I rarely remember my dreams, but the one I have of my son, Jon, is always the same. He is lost.
He might be any age and in different surroundings but he is always lost. And I am always looking for him. And I can never find him. And no one around me cares enough to help me look.
I hate this dream. I hate the panic and the helplessness of it. I hate that after thirty six years I still have it.
I’ve come to believe this dream says a lot more about me than it does my son. Even though I have come to accept and love Jon for who he is, I think there is still a deep inside part of me that struggles with how this turned out. I had expectations. I wanted different. I wanted more.
I saw the same guilt-panic in my son and daughter-in-law while visiting them recently. Their newborn son cries, a lot. Better described, he screams. He balls up his little fists, kicks his legs, flails his cute little arms, turns deep shades of red and wails himself inconsolable.
And they feel guilty. Why isn’t he happy? What are we doing wrong? This isn’t supposed to be like this.
Parenting is indescribably wonderful and can also be overwhelmingly scary. Kids don’t come with a step one, step two, step three, instruction manual like those for assembling a boxed set piece of furniture. Don’t we wish it was that easy?
Their manual is more like the one I recently received with a new small appliance I purchased, “Caution! Do not….,” a list of warnings; I had to figure out how to actually use the thing on my own. Is it this button or this one? Does it take a battery or not? Hmmm….
All parents deal with some level of guilt. It comes with the job. Most of us don’t know what we’re doing when we start and those who think they do soon find out it’s SO different when the kid is yours. It sounds good in the parenting book we read and the advice of a zillion experts we’ve heard, but now that you’re up to your eyebrows in parenting, it’s not that simple.
All of us feel, at some time in the process, “I don’t know what to do. I could have done more. I could have tried harder. I could have been better at that. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have realized. I am failing/have failed my child.”
Parent guilt can worry about the infant who won’t stop crying, worry about the teen who won’t listen anymore and worry about the adult who is making wrong choices.
Parent guilt can exhaust itself on extra activities, buys kids stuff they don’t need and avoid disciplining a child who is desperate for it.
Parent guilt sees failure rather than success. It sees the problem instead of solutions. It keeps our mind in a state of unrest rather than peace.
I believe parents of children with special needs battle the guilt demon more than most. I hear it in the Facebook posts, read it in their blogs and see it in their eyes. We never feel we do/did enough. Maybe the next treatment, medication, behavior plan, professional or therapy will make a difference. We are a driven, guilt-laden bunch, always looking for another help, another hope, and another solution.
The guilt twinge is real when I read about the person with Down syndrome who is getting married, or the one modeling on New York runways, or the one who owns a restaurant, or how about the guy with autism working for Microsoft? I have to remind myself that these are often the exception not the rule.
On our best day we have no guarantee how our kids will turn out but they basically need what all of us long for: love, acceptance, boundaries, food, shelter and most of all, God. The greatest thing we can ever do for our child is help them understand the God shaped hole inside them, only their Creator’s love can fill.
The other best thing we can do is say I’m sorry when we mess up and forgive ourselves for being less than perfect.
In spite of us, and maybe because of us, our children are quite resilient and they don’t need perfect parents. What they need is forgiving and forgiven parents.
Loose the guilt. It’s a parenting accessory neither we nor our kids need.
Love and forgiveness always win and inevitably chase the guilt demons far away.
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear..”
Romans 8:1 “So now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free..”
Psalm 127:3 “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”