The Only Thing Standing Between You and Redemption is Yourself
I ain’t going to mince words: there’s really terrible moms, and there’s really awful dads.
And what’s worse, (insult to injury) it’s common for these low-quality parents to claim they were really good, or as a cop-out “I tried my best.
But their legacy is not told by them, it’s told by their children, right?
The mediocre parent tends to erect an echo chamber of mirrors reflecting what they would like to see, and when they die, that mirror vanishes. What’s left is a more authentic story told by those closer to the truth.
I know there’s a lot of reasons to be annoyed about 12 step recovery and its culture; it’s not perfect, and frequently it’s a little bit annoying.
But goddamnit, I love how even the worst parent is able to transform into the most respected, simply because they dig deep and honestly take responsibility for their failings, pursuing amends and redemption from their offspring.
None of us are perfect.
I try really hard to be a good dad, but I am painfully aware of the many times I have fucked up. We all do.
I don’t pretend to have the perfect recipe, but it really helps to look my children in the eyes and tell them there are times when I have done things that I regret, and “I want to work with you to figure out how to make sure that never happens again.”
When I apologize for raising my voice, for instance, it’s common for the girls to say “it’s OK,“ and I say “no it’s not!“
“Every time you say that it’s OK, you make it OK. Stop doing that! It’s not OK, please work with me to make sure it never happens again.“
When my kids turn 12 I ask them to step in as my mentor, and then I continue to negotiate an evolving relationship with hopes that I will pass into my later life with grace rather than from a place of willful arrogance, under the false belief I was a great dad.
Because maybe I wasn’t?
Unfortunately transformations (from worst parents to best) only seem to happen within subcultures where people lose everything, such as those addicted to substances and/or certain self-destructive behaviors.
Many times they face the real prospect of dying alone, but even then a minority will bother reconciling with their kids, because they’ve invested their entire lives avoiding responsibility.
These people are savvy and manipulative, and they learn how to play with their children’s emotions to extract just enough intimacy to make themselves feel better. They do this so they can delay taking responsibility, and if they can get away with it, they will do it till their final breath.
This is one of my many frustrations with Christian culture; people are told that if they do the hokey pokey, their soul is washed white as snow, and if their children are not willing to forgive them the way the Jesus has, then that’s the children’s fault, and in this manner they are told that they can skate pass any discomfort of taking responsibility.
No wonder Christianity is a dying religion; the low quality of the fruit is a reflection of the vine, so to speak.
It’s easier to just leave.
It’s less work to try and get the mediocre parent to acknowledge their failings, and often the labyrinth of their emotional manipulation makes the endeavor not worth the effort.
I know you think it is, but frequently it’s a waste of time. It just reinforces the parent’s emotionally manipulative labyrinth rather than get you closer to closure.
Sometimes a little tough love is necessary, because the parent is weirdly needy for validation from their own children, and if the child withholds a quantum of manipulated endorsement, the parent lashes out, claiming that the child is angry or unreasonable, or invests half-heartedly in an eleventh-hour campaign of charm and generosity.
It’s my counsel to hold your ground, but more than that: separate yourself entirely from this toxicity.
This labyrinth of emotional manipulation is designed to hold you at an iron grip no closer than arms length, with just enough contrived intimacy to extract validation so the parent can avoid reconciling their narrative with the truth.
This is, by definition: addict behavior.
In my experience, and I’m only 54 years old, most people don’t bother.
Unfortunately, or it maybe fortunately: the only way that people will take an honest and unsparing accounting for their own behavior is when they have no other option, and even then most people would rather just avoid taking responsibility at all.
And that makes sense if you think about it. They keep doing it because it’s always worked.
They’ve spent decades telling themselves and other people a story that is not authentic, and what are the margins in telling the truth? Why bother? They tell themselves the story for so long that they believe it, and the odds are against them reconciling false narrative to truth.
Frequently the mediocre parent has assembled an echo chamber that includes a portfolio of narratives designed to dismiss any negative feedback from children, and so the odds are significantly against the child ever receiving closure they believe they need to move on.
Move on without them.
My recommendation is to step entirely outside of your family of origin and recruit a parental surrogate who is healthy and supportive, with values aligned to your own, because it’s not likely that you will ever have that honest conversation with a mediocre parent.
Indeed, it’s in this manner that I’ve “adopted” a fair number of kids whose own parents rejected them, not because there was anything wrong with the kid, but because the parents didn’t deserve those kids in the first place, and a good number of those are so-called Christians, many of whom are some of the most emotionally dishonest people walking the planet.
It’s healthy to acknowledge that it’s extremely unlikely that you will ever get them to admit this about themselves. It’s a waste of time to try is what I’m saying.
There are parents who have invested their entire adult lives keeping their children at a distance, normalizing a life of dishonesty, manipulating others to disable the truth, so why bother introducing the discomfort of aligning their story with truth?
Most people are ordinary, there’s no way around it. The odds are against the conversation ever happening.
But for some reason there are those, rare people of some sort of uncanny quality, who courageously embrace the discomfort necessary to humble themselves so they can hold themselves accountable to the truth.
And it’s in this manner that even the worst parent is transformed into one who leaves a legacy behind where they are honored by those who will tell their tale long after they are gone.
And this is the really important part of why I’m sharing this:
The people, the rare ones who have the candor, the humility, the high character to reconcile themselves to truth from a place of responsibility transform into becoming significantly valuable healers.
Most people aren’t like that, but fortunately for us we don’t need a majority. Most people are ordinary and therefore will be forgotten to history.
There is always a path to redemption, and weirdly, it’s those who need redeeming the most who resist it the most.
None of us are perfect parents, all of us make mistakes.
By taking humble responsibility for these mistakes, we can improve the quality of our relationships with our children and others in our lives, and we don’t have to wait until our final days to do this. We can start doing it right now.
We don’t have to wait until we make huge mistakes, we can invest in winning the respect and admiration of our children by taking humble responsibility for our failures, even if they are small ones, because the kids are the important ones. Not us.
Indeed, it’s in this precise manner that we might transform this diseased culture into one that may sustain healthy life.
Our culture is a direct reflection of who we are as a people, and nobody is going to change it but us.
We don’t need our biological parents to make this happen, so it’s our responsibility to find someone that can help us move forward, because the odds are significantly against it happening otherwise.
This transformation does not begin at the top, it begins close to the ground, between two people, but the beginning itself is in the hands of a single individual.
Ultimately it’s a single person who steps into faith rather than continues living in fear. Just one person.
Deep down inside you might think of yourself as a shitty parent, and the good news is that you are a stones throw from becoming one of the best parents, it’s in your hands.
All of the fuel necessary for an inferno is already inside the forest; all that’s needed are the proper conditions and a single catalyst.
A single match.