. Nor does it give them the right to put all the blame on us, but our humility and honesty may have a big impact on our relationship moving forward.

One word of caution: ask their forgiveness with no expectations of how they respond. Do it for the sake of your own soul, then leave the results with God. The benefit of this kind of forgiveness is for us–not for them.

In one of our support groups, a mom shared, “We need to let our children own what is their part and we need to own what is ours. Beyond that, we need to refuse the rest! None of us were perfect parents, but we did the best we could!” She’s absolutely right.

Own what is ours, let them own what is theirs, and refuse the rest!

I’m not where I once was in my struggle with guilt. Some days I relapse and torment myself again, wondering if there was something I could have done differently or not done that might have changed things. But I’ve dealt with what I believed was my part, asked God and my daughter to forgive me, and am learning to be kind to myself. From now on I’m refusing the rest and letting go of guilt.

What about you?

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*Guilt and forgiveness are big problems for parents in pain, so I wrote a lot about these topics in my book, You Are Not Alone: Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Kids. I have a whole chapter on Forgiveness. You can order a copy from our website here or wherever fine books are sold. And if you want some daily encouragement, please sign up for my free email subscription, also here on our website.

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7 thoughts on “Sometimes Parents Feel Guilty

  1. Thank you for sharing…I’m currently dealing with this issues with my daughter, and it hurts so bad…and your absolutely right about blaming ourselves. Sometimes I say, “Lord what have I’ve done so bad that this is happening to me, where did I go wrong, I tried doing my best as a single parent of 4, instructing them in your righteous path, telling them about your heavenly Father and your love…. I just want to know what or where did I go wrong….forgive me and help me with this load….” My daughter was on the run for 3 days (not her first time) and I prayed, you prayed and people that didn’t even know her prayed for her safe return. I begged Jesus to forgive me and to help me find my daughter. He answered all our prayers. My daughters been on probation for the past 3 years and she’s 10 months from turning 18. I’m in the process of placing her in a rehab but would like a Christian based rehab. Please if you know of any, or if you have suggestions for me please help me. Thank you for taking the time to read my problems. A brokenhearted parent.

    • Thank you for reaching out to us, Lupe. We are so sorry for the situation you are in with your daughter and we thank God she is home safe. It’s so hard not to blame yourself. With God’s help we can forgive ourselves for anything we may have done, but our children still make their own choices. I do have some ideas for you for a program that might help her go in a better direction. You certainly want to do everything you can before she’s 18. I will email that information to you.

  2. Very good reminder. I also am not where I once was with my guilt. I have good days and bad days, but the bad days are getting fewer and farther between. Thank God! I miss my daughter; as she still has nothing to do with me or our family in our home. But I have left her to own what is hers, as I have taken ownership of what is mine. The enemy often tries to dig at me, but greater is He who is in me! I refuse to take that guilt back. The tricky thing, I have learned, is that the enemy lies to us and tries to make us feel as though we quit caring, because we quit carrying the guilt. HUGE lie! We need to see through that. I love my daughter as much, if not more, than the day she left. She is always on my heart and mind. Thanks for the continued encouragement.

  3. I have a 18 years old son, who I believe is addicted to pot and cigarettes. I have done wrong with him as not responding as I should when boundaries are crossed.
    I have been told I need to show tough love, though frankly I don’t to avoid his anger.
    One example of something I know I m doing wrong; sometimes I let him use my car at night time, he does not have insurance, so I m enabling him to do illegal things as I let him drive. I really want to be tough and say no, you can not drive my car because you don’t have insurance, though how to do so, when I have allowed him to do so many times. How can I help him see how wrong I have been doing it without Him getting angry, and worst violent

    • Iraida,
      We’re sorry to hear about your son’s addictions. We know this is painful and it’s so hard to know what to do. Especially if they get angry. Driving without insurance is dangerous for him and you. If an accident were to take place you would be responsible for all damages and your son may be arrested for driving without insurance. You are trying to keep him safe and protect your finances. If he lives in your home can you add him to your insurance? Can he pay for this expense? You will need to decide what is the greater cost, the potential of being sued should an accident occur or your son’s anger because you are protecting him and your finances.