Her son was only eighteen months old. He was a feisty child with quite a temper, but otherwise perfectly normal. Even his temper was well within the normal range of emotions for a child his age. Mom was new at the job and deathly afraid of making a mistake. I walked her to the door of my office and she looked up at me with the most desperate eyes.
“I just want to be a perfect parent,” she said. “I know I’ll make mistakes, but I don’t want to make any big ones.”
I know what she meant and her devotion to her job as a mom was admirable, but how could I tell her that all parents make mistakes and sometimes they are big ones. Most of us don’t remember most of the little mistakes our parents made, but all of us remember mistakes. There is only one type of parent and that is the parent that goofs up.
It leaves us wondering if there is anything that we do that really makes a difference and will our children remember anything except our mistakes. It is an unfair irony that there is so much about our intent to be good parents that our children could never see and yet the moments when our tempers flare or when we are less attentive than we intended to be, we are as visible as ever.
Now that my own children are nearly grown, I wonder what they will remember about me. I’ve devoted my life as a father to them. I can’t even begin to count all the field trips, concerts, soccer games, performances, award ceremonies, and birthday parties I’ve attended. Even more important, how many times have I stopped what I was doing to take a walk, listen to their stories, talk on the phone, or cuddle them because I could tell they needed me?
How many trips to the pediatrician and how many nights have I put them to bed with slight fevers or lain awake listening to rasping coughs, wondering if I was making the right decision not to go to the doctor.
They’ll never know that before they even started school, I started praying for the parents of the children that they each would marry. I prayed for good childhoods so that they wouldn’t carry heavy burdens into their future relationships with my children. I still do.
I wonder if they ever noticed how many times I watched them as they drew a picture, rode a bike, or played the piano, thinking “Wow. That’s my kid.” When they were in trouble, I wonder if they could ever see behind my disappointed eyes how proud I was to be their dad, even when they had messed up.
If you are like me, you must wish on occasion that your children could look into your heart and somehow see the absolute flawless and unconditional love that you have for them. If they could, maybe they would see that our disappointments and frustrations with them are like rainwater on the roof – never having the slightest chance of penetrating inside and causing any damage.
One of the first articles I ever wrote for the Citizen almost seventeen years ago was a column called “Why Bother” and it addressed this very theme. Those many years ago my children were small and I wrote that I was confident that when my children grew up they might grow to appreciate these things about me.
Now I see something I didn’t recognize then. As much as I want them to appreciate me and to love me too, that isn’t my job. My job as a parent is to prepare them for the world. When they can face the difficulties and decisions that confront them with courage and integrity, then maybe I can say my job was well done. I don’t have to be the perfect parent. And it’s a good thing, because I’m not.
Like my client, I wanted to be the perfect dad. Now I know better and all I can do is my best. But maybe – just maybe – along the way somewhere they will see me for who I am. Perhaps they will notice that despite my weaknesses I tried hard. Then I might hear, “You were a good dad.” That will be a good day.