Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
Question: I have plenty of reasons to resent my parents. They've never abused me or anything like that, but they do such stupid things. My dad's work has been the only thing he cared about. My mom is a perpetual nagger. How can I respect people like that?
Dr. Dobson: Let's assume that your complaints against your parents are valid — that they didn't do a very good job of raising you and your siblings. Nevertheless, I urge you to cut them some slack. You'll learn someday just how hard it is to be a good parent. Even those who are highly motivated to do the job right often make a mess of things.
Why? Because children are infinitely complex. There is no formula that works in every case. In fact, I believe it is more difficult to raise children now than ever before. Be assured that you will not do the job perfectly, either. Someday, if you are blessed with children, one or more of them will blame you for your failures, just as you have criticized your parents.
Let me share one more suggestion with you and others who have been angry at their parents. Given the brevity of life and the temporary nature of all human relationships, can you find it within your hearts to forgive them? Maybe my own experience will be relevant to you. My mother closed her eyes for the last time on June 26, 1988. She had been so vibrant — so important to each member of our family. I couldn't imagine life without her just a few years earlier. But time passed so quickly, and before we knew it, she had grown old and sick and incompetent. This human experience is like that. In just a brief moment, it seems, our fleeting days are gone, and as King David said, "The place thereof shall know it no more" (Psalm 103:16, kjv).
As I sat at her memorial service, I was flooded with memories and a profound sense of loss. But there was not the slightest hint of regret, remorse or guilt. There were no hurtful words I wished I could have taken back. There were no prolonged conflicts that remained unresolved between my parents and me. Why not? Was I a perfect son born to flawless parents? Of course not. But when Shirley and I had been married two years, I remember saying to her, "Our parents will not always be with us. I see now the incredible brevity of life that will someday take them from us. We must keep that in mind as we live out our daily lives. I want to respond to both sets of parents in such a way that we will have no regrets after they are gone."
Again, to those of you who are in need of this advice, I urge you not to throw away these good, healthy times. Your parents will not always be there for you. Please think about what I have written and be careful not to create bitter memories that will hang above you when the record is in the books. No conflict is worth letting that happen.
Question: Are all forms of child abuse illegal?
Dr. Dobson: Not in any practical sense. Within certain limits it is not illegal to ignore a child or raise him or her without love. Nor is it against the law to ridicule and humiliate a boy or girl. Those forms of rejection may be more harmful even than some forms of physical abuse, but they are tougher to prove and are usually not prosecutable.
Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.focusonthefamily.org).