When your child is having a problem with alcohol, drugs, self-harm, an eating disorder, sexual promiscuity, same sex identity issue, in trouble with the law, thoughts of suicide, depression, OCD, etc. a common emotion is feeling guilty. You wonder if it is somehow your fault. There seems to be no rest from the plaguing questions: “How could this happen to MY child?” “Is this my fault?” “What did I do wrong? “What did I not do that I should have done?” “Could I have prevented this?”
There is just no end to the revolving door of “What ifs” and “If onlys!” It seems to be our way of answering the “Why?” question and it is pure self-torture. Parents tend to examine their parenting record, looking for that moment, that mistake that flipped the switch on their relationship. Why? Because guilt — one of our biggest enemies — embarrasses those heartbroken parents into silence. They believe that anyone who found out about their wayward child would immediately assume that, had they done a better job of parenting, their child would never have turned against them or against God. I sure felt that way.
If there is good reason for you to feel guilty, then be honest with yourself, talk to someone about it – a trusted friend/pastor/counselor, then give it to God. He freely offers us forgiveness. The Bible has some things to say about that: “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 have dealt with your guilt, but still feel guilty, it is false guilt! Let go of the past and move forward. Sometimes, though, we may need to ask our child for forgiveness for things we have said or done, or not done. It doesn’t excuse their choices and gives them no right to put all the blame on us, but this humility and honesty can often have a huge impact on your relationship with them. But you have to do it with no expectations of how they will respond!
In a parent support group I was in recently, a mom said, “We need to let our children own what is their part and then we need to own what is ours. Beyond that, we need to refuse the rest! None of us is a perfect parent, but we did the best we could!”
I was reminded that only God was the perfect parent. He made no mistakes, yet even his first two children (Adam and Eve) rebelled! Who am I to think I deserve any better than that? What a helpful thought this was for me!
I am not where I once was in my struggle with guilt. Sometimes I still torment myself wondering if there was something I could have done differently, or not done that might have changed things. I need to be much kinder to myself, how about you?