Your parents will mess you up.
Do you already know this? Is this the reality you are living? If so, you have been hurt and probably are hurting.
I know many people who are convinced they will not have children because they “don’t want to mess up their kids.” They often are speaking from life experience—they feel like they were on the receiving end of the “mess up” already. I wrote this in hopes that God will use it to bring hope, healing, encouragement, wisdom and courage to anyone who wrestles with parent-grown children relationships. Here are few things to remember:
Yes, your parents will mess up.
They have. They did. They will. There is no such thing as perfect people. There has only ever been one perfect person, and they aren’t Him. (Romans 3:10; 3:23). Even the best parents are sinners, and in my experience, nothing brings out my sinful heart, my desire to do things for the wrong reasons, my longing to “look good” than parenting. The best parents will not be perfect. And most of us didn’t experience the “best parents” scenario.
You have reason to feel deep pain because of your parents.
It is said that kids don’t grow up with the conscious realization that their “norm” is dysfunctional—it is the only way they know, and kids adapt extremely well. But we don’t stay kids forever. One day, we all will awaken to the reality that our parents have caused insecurities, told lies and left us to work out patterns of dysfunction that we have inherited from them. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Our emotional responses to this are intense and widespread. If you feel any of these emotions—abandonment, betrayal, disloyalty, hurt, anger—you have valid reason. I’m not at all sure if your parents will validate these feelings, and so I want to make sure you hear this: There is reason to hurt.
You get to choose how to respond.
You are not stuck as a helpless victim forever. Your hurt is real—but you aren’t stuck in your hurt forever. A victim has to relive their pain every time they remember the wrongdoing they experienced. You don’t have to live as a victim. Jesus came that you might have life (John 10:9-10). The Gospel heals. You don’t have to stay a perpetual victim—you can be a victor! Are you willing to erase “victim” from your identity?
The Gospel provides a way to forgive—this depends only on you.
Forgiveness means to let go of your grip on the grudge. The alternative? Unforgiveness and bitterness. Harboring unforgiveness and bitterness will cause your soul to die a slow death of a victim. It’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. There are no other alternatives: which will you choose: forgiveness or unforgiveness? Jesus says: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Those forgiven of much forgive much. Which testimony would honor the Gospel: “I forgave my parents for screwing me up,” or “I refuse to forgive my parents for screwing me up.” Will you be a conduit of grace and forgiveness, or will you refuse to forgive?
The Gospel provides a way to reconcile—this is a two-party deal.
Forgiveness depends on you. Reconciliation is a “two-party deal.” Reconciliation is about relational repair. It is crucial that we understand the difference. You might never find reconciliation because only part of this process depends on you. Look at the candor of Romans 12: 18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. There are TWO qualifiers to living at peace relationally (1. “If possible”—because sometimes it isn’t. 2. “As far as it depends on you”—because sometimes it doesn’t.)
Reconciliation ceases to be a present option when one party or the other doesn’t want it (either one party doesn’t forgive or one party doesn’t repent.) You shouldn’t subject yourself to be a punching bag for continual relational abuse. As a follower of Jesus, you and I are to “turn the other cheek.” When you do so, you absorb and stop evil, and you show that Jesus’ triumph on the cross wins against evil done to us.
You can set boundaries now.
You might never be “buddy buddy” or “kindred spirits” with your parents. As an adult, you are capable and empowered to set healthy relational boundaries. You don’t need to set “rules” your parents must follow. Don’t demand your parents go to counseling. All of this is called relational manipulation. Instead, set boundaries that you intend to enforce. For example, “Mom, I am have chosen not to have conversations about this topic with you. Let’s change the topic.” You don’t have to agree on opinions, don’t have to take advice and you don’t have to march on command. You do need to love them and thank God for them. And yes, this requires that you be around them—at least occasionally.
God’s will is that we love, honor and pray for our parents.
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. – Matthew 5:44-45
Here is a truth that any embittered child’s soul will hate: God blessed your parents even though they screwed you up—He gave them you. Elsewhere, Scripture says: “Honor your father and mother, that it will go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:2). This is the first commandment with a promise.
What does this look like? Let God’s Spirit help you decide. The crucial question: Will you do whatever God in His Word says? Will you allow Him to be Master of your life in this area as well as all others?
Your parents weren’t trained in parenting. They aren’t professionals. Don’t be only a “taker” in this relationship. If you sincerely desire to follow Jesus, you will have to look for ways to minister to your parents in their brokenness, because that is what the Gospel does: It changes us all.
If you are unwilling to forgive them, cannot heal and remain relationally fractured from your parents, you are living in sin.
The problem isn’t them anymore: The problem is you.
I can only imagine how this might sting for some. But don’t discredit it because it stings. If you do, Satan wins. This forgiveness may take time, but be careful that “time” doesn’t become license for sin. I am praying that you will allow Jesus to win in your relationship with your parents. No matter the hurt, His grace is enough for every hurt and pain in your life.
A note for the parents:
You will screw up your kids. You probably deduced that point from the beginning of this article.
So what do I do about it?
What answer is there for the problem? Parent in a way that plans on mistakes. We need a parental model that allows for failures, inadequacies, repentance, forgiveness given and received, grace and mercy. In other words, we parent according to the Gospel. When we do, the fact that our kids will be hurt by us won’t be the meta-story. The Good News that brings great joy for all people will be.
What should I do when my kids grow up and awaken to my failures?
You don’t have to justify, defend or minimize your sins that Jesus died to save you from. The answer is repentance. If you defend yourself, you will invalidate your children’s feelings and fracture relationships. It actually doesn’t matter what the facts are—what matters is that you have empathy and compassion for your kids when they hurt. Ask them to trust you to tell you how what you did caused them hurt so you can put yourself in their shoes and feel what they felt. And then listen. And then watch the God who heals do what He does.
loves Jesus, has pastored students and adults for over 15 years, and lives in Sisters Oregon with his wife Crystal and their 3 boys.