Ever since I posted my last blog about Leaving a Legacy (click here to read it), it’s haunted me. I’ve learned when something doesn’t sit right in my spirit, when I just can’t get peace, I need to find out what’s wrong.
It didn’t take long to figure out why I’m unsettled. It’s the last paragraph. I basically said I’ll consider myself a success if my children turn out to be successful.
On the one hand, who wouldn’t want that!? Who doesn’t want to raise kids to be good people? happy? successful? Who says, “Heck no! I want my kids to lead miserable, dead end lives, full of regret and treat people like crap!”? No parent I know.
But what if, just what if, my kids don’t live up to that? What if they don’t end up with what I consider successful lives? Does that then mean I wasn’t successful at parenting them? What is the measure of successful parenting? What if they don’t turn out right? What if they live in pain and disappointment? What if they don’t walk with God? Will it be all my fault?
And what if they are successful, godly, moral, stable, well adjusted people with happy all-American lives? Can I then take all the credit?
As a new mom, I read every book on parenting I could find. I studied and worried, prayed and obsessed. I religiously did everything the experts said to do and not do. The problem with that is expert advice changes from generation to generation.
My mother said her doctor told her it was perfectly fine to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day when she was pregnant with me — it couldn’t hurt the baby. When I was born he said NOT to nurse me, but to give me Carnation (evaporated milk) in a bottle — it was better for the baby than mother’s milk.
Something told her that couldn’t be right about breast feeding, and she nursed me against medical advice. But she kept smoking. She’d brush the ashes off my little baby blanket as I nursed, choking on second hand smoke. Maybe that’s why I have such bad acid reflux . . .
Keep in mind that at one time, doctors thought it was a good idea to put leeches on people when they were sick . . .
My point is, the current trends aren’t necessarily perfect knowledge. One day we might very well look back and be shocked at what we did, thinking we were doing what was best for our children.
It’s funny what sticks in your mind, but I actually remember what I was thinking when I took this picture on an unseasonably warm afternoon in November 1997:
Remember this snapshot in time. Soak in their innocence. They haven’t been pressured to try drugs or alcohol. They haven’t had their hearts broken by their first love. They haven’t stressed out over the SAT, college acceptance or class rank. They don’t know prejudice and injustice. They haven’t yet buried a grandparent, or lost a friend in a car wreck. They don’t yet know the world can be a hurtful, scary place. They’re just happy to play outside with their dog.
I would have given anything in the world to protect them from those things. I knew I couldn’t, and it broke my heart.
Although I don’t think you stop parenting your children when they’re grown up, I also know they’re past their formative years and I can’t go back and fix any of my screw-ups. I don’t get a Mulligan or a do-over.
After your kids are grown, and you look back at all your mistakes, and you start to feel overwhelming guilt, it helps to remind yourself of these things:
— You’re not the only influence in your children’s lives. It’s not all about you. A lot of other things jacked your kids up too!
— You’re not responsible for their choices. You can’t choose their paths for them, and you shouldn’t even if you could. They deserve the dignity of living their own lives, and making their own mistakes.
— Your view of success isn’t necessarily the best for them. Like the doctor who told my mom she could smoke while she was pregnant and nursing, you could be clueless to how wrong you are.
If you’re like me and you worry about what they’re doing, if they’re making good choices, if they’re truly happy, how they’ll make ends meet, take heart. Whatever is happening with them right now is just a snapshot of their lives. Who they are today isn’t necessarily who they will be. You grew up a lot after you were officially grown up, and they will too.
I don’t remember which James Dobson book this came from, and trust me, I read them all, but it made a real impact on me. I’ve tried to hang on to this concept. It’s not word for word, but this was the general idea:
Adam and Eve had the perfect environment. Perfect genetics. No mother-in-law trouble. No distractions like TV or social media. No work or financial stress. Most importantly, they had the perfect Parent. He never lost his cool with them, forgot to wash their baseball uniforms, never burned dinner, or missed their awards ceremony at school.
Yet Adam and Eve sinned. They made bad choices, and they had to face the consequences of those choices. Proof positive that you can do it all right, and your kids are still going to fall and make mistakes — we can’t protect them from their humanity.
I think the only conclusion we can draw is this:
We all do the best we can with the information we have.
Give your children your best efforts, and hope and pray they aren’t so jacked up that they’ll turn out to be kindhearted, generous, hard working, happy, moral, godly and content people.
Cut yourself some slack. We should neither take all the credit when our children are successful in the world’s eyes, nor take all the blame when they’re not. Sometimes you do good to make it through the day without choking your teenage son. Remember, success is a relative term.