Yes, you screwed your kids up.
You are going to mess your kids up - you probably already have.
So, let's take the pressure off. You don't have to be a perfect, always gentle, completely mindful, constantly composed parent. You’re not expected to be all that all the time. It’s impossible.
Some mothers are terrified of messing up their kids. They wrestle with the wounds of their own childhood and carefully watch what’s going on in other families (and society in general). They over-deliberate their every move and try to foresee the impacts of saying this or that to their child. Operating in a state of fear, as we all know, leads us away from our wise, grounded selves and into knee-jerk reactions and saying things we don’t mean to say. Tension is an invitation for our triggers to come in and take over. Then, trying to avoid making mistakes just ends up in… making different mistakes.
Other mothers lie awake at night replaying the moments they wish they had handled better. They berate themselves for not being able to control their reactions. They cry about the damage they think they’re doing. They feel sick seeing themselves doing things their own parents did. Trapped in their frustration and/or grief, they are more susceptible to being pulled into reactivity. They often end up behaving differently from how they intended and feeling like they… screwed up.
If you’re a parent, you make mistakes. You can probably list yours out.
But were they really mistakes? Maybe they were opportunities to learn, even gifts of divine wisdom for you. I know, they weren’t pretty, tidy, easy gifts. That doesn’t mean they weren’t beautiful.
And perhaps your ‘mistakes’ were also gifts of divine wisdom for your child. When you said those harsh words, it may be that their boundaries were bolstered or their right to dignity was ignited. Who knows? Life/ God/ the universe works in mysterious ways.
Take a look at your list. Maybe your mistakes weren't mistakes. How does that idea sit with you? Like a pointless platitude or a an inquiry into your spirituality? Does part of you want to dismiss it immediately or can you consider the possibility? ~
And still, the idea of messing up your kids might be sitting like a sliver under your skin. You watch your almost-adult kid struggling and you’re pretty sure you had a part in that. Guilt, shame, remorse and self-reproach swirl around you. You see them stressing to make decisions, aching in their relationships, floundering in their jobs, not taking care of their bodies, messing up their finances…and it’s painful to watch. You see the patterns they’re caught up in and you make connections to how your way of parenting influenced (or you may be thinking “caused”) those patterns.
And I get that. Oh, how I get that.
I can see the impacts of my earlier behaviours playing out in my kids’ lives. I was overprotective, especially when they transitioned from homeschooling into the school system. I cautioned them a lot and one of them developed social inhibitions. It sits like a prickly little cactus between our hearts.
And I feel how my drive to do everything well as a mother imprinted on my other child as a tendency toward perfectionism, which led them into self-destructive behaviour. Sometimes my guilt has threatened to drown me.
… but I'm not convinced that I screwed them up.
Our personality traits cannot help but have an impact on our children. We live with them, play with them and guide them with what we have and who we are. And how we parent is only one of the factors that influence their development. Every moment, they encounter new situations, people, concepts and sensations, all of which shape their development and their sense of who they are, what's important to them and how they move in the world.
In the bigger picture, we all come into the world with a certain collection of traits - our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual makeup - and the opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow into our true essence. My traits included anxiousness, the pain of which led me to find peace. How else could I have learned it?
If I had been less fearful, I wonder if my kids would still have fallen into the same potholes to discover those same aspects of themselves and develop those same capabilities – knowing how to return from dark places, being able to trust friends, and dealing with stress. (Oh, as I write this, my heart is full of gratitude for what they have learned.) ~
I'm not saying that fate is fate and we don’t need to take responsibility for ourselves. Quite the opposite. We must, as parents, take responsibility for our self-development.
For me, it’s been learning how to be with anxiety and move beyond fear: re-wiring my brain with meditation, nature, ceremony and qigong; wading into the murky depths to heal my childhood wounds bit by bit; aligning my life with what I value; and receiving support from healers, elders and friends.
If you are taking responsibility for your Self and your growth, then you are an amazing parent.
You don't have to take responsibility for the swamps and stormy mountain passes your child is currently traversing or the ones they have yet to encounter. You have influenced them but, if you had done it completely differently, you still would've influenced them, albeit in different ways. They have their challenges to face and their lessons to learn. It’s how they find the beat of their own heart.
So, did you mess them up?
The real question is, what are you doing about the parts of your personality that are getting in the way of your connection with your child right now? Your kids learn so much from watching you live your life. Are you learning? In what ways are you making room for your essential Self to continue emerging? How are you growing toward the Light?
Parenting involves feeling like you’re messing up. It's part of the job. How else could we feel when we're given such a tender, sacred role - the care of another soul? And the only way to do it is with what you know and who you are, awake to your beliefs and tendencies, kind in your interactions, and shining your heartlight through the beautiful messiness of it all.
REFLECTIONS What have you learned or been able to develop in yourself as a result of your parenting "mistakes"? What have your children gained from them? How are you taking responsibility for the development and emergence of your own Self?
With you on the journey,
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