When You Weren’t “Parent of the Year”
An old man walked through the park near his house each evening. While the park was beautiful, his truly favorite part of walking there was the chance to meet other people along the way. One particular evening, as the sun began to set, he saw a sad young woman in her early 30’s sitting on a park bench, writing something in what appeared to be a journal. There were tears streaming down her face. The old man was moved and stopped to talk with her. “Young lady,” he said in a kind voice, “What are you writing about that is making you so sad?” The woman looked up with eyes full of heartache and said, “I’m writing a letter to my beautiful children to tell them how sorry I am that I wasn’t there for them the way I should have been. I was always so distracted with work and chores and my own interests that I never seemed to have time for them. So every day, I go to one of the places that my children used to beg me to take them but I was too busy to go – the park, the ball field, the zoo, the movie theatre. I spend the day there and write them a letter telling them how sorry I am for hurting them so much. Then the next day, I go to another of their favorite places, and I do the same thing all over again. It’s my penance for the mistakes that I made.” The old man felt great compassion for the obviously grieving young mother, who appeared to be regretting precious lost moments with her children while they were still alive. With great tenderness, the old man asked her, “How long ago did your children pass away?” The mother looked up at him with great shock and exclaimed, “My children haven’t died! They’re at home right now waiting for me to play — if there’s any time left when I finish here.”
It may seem like an extreme story, but many parents can probably relate to the guilt this mother carries for not always being a perfect parent, as well as her misguided attempts at making amends by wallowing in her own guilt. The truth, of course, is that the greatest amends would simply be to give her children her love, time, and attention NOW. You can’t change what was done (or not done) in the past – you can only create a new tomorrow.
I can so relate – for years, I ran myself in circles trying to “fix” and “save” my alcoholic husband. I ignored my children, snapped at them, neglected their physical and emotional needs, exposed them to hardships that could have been avoided, and neglected my own self-care to such an extent that I rarely had the energy to play with them. And now I deal with the guilt. For a long time, it haunted me every day – so much so that I became just like the mother described above. I let the guilt and shame over the past prevent me from creating a new present and future. Ironically, though I had the freedom to love my children fully, I was too focused on my regrets to see the opportunities right in front of me to make amends and move on.
If you, too, are struggling with guilt over missed opportunities, wasted moments, heartbroken faces that resulted from your occasional (or frequent) selfish choices….Perhaps you will benefit from the words that changed my life a year ago. In one of my darkest moments of pain and guilt, I heard God say to me in the most gentle voice, “Maybe you weren’t perfect, Sharlene, but I am. I was there for your babies when you couldn’t be. I held your children for you when you weren’t able to. I can love them enough for the both of us. Let go of the guilt…and just love them today. That’s all they need.”
Your children don’t care that you were never “Parent of the Year”…. They just need you to be there for them today – free of guilt and empowered by a God who fills in the gaps when you are lacking.