When my parents divorced, after years of trying to keep it together, I didn’t know what to do with their relationship. In the back of my mind, I knew there were bright moments, but I simplified things by seeing their relationship as one big mistake.
Being a husband and a dad for a few years has given me some perspective.
I realize how quickly marital fights can precipitate into feelings of bitterness.
I understand how adorable children can make you want to yell loudly enough to scare them into behaving. And, I’m starting to see that regardless of their divorce, Mom and Dad actually got a lot of things right as parents. Here are a few of them:
1. They frequently said “I love you” to us and affirmed us. I’ve met so many Baby Boomers who never heard the words “I love you” from their parents. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’ve heard those words countless thousands of times in my lifetime — and that includes my adulthood. My parents also verbally affirmed us on a regular basis. Thanks to them, it comes naturally to me to compliment and cheer my kids (and my wife).
I know that it sometimes takes a while for wounded people to untangle the knots of mistakes, pain, and unforgiveness from their parents— it certainly did with mine. But hopefully, my kids will be wise enough to let go of my mistakes early on and recognize the ways I put my heart and soul into loving them.
2. They didn’t put us on guilt trips — once we got in trouble and got corrected, it was over. In school, I often got sent to the principal’s office for mild misbehavior, and I felt like I was a bad boy — but that wasn’t the case at home. I certainly got disciplined for wrongdoing, but once the discipline was over, it was over. Mom and Dad didn’t put us on guilt trips, remind us of what we had done, or define us by our mistakes. They just moved on. I’ve followed that example with my children, which gives them room to turn around and change bad behavior where necessary.
3. They taught me how to look for Jesus in every area of my life. My parents were always finding Jesus in the ordinary. They easily turned daily life into an illustrated sermon, but not in a way that was boring (usually). As my mom says, “We wanted to teach you something about Jesus every day.” That opened my eyes to see the ways that the Holy Spirit is living and active in my daily life, and it comes more naturally for me to connect with God in my everyday life.
4. They taught me that it’s okay to cry. Growing up, I saw both of my parents cry at different times. They let me see them hurt, and I think that’s important for a child. In doing so, they showed me that you don’t have to cram your feelings down and pretend they don’t exist.
5. They taught us to value everyone. I saw my parents interact with all kinds of people — different racial groups, people with disabilities, the affluent, and the outsider. In fact, one of the first churches we attended in south Mississippi was a racially integrated church, which was not at all common. This opened my horizons, taught me how to live in a different comfort zone, and undoubtedly influences my drive as a civil rights lawyer.
Something has surprised me as I’ve written this list: I’m having happy memories rise to the surface — things I didn’t know I had forgotten, and I’ve unexpectedly been moved to a long-absent sense of gratitude for my parents’ marriage. — I suppose that’s the nature of thankfulness. It opens new and life-giving windows inside of us.
I know that it sometimes takes a while for wounded people to untangle the knots of mistakes, pain, and unforgiveness from their parents— it certainly did with mine. But hopefully, my kids will be wise enough to let go of my mistakes early on and recognize the ways I put my heart and soul into loving them. It won’t fix the things I got wrong, but it will make it easier for them to be grateful for the things I got right.