Letting Go of Expectations for a Perfect Family
One day in conversation with my oldest son Jonathan, he said, “Mom, you wanted a perfect family, and you didn’t get it!”
I was stunned. I had never said that, but I obviously had communicated it without words.
Having come from a broken home and determined to do things differently, I realized at that moment I had wanted something that was impossible to attain. Tears later came as I was alone and reflected on his words.
No perfect family!
I had often asked God to compensate for my mistakes, but in return had I thought He would give me perfect children? As Emerson mentions in Love & Respect in the Family we were not perfect parents, our children were not perfect, and there is no perfect family!
I wanted to quit.
I vividly remember that feeling of failure back on a hot summer day in 1986. We were driving home in our van from a refreshing and enjoyable vacation. All was serene as we basked in the glow of togetherness—until the last two hundred miles.
Rather suddenly, Jonathan, ten; David, eight; and Joy, four, started squabbling over this and that, and despite our requests to “cease and desist” the verbal battles continued until we halted at a rest stop to eat lunch in a picnic area. Emerson and I had hoped the bickering was over, but apparently that was not the case. Jonathan continued to give Joy a bad time and David just grumbled at them both.
Finally, as the decibels and tension reached optimum pitch, I had had enough. I was fed up. I was at my breaking point and declared my surrender. “I want to quit,” I exclaimed as I walked away.
I found peace and quiet at another picnic table where I sat with my feelings of inadequacy.
Emerson quickly corralled the kids and herded them to the restrooms for a bathroom break. In my own little corner of my own little world, my attention was drawn to a group of bikers who had stopped for a break from the long road. As I watched the tattooed figures speed away, I remember wondering what it would be like to ride off into the sunset and leave these parenting burdens behind. I never was going to abandon the family, but I do recall feeling so discouraged that I had this irrational fleeting thought—and it scared me.
Emerson joined me in my solitude and for what seemed like an eternity of silence (it was probably about a minute), we both stared into the distance. He later told me that he had wanted to relieve the situation with a little humor and say something like: “Don’t you dare leave by yourself! Let’s go together!” But the look on my face was enough to stop him.
There was a strained silence while we headed back to the car. He could see I was really hurting. And at that moment I knew I needed to share my thoughts with my husband.
“It’s just not working. I feel like such a failure.”
He tried to comfort me but I felt so numb. At that moment I felt totally defeated; and truth be told, I know he felt the same.
As I reflected on this story I have to confess that I never mentioned this episode to any of my friends until many years later. I just felt too guilty for having such intense feelings of just wanting to give up.
Though our vacation trip had gone sour, our kids were just being kids who had been cooped up in a car too long. They were siblings in typical conflict, but I wanted them to be perfect.
On one of many days when I felt like a failure as a mother, Emerson said, “Sarah I’d be in prison if I had your job!” I felt very affirmed, not that he would go to prison, but that he understood me and the enormity of what I was trying to do. We call that negative encouragement, but it works!
I realized parenting really is a faith venture. I needed my perfect Heavenly Father’s help because I would never be perfect! Freedom came when I learned that I could parent “unto Christ” and reap God’s reward, “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive back from The Lord ” (Ephesians 6:8) NKJV.
Hang in there!
Perhaps you are like us and the many parents we have talked with who feel defeated, ready to give up at times. Hang in there.
I am reminded of the verse from Proverbs 24:16 that says, “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again!” That was always and still is so encouraging to me as a parent.
If your children are young, the game has a long way to go; if your children are teenagers, you still have plenty of time to improve your relationship. And if your children are grown, these truths are timeless since parents are always parents.
And not one of us is perfect….and never will be in this earthly life!
Questions for reflection:
- Deep down, are you expecting your family to be perfect?
- Are you ready to let go and parent unto Christ?
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