Was I a Bad Parent?

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Both of our children are grown and on their own. It’s a delight to see them as adults living their lives. But I often find myself drifting back to their childhood years…wondering if I made good decisions, wondering if I was a bad parent.

One of the ironies of life is that youth is wasted on the young. Another is that the supreme task of parenting is given right when you’re busiest: Right when you’re trying to get a decent job and learn how to be a good spouse and manage your finances and sink your spiritual roots deep; yeah, right then is when your also called to be a parent. Right then is when you leave your mark on your posterity.

So it’s not uncommon for people of my age to second-guess themselves. We’re far enough removed from the dizzying speed of parenting to have the luxury of reflection. We think back and are surprised by how little we remember, about anything really. Whole years get condensed into 2-3 vignettes. There’s one year (1983) where we can’t remember anything! Maybe we blacked out for a whole year? We do know that we had a 1-year old child, but that’s about it. It’s not even a blur; it’s just a blank. How can a whole year disappear like that?

So you can see, given my poor recall, how it’s easy for me to second-guess myself. Consequently I’ve developed a couple of guidelines for parents to help with this matter:
1) Recognize that even perfect parenting decisions may have negative repercussions- just because it’s right and you’re following God doesn’t mean you won’t have self-recriminations or that your kids won’t ever stray. Your children are in the Adam & Eve position: they’ll make up their own minds. Raising kids is not a mathematical equation…there’s this crazy little thing called “Free Willy” that’s guaranteed to play a part (or is it “free will?” I always get those two mixed up). Do the right thing and then accept the reality that you’re living in a world with imperfect consequences.

2) Keep your priorities straight without getting fired. Most of us in ministry agree on the following prioritized list: God, self, family, ministry/job, and football. Admittedly some of us confuse the last two priorities, especially on Monday nights. Recognize that you can’t perfectly do everything and you DO have a job that must be balanced with your spiritual, parenting, and spousal priorities.

So this brings me to my point…take home movies. Over Christmas our daughter gave us a DVD of VHS tapes that she had digitalized and transferred. And there we were! Except for Yvonne’s 80’s hair and my walrus mustache we looked like good parents. There we were, hugging our kids and playing and laughing together. We watched a few hours worth and I was re-assured that if I was a bad parent at least I wasn’t a bad parent when the camera was rolling. But it didn’t look faked, those people looked natural, like there was peace in the home and God in their hearts.

If you’re in the middle of it, if your kids are still at home, remember that you’re doing the hardest thing you’ll ever do. The best you can do is stay crazy in love with your spouse and your God. The second best thing you can do is to love your kids perfectly, even when you don’t know the perfect thing to do. Do keep in mind, someday your kids are going to decide whether to put you in a rest home or not, so go ahead and let them have that extra brownie.

And if you’re like me, past child-rearing years, regardless of whether you were a really good parent, or a lousy parent, or a just can’t remember parent, “there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus” (for those who live according to the Spirit)! That’s good news.

Now if we can just find a tape from 1983!

David Roller
By David Roller

David T. Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico, then for 10 years as Latin America Area Director for Free Methodist World Missions and in July of 2007 was elected a bishop of the Free Methodist Church of North America.

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