No such thing as a near-perfect parent | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

It is the story of a hardworking widow with three children. No nine-to-five routine for her. She is on-call, a “handyman” who wears faded overalls and drives an old beat-up panel truck. One son works in a taqueria, and the daughter sells cosmetics door-to-door. The middle child is full of himself. He is handsome, smart, and a student of medicine in an exclusive university. Everything the family earns goes to his education.


As fate would have it, he falls in love with a beautiful rich girl way above his social level and whose mother is an incorrigible snob. He is embarrassed that his own mother does manual dirty work, wears shabby denims, and that they live in the barrio.


He scams a friend for a couple of thousand dollars and hires an out-of-work actress to pose as his mother at a formal dinner given by his future in-laws. His real mom finds out, crashes the elegant party in overalls, and exposes the charade. The son denies even knowing her.


Perhaps the plot is a bit extreme? Telenovelas are like that. But the dialogue written for this devastated mother is brilliant, compelling and, yes, heartbreaking. It makes me wonder if maybe there is a son or daughter out there just like the young man in the story, or parents who know his mother’s pain. How would I feel?


I have heard it said that many men and women are deeply insecure about how they are doing their jobs as parents. Not too many will admit it, but I spoke with several moms and a few dads and their input was interesting and all too familiar.


From one widowed mom of three I got this: “I will always wonder whether I did enough. I stayed with their father for their sake.” Now in her twilight years, she relishes their love and protection and the heartwarming company of her grand and great-grandchildren.


Another very selfless mother hopes that her children are happy with what she did for them. “I gave them all my love, my time, and my youth. But I feel I was not adequate, not the mother they needed or deserved.” What can her children do to put her mind at ease?


Is there a checklist that one can follow to qualify for the title of near-perfect mother or father?


Wrecked marriages


One dad says he knows he has not been an ideal parent. More than once he strayed from home. He believes his children will always resent him for the pain he caused their mother. Now a grandfather, he blames himself for his children’s wrecked marriages. “Instead of learning from me and from the life of misery I caused them and their mother, they did the same thing.”


Another very repentant dad wishes he could turn back the clock. “It’s too late,” he lamented. “I can’t undo the damage. But at least I have been a good provider. They lacked nothing even if I was never home.”


I understand where the blame game and guilt come from. But constant self-flagellation has no benefit. We can never make up for time lost with our children, whether it happened by chance or by choice.


Time moves like a relentless river, its wake often strewn with ugly, destructive debris. We cannot settle and dwell among the ruins. But from the ashes, we can rebuild. God honors that.


Why is there a gnawing fear in so many of us that keeps us awake at night, tossing and turning, worried whether our job is done, and if it is, have we done it well? Parenting is an awesome job, make no mistake about it.


Dr. Mary S. Calderone, well-known promoter of planned-parenthood and sex educator, once wrote: “Our children are not going to be just our children—they are going to be other people’s husbands and wives and the parents of our grandchildren.”


How have we prepared them? It frightens me to think we may have taught them by example.


Think of a family scenario. Picture mom, dad and the children chatting at the dinner table. (Does this still happen?) What do we talk about? What do we find amusing? We often reveal our priorities in the opinions we offer. Think about it. Do we fawn on the trappings of the rich and famous? Are we impressed by the powerful or bask in their reflected glory? Remember that children are mimics by nature. Their behavior and preferences will very likely reflect our own.


There’s more. You are still at that dinner table. Do you think racial jokes are funny and still claim you are not racist? Is your description of a great person based on what he is or what he owns? Do you make fun of people’s physical defects? Do you put labels on people?


Don’t be too surprised if your children do the same. You have taught them well. And they will teach their children, and so on, and on. Scary thought, isn’t it?


Even when you teach them all the right things, and consult books by the sages on how to raise children, you are never sure that you have set them on the right path. When they are all grown, our children leave the nest, some of them without even a backward glance. And with your heart in your throat, you watch as they fly solo and make choices, succeed or fail, fall and, hopefully, get back up. Yes, on their own. And, no, there is nothing you can do about it.


Perhaps it would help each of us immensely to remember this little verse from Elaine M. Ward: “Rules for parents are but three: LOVE, LIMIT and LET THEM BE.”




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