I have noticed in my work and my own life that guilt seems to be ever present in the lives of parents, especially parents whose children are not thriving in some way. Spiritually, guilt does not serve anyone, yet it seems to be everywhere. We feel guilty for not doing more, doing too much, not recognizing a need sooner, putting faith in the wrong people or intervention, not spending enough time, not maintaining our patience, or just plain not being good enough.
I really want to address this head on. It is not your fault.
I can in moments feel like I have failed my children. I missed some golden moment. I did not try hard enough. I did not have enough energy to meet their enormous needs. I should have been smarter, studied harder. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. The worst is when I run down the rabbit hole of “If I only knew then what I know now!” Good Lord! It is a living hell.
Choosing to consume ourselves with guilt does nothing to help our children, in fact, it impairs our functioning and happiness. That hurts our children. And, it really wreaks havoc on our mental well being and our health.
So, I will say it again. It is not my fault.
I love my children and they love me. Neither of us would be very happy without the other. None of us is perfect nor were we ever meant to be. We are humans. We learn and grow from mistakes. We are doing the best we can with the information we have in any particular moment. Beating ourselves up for our shortcomings or failures is a choice that serves no one.
Our children come into this world with their genes and personalities. Yes, the environment plays a key role in how those genes express themselves and how the personality evolves. So, we must do the best we can without exhausting ourselves. Most children would not be better off with better parents. They would be better off if their parents did their best and were happy people.
This is one reason why I work with parents, not children. Parents need to learn to love themselves, forgive themselves, care for themselves, and model healthy relationships and boundary setting, etc. And when our child falls down or fails to thrive for whatever reason, we must stand in our knowing that we have done our best. Parents of single children have the hardest time with this because they have no basis for comparison. I am lucky enough to have 7 children. They are all wildly different. They have their unique struggles and talents. They have all had the same amount of nurture, however, their nature is slightly different sending them all in completely different directions. While one may go off to college another may not. One may struggle with addictions and another may not. One might be completely happy all the time and the other might struggle with persistent depression.
And when you find yourself chasing a diagnosis or a cure or even just a clue as to what is going on with your child, know that you may never have the satisfaction of a complete explanation. Despite all your efforts, your child may not experience relief. Parents often feel compelled to blame someone for their child’s suffering: a doctor, a teacher, a therapist. When they run out of people to blame, they then turn to blaming themselves. I have been chasing my son’s mysterious issues for 20 years. I have employed the best doctors I could find from every discipline (medical, psychological, neurobehavioral, occupational therapy, vision therapy, physical therapy, neurology, immunology, allergists, geneticists, ophthalmology, educational, psychiatry, etc.), attended countless seminars and conferences, and read every book and article I could find. He collected diagnosis after diagnosis. No intervention seemed to hasten his downward spiral until I feared for his ability to survive. Only after 20 years of searching have we begun to see some glimmers of hope that he will get his life back. It is to easy to start to wonder if he would have been better off with a different mom. If I had been smarter, he might not have suffered for so long. Even worse, most of his “bad” genes are mine.
My children don’t want a new mom. They want the best version of me. I can only be at my best when I stand in a wise, grounded place and not judge the crap out of myself. I have done my very best. My son and the rest of my children are not the way they are because of my shortcomings. They have real issues. My only job is to make sure I am being the best version of me so I do not add to their challenges and to love them for who they are, not who I wished them to be.
It is not our fault.