During our Thanksgiving dinner, my adult children spontaneously took turns thanking my wife and I for the job we did raising them. I was grateful for this, especially coming from my son, who keeps his feelings closely guarded.
At the moment I was a little bit stunned, and I didn’t know what to say. I can’t take compliments, so of course I responded with something self-deprecating. I told them I appreciated them acknowledging our efforts, but that I was sorry for not being mentally present most of the time due to my bipolar. My son said that I kept it hidden well, because he would not have known I felt that way without me saying so. Then it became a little awkward (“Awkward Moments” is my middle name), and the conversation took a different turn.
Thinking about it later, I take comfort in knowing that despite my flaws, and in the face of my fears of being a bad parent, they thought I was pretty good. It took a long time to have that conversation, but it helps me reconcile years of self-flagellation about my ability as a parent. Since 2004 I have blogged thousands of since-deleted words about how terrible I was and how I blamed myself for irreparably harming my kids. Expressing those thoughts did nothing to help me and in fact made me feel worse about myself.
After hearing their thoughts, I feel much better about myself. I’m still flawed, but maybe I’m not such a bad person after all.