I Feel Like I Failed My Child
There is a great proverb that has been the source of heartache for many parents, grandparents and guardians. I hope we can offer you some hope and healing.
I recently heard this from a desperate Mom: “Pastor Jen, there is a bible verse that causes me a great deal of shame, fills me with regret and weighs me down with excessive guilt—I don’t know what to do. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) One of my kids stopped attending church, left home and basically says, “I don’t believe any of that junk anymore, Mom.” I am devastated and feel like I must have done something wrong. I feel that if I was a good parent, none of this would be happening.”
There is a pattern that leads parents to this type of heartache. As Christian parents, all of us want to believe our children will follow Christ even more fully than we do. With this common desire, we read this verse or someone quotes it to us and we can believe it is the guarantee that our children will be the model Christ followers they need to become and we will be the shining parents who helped them get there!
Then reality happens, that perfect son or daughter has a challenging time in middle school or goes to college and drifts so far off course you barely recognize them. He or she could fail in ways they don’t tell you. They can fall into step with the wrong crowd. They can be influenced in ways that you do not agree with or take steps in a direction that take them far away from where you all started.
Then comes this scripture, followed by heartache and a feeling of failure as a parent. We may even become angry with God, thinking He let us down or was not honoring His end of the promise. “You said, train them in the way they should go, God!” I did that! What’s wrong here? God’s promises never fail. So, there must be something I did wrong with how I raised them.
One: there is no such thing as a perfect parent. This proverb is not about being a perfect mother, father, grandparent or guardian. There is no guarantee that our kids will turn out perfect, either. We live in an imperfect world
Two: we do have a perfect Parent. His actions are always perfect. His timing is perfect. His ways are perfect. His actions are never selfish and are always done in perfect love. Yet, consider how many of His children have gone their own way. This action began in the Garden of Eden when God’s perfect love could not stop His children from turning to go their own way. So, how can we place that heavy burden on our parenting? Our love and teaching cannot violate our children’s free will or their choice, any more than God’s direction could prevent Adam and Eve from venturing into a situation they could never imagine.
Three: understand what this Proverb means. The Bible book of Proverbs is filled with wisdom and universal truth. It is not meant to be applied as a promise or guarantee to individuals. It is super important to focus on the last part of the proverb—when they are old, they will not depart from it.
It is our role to teach, model and live out daily our Christianity. What you taught your children about Jesus, faith and daily life needs to be heard, witnessed and lived out daily for the rest of our lives. Trust that your teaching sank deeply into the soil of their soul and is part of their heart. Like seeds planted, the fruit of what you planted may not be harvested until you’re gone. Those seeds will emerge to give direction to your child direction. Trust God with your son or daughter and know that God is the best parent in ways we could never be. Remember this scripture:
So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Corinthians 3:7