Parenting fails and God’s mercy

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My column published last week in The Catholic Weekly. Photo by Schlomit Wolf.

I’ve had my fair share of ‘parenting fails’, as all parents probably do.

I’ve left children at school until late in the afternoon, only realising I had to pick them up when they rang me from the office to ask where I was.

I’ve driven off before remembering to fasten the little one’s car seatbelts, dressed them too warmly when they had a fever, sat them alone before the TV for hours. I’ve yelled at an older (while still little) one, drawing frightened tears from a younger little one.

Have you ever had a day when you felt like the biggest parenting failure? We all make mistakes with our kids. Often they can make for a funny story later, but sometimes there’s no making light of things we have done that have hurt our kids, however unintentionally.

Not surprisingly, I had more days like that when our children were all under five or six years old. That was a wonderful time, but also such a hard, exhausting, time, made a thousand times worse by my scrupulosity!

Here’s my tip for the scrupulous parent, as one in recovery from bouts of obsessive guilt and the replaying of her mothering mishaps: Remember that your parenting doesn’t just impact your child for the first 5, or 10, or 18 years of your child’s life. Parenting is not a one-shot event but a life-long deal.

Of course when they are young they depend on us for everything and the first few years are the most formative, but we will be a major influence on them for the rest of our lives and hopefully for much of theirs.

We will always have a role to play in being their mentors and guides. Our job changes over time, but we don’t get to retire from parenting when our children get to 18, or 21.  Even if our child dies while we ourselves are still here on earth, we don’t cease to be his or her parent. While we’re still drawing breath we can always become a more grace-filled mother or father!

Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) was a 20th century German philosopher. In an address she once gave on the value of women in national life, she said the role of a mother is to “nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development” and that this role changes as her child grows into adulthood. To an adult child, a mother is “a companion, a support and mainstay”.

That was the saint on motherhood, and I think the same goes for fathers as well; fathers become such valuable companions to their adult children later in life, and particularly as their children marry and begin to form their own families.

As an adult child myself, with both of my parents still alive and relatively youthful, I enjoy their company, and they help me to remain peaceful about my own parenting because I can see that despite making mistakes both of their children have turned out happy, living full and productive lives. We still love our parents and know they love us.

When we feel that we’ve had a bad day, week, or even year when it comes to making mistakes that have impacted our children, it’s good to remember that if we can hold onto or regain our equilibrium, the peace of knowing that God is with us, all of our experiences good and not so great, are helping us to gain wisdom that our children will draw upon later in their lives.

In the sacrament of reconciliation the Church gives us the ultimate means of regaining this peace.

And if our children’s behaviour gives us prodigal-son-like cause to worry, rather than wallowing in worry and self-recrimimation over our parenting choices, Pope Francis advises this, speaking here specifically about fathers, but it pertains to mothers as well:

“So many times there’s nothing left to do but wait, pray and wait with patience, tenderness, magnanimity and mercy.” (Wednesday audience, 4 Feb, 2015)

None of us is immune to parenting fails, but we’ll surely be more kind (and attentive!) towards our children if we remember to accept God’s patience, tenderness, magnanimity, and mercy for ourselves.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Karen says:

    I’d love to see where you found that quote from Pope Francis… do you have a link? Thanks Marilyn x


    1. Sure Karen, I’ve updated the post with a link, and it is here, from a Wednesday audience earlier this year:


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