When my son was young and I was a single mom dealing with depression, I asked God to let survival be enough. I committed to take suicide off the table as an option, but that was all I could do. And God’s grace met me where I was. He told me that a depressed mom was better than a dead mom, and He promised that His grace would cover everything else.
And it did. He did. God continually reminded me that no parent is perfect, so my depression wouldn’t cripple my son any more than any other imperfect parent’s issue. And the fact that I was leaning on Him through it all meant that my son was covered, held, and protected in ways I couldn’t have provided even if I’d been perfectly healthy.
Fast forward 20 years, and my son is ok. He has issues, like everyone else. Unfortunately, he inherited some of my mental struggles, but he’s dealing with them. I’ve had to inventory the effect of those years of survival parenting and I’ve had to apologize to my son for not being emotionally available most of the time.
But God took care of my son when I couldn’t. He made sure there were other people in my son’s life – relatives and church friends – to pick up the slack. And God brought his dad and I back together (that’s a whole other miracle story), to shore up my son’s home life even more.
So, why do I still feel like such a failure as a mom?
In the last few years, God has brought me to a place of growth and healing that allowed me to move beyond survival mode. In 2016, I was able to ask God what my purpose and calling were. Those questions weren’t even in my dreams for over a decade. But they are now. God has led me, through His Word and Celebrate Recovery, to make the choices and changes I needed to get to a more stable place mentally. And now that I’m here, He’s leading me to help others move in the same direction.
But sometimes, when I look at my son, I see all my failures. Especially now that I’m stable, I wonder how much different things would have been had I gotten stable 20 years ago.
And this is where acceptance comes in. I have to accept that the past is in God’s hands and that all I can do is make the next right choice today.
I spent a lot of time in my last step study mourning the past. But then, it was time to make amends and move forward. I pushed aside my shame and spoke to my son about it. My amends to him are that I make different choices now, because I can.
I’ve spent the last year or so praying that God would help me to be the mother He wants me to be. My son is an adult. I can’t go back and be the mom I should have been in his teen years, but I can be the mom I need to be now.
And I still don’t know what that looks like. I stumble every day. I don’t read books or blogs about parenting adult children because the magnitude of expectation to be the perfect parent still reduces me to a useless puddle.
So how does a mom who still struggles with insecurity and perfectionism try to do better without being overwhelmed?
I pray and read God’s Word every day. I’m not specifically looking for scriptures on children or parenting. I’m just filling my eyes and heart and mind with God. I do pray specifically for my son and our relationship each morning, but then I go through my day learning whatever God has for me to learn.
And because I’m filling myself with His Word, I’m building my faith in Him. And I’m building my trust in Him. I trust that whenever a situation arises where I need to speak truth to my son, I’ll know what to say. I trust that the Holy Spirit will let me know when I need to stop what I’m doing and spend time with him. And it’s working.
Over the last year, I’ve seen a difference in my relationship with my son. It’s been slow and there have been plenty of times when I knew we were having a conversation that mattered and I was scared I’d mess it up. But we got through it – imperfectly – and positive change is happening.
My son is an adult with his own free will. I don’t agree with all his choices. But I’m able to look at him now and see an adult with free will and not a victim of all my mistakes. It’s not all my fault.
Now, when I have a flare up of depression or mania, I can tell him what’s happening. And he can tell me when he has his own struggles with depression and anxiety.
God’s grace carried my son and I through his childhood. And God’s grace is still carrying me now, as He leads me out of guilt and shame and into the world of healthy parenting. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Because every step in God’s direction is filled with more grace than I could ever need.
How has God’s grace carried you through the guilt and shame of your past?
Maria Johnson, CR Mental Health Champion