All you need is love

Well, Monday’s post on guilt and parenting certainly struck a chord with people. We are not alone. Thank you to all who took the time to leave a comment or talk to me on Facebook or in person about it. It’s been a valuable discussion. Actually, it’s been a very profound discussion in some ways.

Last night I read a comment from Pat Bailey, and I hope she doesn’t mind but I’m going to quote it here: “What is funny is that all the guilt I carried around for YEARS about things done or not done – things that I knew scared my children for life and I would burn in hell for. Those were the things that my children didn’t remember, just gave me the “you got to be s##### me” look. Then they told me the things that I did that really hurt them, wounded them and I thought “you got to be s#### me.” So I guess I carried the wrong guilt around all those years which means I should have just given it up and let them lay the guilt on when they were ready. That guilt didn’t seem like a burden because I said I was really sorry, they said no big deal, and life goes on…”

I found that so profound that I copied it onto Facebook, and Debbie left me this response: “Megan, my mother shared with us at my dad’s funeral that he always regretted the time he overreacted to a ‘potty’ word from one of us when we were little. My sisters and I looked at each other and said, “It wasn’t me, it must have been you.” None of us remembered it. I think guilt gets worse when you age, unless of course, you can let it go.”

AND THEN…(it just gets better, folks), my friend Lisa left this comment on the blog too: “…Interestingly one of my colleagues, who is a child psychologist of many years experience,  told me recently that she read that children need a good parent for around 30% of the time and as long as the other 70% or so is not abusive or destructive they will be fine…”

For me this is hugely profound, and incredibly freeing.

Just yesterday I realised something about myself and the way I thought. I’ve been battling through a mindset shift for the better part of two years, some real foundational thinking that I got wrong many years ago. It was, of all things, a novel that showed me that I’d been wrong for all these years (and locking myself away and suffering in silence because of it), and the journey of accepting the truth has been as difficult and painful as it has been freeing and beautiful. Paradigm shifts are like that. But just yesterday I saw in my mind for the first time exactly when that thought had come in, the words that were used, the conversation, the chairs, the room, the clothes my friend was wearing. Sometimes memories are weird like that. He was wrong. I know that now. But he was also seventeen, and seventeen-year-olds are kind of known for not being altogether accurate on big theological or philosophical matters. It’s not his fault that my thinking about myself and the way I did life with people was skewed. I was in a vulnerable place at the time, and I’d pressured him for answers bigger than he could give. Then hot on the heels of that thought was another one, also from when I was seventeen, and this time it was ME handing out judgemental idealism with a good dose of heavy-handedness (ouch. Oh I’m glad to be not seventeen any more). There were probably more incidences as well…but that’s the one I remember. Ouch. Remembering that so close to the revelation of how big an impact my friend’s words had had on me was…confronting.

I wanted immediately to go write to her and apologise, hoping that her life and understanding of self hadn’t been limited by my rash words all those years ago. I didn’t. Maybe she’s forgotten. Maybe she hasn’t. Maybe I need to. In the end I prayed for forgiveness for myself, and asked God to release her from any baggage my stupid words had left her with.

And then this morning I read the comments I posted above. It’s the full circle. We all stuff up, pretty much all the time, somewhere. And, of all the responses, guilt is the least productive. There’s a bit in the bible that says “love covers over a multitude of sins”, which is kind of what Lisa’s child psychologist friend is saying too – so long as those sins aren’t abusive or destructive – we are doing okay.

So. Go love somebody today. Go shout your friend their coffee. Hug your kids. Say yes. Forgive yourself. Forgive someone else. Love yourself.

Go on, you deserve it.

Results May Vary

When you become a parent, those precious seconds after they thrust that mewling wet creature with tight-shut eyes and flailing hands against your chest, they don’t tell you that you’re probably going to feel guilty at least once a day from here on in. They don’t tell you that as a health-warning on pregnancy test kits either – and maybe they should. Like cigarette packets that carry those enormous pictures of cancerous lungs, I can just imagine pregnancy test-kits coming with a picture of some perfect child from some perfect TV commercial and big letters saying DISCLAIMER: RESULTS MAY VARY.

I had coffee with a friend last Tuesday, and we talked about our kids – as mothers do – and she told me she was feeling guilty. Actually it was worse than that, much worse: she’d been MADE to feel guilty. Now come on people, mothers don’t need any help along at all in that area, and it was another woman to boot that had done it, which just smacks of Treason, and nothing less. I felt angry for her, and sad, because she’s a great Mum, and doing a fantastic job, and all that great-and-fantastic-ness inside her had been overshadowed by the guilt that somebody else had cloaked her with. And then on Wednesday I had lunch with another friend, another Mum who is doing far and above more than many of us have to, thrown into these things by life and circumstance and doing an amazing job to boot, and SHE feels guilty too. I won’t tell you about my Friday friend, because by now you might be sensing a pattern, and I shouldn’t mention my Saturday friend really, because…well, you get the point.

Most of the time we don’t talk about it. Most of the time we are proud of our kids, and we’re proud of ourselves for doing an okay-enough job, because really only we know what baggage we’re carrying, and under what circumstances we labour. And most of the time we share our positive stories: my three-year-old can write her name. My six-year-old can tie his shoes. My eleven-year-old is some kind of mathematical genius and can speak seventeen languages including Klingon*. Sometimes we leave out the bits we’re not proud of – my eight-year-old chews his toenails every night while watching TV, my ten-year-old wets the bed. **

I’d love to know whether this guilt is a 21st Century phenomenon. Did our parents or our grandparents struggle with how well their children did at school/learned to read/cleaned their teeth/toilet trained? Is guilt perhaps an airborne emotion released by small children? Perhaps if they didn’t breathe over us or wipe their snotty faces over us so much we’d find ourselves with stronger immune responses to such strange and feelings. Guilt, apparently, is some kind of by-product of love. This is not right, but it appears to be true. We can fight against it, but I think the best thing we can do is love one another through it.

If you are a parent reading this, here’s a bit of truth: whether I know you or not I’m SURE you are doing an awesome job. Give yourself a pat on the back today. I’m equally sure you deserve it.

And here’s one thing for sure: I’m not going to make the mistakes my parents made in parenting me. Nosiree. No way. The mistakes I make with my own children I’m going to invent all by myself!

And that, my friends, is parenting.

 

*These are not my children. I’m not sure whose they are, but they turned up in my imagination. If anyone would like to claim them please go to the Lost Property department. Turn left at the shoe cupboard and then take your first right.

**Also not my children. I am not claiming any toenail-chewers thank you very much. I will remain in denial.