I have an acquaintance whose child took their own life recently, and this wonderful parent blames it on themselves for not being more astute when it came to their child’s life. Granted, their child was older, but that does not mean much, this is still their child. This friend, a psychologist, committed to helping others, usually being able to see what is and is not right amongst patients, blames themself. Why? Their point of view, because they could assist others so why not their own child? Blame and grief they will hold forever in their heart, and no amount of counseling, cleansing tears, or messages of hope they receive will assuage their blame bringing relief to their soul. The pain they feel is so heart-wrenching that my own heart hurts for them although I did not know their child personally. Why do we blame ourselves as parents when we know that some circumstances are beyond our control? Is it just part of the wondering and guessing, the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve syndrome, part of being a parent?
For a long time, I blamed myself for a lot of things in my life that I probably should not have. I know what it has done to me physically, carrying around worries and stress of those things that I could not have really had any control over the outcome of and then blaming myself for it as well. I could not predict that my son would join the military but I blamed myself when he did. I blamed myself because I was the one who taught him to make his bed the right way (read Army way) and I was the one who was involved with him during his years of Scouting (his dad didn’t want to help). I was the one who taught him how to tie knots, honor our Flag, loving the symbol of all that America is. I was the one who taught him that freedom isn’t free, who watched the WWII movies with him, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and having the discussions about what we had watched. The one who bought him books, books, and more books. The one who taught him that when a bully is witnessed being a bully that you do something about it to defend the weak. So, I blamed myself when he enlisted. Why? Because he reiterated my own teachings, telling me that he wanted to defend those who could not defend themselves because they had hit us here at home and that sickened him. Because he told me, there was a need for him to defend what was his country, his family, me!
I was very surprised at all of this, I don’t know why, but I was. What had I done? I had, for years, taught my sons right from wrong, good versus evil, love versus hate; and the very fact that it stuck with him actually made me proud and sick to my stomach at the same time. I blamed myself that he grew up in a household with two parents who love him more than he knows, yet who divorced after he was old enough to understand because it was killing me from the inside out. The blame and worry that I used to carry actually made me very ill, to the point of having a doctor tell me to either fix what was causing it or prepare a will. So I fixed it. When my sons saw this, they blamed me for breaking up a home, I blamed myself for my ill health and for not doing it sooner, would it have made a difference in their lives? I will never know. It had impacted them all as it was, and I was blamed for a lot more than I had bargained for when it was all said and done.
And yet, I have always been there for them, no matter what. I blame myself when they hurt because I should be able to find ways to protect them, but I can’t. I have come to realize I can’t always be there, 100% of the time. Him going to war taught me that. I can’t carry a rifle and march alongside my son. I wish I could, but age has a way of keeping you from doing some of the things better left to those who are better equipped and much, much more capable. I wish I could have been at boot camp and told his Sergeant how I felt and set him straight on a few things. (I actually met his Sergeant-one of them-on graduation day while playing cards in the barracks and when he yelled our last name both my son and I answered “Yes Sergeant!” It was pretty funny and it left his Sergeant tongue-tied so he just walked away shaking his head. Old habits die hard.)
I have found that part of being a parent is to work through the blame, to talk to yourself about all that has gone on in your life. We all know that so much could have been different had we followed a different path, but would it have been better? And who would it have been better for? This is what makes a grandparent so unique and wonderful. We know that blame is an ugly monster, we try to advise, mentor, and oversee from a distance (usually) when it comes to our children and their own interactions with their young ones. We can blame ourselves for so much and accept the blame of others for what has happened in life. But at the same time, we can, without any remorse, accept with open arms the love; joy, and happiness that come from having children who grow up and carry on with our teachings. There is no blame in giving birth to a warrior and certainly no shame. If this were the time of the ancients I would be like a woman of Sparta having given birth to 3 sons. Yet, even a Spartan is not beyond the reach of the heart, we are human, and blaming ourselves for anything and everything will never stop. We live with it, we deal with it and we move on, different than we once were, eventually.
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