It’s Narcissist Friday!
Over the years, people have watched our family and have asked if I was going to write a book on parenting. My answer has always been that I am not done yet. Even though all my children are adults, parenting never seems to be over. It isn’t that they need me, but that I need them. I learn as I watch them, even now. I am encouraged to see their reasoning processes and frustrated when I don’t have the big answers they need. I stand ready to help, but find that they are usually quite able to handle life on their own.
Parenting happens in stages, I suppose. In the beginning, parents provide almost everything. By the end, almost nothing. In between, there is a process of negotiation. And all along the way there is the give and take of respect, compassion, and provision.
There are no good parenting classes or books. I know that’s blunt and somewhat discouraging. It also flies in the face of common thought. I know that some teachers are better than others in some respects. I also know that books and classes can only teach generalities. Parenting relationships are specific.
There are things to remember about parenting. First, every parent brings a past into their relationship with their children. There are things about your parents you don’t know, things you will never know. If you grew up knowing your grandparents, you might have noticed some things that help you understand your parents. But don’t forget that grandparents came with baggage also.
We have studied our family history in serious depth. We know a lot about our ancestors’ names and the places they lived. We might even know what their jobs were, and history can tell us a little of what their daily lives were like. But we never knew their hearts. We don’t know what they feared, what they lost, what drove them forward into life. We don’t know what dreams were shattered or how they felt about themselves. We don’t know how they got along together, whether the ones they were with were gentle or cruel. And, believe me, all of those things affected how they related to their children.
As you get older, you look at your parents and wonder about these things. At least you should. You should release them from the little parenting box they have been in and begin to see them as real people. You should begin to understand that their attitudes and actions came out of the environment that molded them, just as yours did for you.
When you do this, you may not like what you see. Some people were just bad parents. They were cruel or inattentive or controlling. All parents were bad at parenting sometimes. They had their own struggles to carry and perhaps little time or interest for yours. Sometimes they let their children go too early, sending them into a world for which they were poorly prepared. Sometimes they held their children too long, doing for their children what the children should have learned to do for themselves.
And they didn’t know what to do. Very few parents taught their children how to parent. The books they read, if there were any, didn’t talk about the struggles they had raising you in your environment. Let’s face it, every generation has its own struggles.
Add to that the fact, indisputable fact, that every child is different. You were not like your brother or sister. The things that helped your siblings might not have helped you and vice-versa. Your parents, even if they tried hard, were in far over their heads. Families are complicated.
You see, if you carry anger toward your parents, or if you seek desperately to gain their respect, or if you are still wanting what you think you should have had from them, be careful. There are people who would take advantage of this chink in your armor. If your relationship with your parents is a weak spot in your heart, someone may come along to pretend to fill that need. That may open you to abuse or manipulation.
So, I say, let your parents go. Learn to see them as people. If they failed you, I’m sorry. Move on in spite of their failure. You have no right to expect them to be any more than you will be to your children. In fact, you may not be able to expect that, since you have learned from their bad example. They had their parents to teach them. If you got something more than your parents had, they might have done something right.
Don’t blame your parents for who you are today. Whatever they did, you are already moving past it. Whatever they failed to do, you seem to have done alright without. If you make mistakes in life, it will not be their fault. You are making choices now. Make better ones.
If you disagree with their values, that’s fine. But you should respect their right to have those values, and they should respect yours. They may not understand why you choose differently from them, but they have to let you go. You may not understand why they made their choices, but you also have to let them go.
I hope you can always have a good relationship with your parents. Letting them go may be part of that. Some parents, however, are so broken that their children have to separate from them. Some parents become so bitter and controlling that their children have to find health apart from them. It may be that you will break a pattern of abuse and brokenness by that separation. You will honor your parents best by not allowing them to continue their brokenness through you.
Perhaps one of the reasons we call God our Father is so that we understand that the only true parenting in our lives is what He has provided as we looked to Him. This was His desire from the beginning. It was the separation of our first parents that began the lineage of challenge for us. The very best any parent can do is to lead his or her children to the Lord.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the LORD will take care of me.