It’s an unavoidable fact of parenting. Whether you are an attachment parent, co-sleeping parent, a free-range parent, a helicopter parent, a traditional parent, a non-ideological parent, you are doing something wrong. Guaranteed.
Mothers, in particular, don’t like to hear this. “Mommy guilt” pervades the internet, sometimes in the form of mothers feeling guilty about their inadequacies and blogging about it. Mainly it is something our culture does to mothers. Breast feed and put it online—disgusting! Stop breastfeeding before you child turns 2—you’re an unloving parent! Co-sleep—you will kill your child! Sleep train—you are raising a callous sociopath who is learning to distrust the world. Advertisers, mommy blogs, parenting debates, articles on news websites about parenting, and social media all work to convince women that whatever they are doing as a mother is wrong. Their children will suffer for their maternal shortcomings. (But a new book or product might just avoid or repair some of the damage.)
But, the fact remains, we are screwing up our children. This isn’t simply a myth created by the overbearing presence of social media silently (and not so silently) judging our parenting choices or by marketers using guilt to inspire consumption. We are screwing up our kids. If you are a human being, you are screwing up your children.
One woman I know starts two savings accounts when her children are born. One for college when they turn 18. The other account is for therapy when the children turn 25, therapy to undo all the mistakes she and her husband are making as parents. But parenting is only part of the story…
Your child was also born screwed up. That, too, is part of being human. Just as you are a broken person, your child is a broken person and we all live in a broken world. The Christian tradition calls this sin. Sin is not a particularly helpful word anymore because we tend to associate it with petty rules like what words are ok to say and what movies are ok to watch. Or we think of a sort of “heavenly-mindedness” that scorns the material world, deeming all in creation sinful while waiting for some spiritual release achievable only with the body’s death. Sin is a word that needs rehabilitation, but that is a project for another day. For now, let’s return to brokenness.
You are broken. Your children are broken. The world is broken. Sadness, suffering, addiction, pain, and true evil not only characterize the geo-political climate, these characterize our very souls. In our most honest moments, we recognize this brokenness within ourselves and, if not overwhelmed by our own character, we might attempt steps to change: join a group, a gym, find a guru. But the action is always on our part. Since we are broken people, our attempts at making ourselves better are, from the start, broken.
But this is not the end of the story….the Christian tradition does not emphasizes sin to make people feel bad but because brokenness is real and we know a great secret. God—who isn’t broken—has literally traversed heaven and earth to help. The reason Christians care so much about Jesus—his death on the cross, and his bodily resurrection—is because it is through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that our brokenness starts getting fixed. God takes it upon himself to pick up the shards of our selves and piece us back together.
You’re still screwing up your kids—you can’t help it. But the good news is you don’t have to be burdened by guilt and you don’t have to solve the problem yourself. God is reaching out, longing to love you and to fix you—and your children.