This month at COR is all about family. We’ve seen beautiful shares on both the challenges and joys of family from many of you in our Facebook groups. Thank you for your vulnerability and courage. Keep them coming!

One aspect of family, of course, is parenting. Many of us received rather inadequate or even harmful parenting. I think parenting is one of the hardest challenges and it brings us to see our limitations like nothing else.

I personally faced it from both sides. I had my own not-so-ideal experience with my parents, and I also created a not-so-ideal experience for my two sons. I know that my parents and I never wanted anything but the best for our children. We wanted our children to have the most beautiful childhood possible. We only wished for our children to be happy, as basically all parents in the world do.

I want to share a very personal experience I had with my first son Janosch, who is now 32 years old. This happened when he was 16, just after he had come back from his first men’s initiation workshop in Seattle. I had sent him there because I sensed he needed it.

When I picked Janosch up from the Oakland airport, it was early evening and we sat in the parking lot for the next two hours while Janosch told me about several events in his childhood that were painful for him. The amazing thing was that he did so without blaming me or his dad, from whom I had separated when Janosch was just one year old. He was simply sharing his experiences. He was letting me into his inner realm and I was listening deeply to not miss any of it.

Janosch told me how since he was six, he’d leave us (his stepdad, myself and his younger brother Tobe) every summer to travel to Germany for six weeks and stay with Claus, his real father. He flew as an unaccompanied minor over the Atlantic to the other end of the world, to stay with his beloved German family whom he usually had not seen for almost a year. Then after just six weeks of adjusting to his home country and its language, he’d have a painful goodbye with his German family. He knew he would not them see again for almost a year and would come back to us, his California family, to live in this very different American culture. I was never so aware as I was that night of how heartbreaking and difficult this had been for him.

Janosch also spoke about how much more he sensed his stepdad loved Tobe than him, his stepson. Even though Janosch could understand this, since Tobe was his “real” son and he was not, he often still felt quite hurt and left out. I had felt this dynamic too and it had been very hard for me to witness. This had been one of the sources of major conflict between me and my ex-husband, and it must have been so hard for Janosch to hear us fight about it. Since I had always imagined how painful this was for Janosch, I tried to make up for it by being extra attentive and a sort of super mom over the years. Yet I also knew I could not be both mom and dad to him.

Sitting there in my car as my son unloaded his heart, it was difficult to listen without feeling guilty and making myself wrong. It reminded me of when I talked to my own mother in my late 20s, revealing my childhood pain to her at a therapy session in her rehab center where she was recovering from her alcoholism. For the longest time before that therapy session, my mom had not been able to hear me, to affirm my suffering, to let it sink in that she caused me pain without her being crushed under the burden of that guilt. I now understood why.

It would have been so easy to condemn myself as a parent hearing how I’d been responsible for Janosch’s pain, to go down that black rabbit hole of despair, and make it all about me and my failures. Although it was a struggle not to go there internally, I recognized that what Janosch needed from me was not to feel bad about myself as his mother, but to hear his experience, how he felt, and how it affected him. So I just kept listening, all the while knowing that this conversation was a gift my son was giving me, a gift many parents never receive.

As is his generous spirit’s way, he ended by saying how much he appreciated me, his dad and his stepdad, and that he knew we all did the best we could. “I want you to know, Mama, that I always knew you loved me and never doubted that,” he concluded while taking my hands gently into his. “It is important for me that you get that, Mama. I always felt loved and wanted and important and valued. That is something you gave me and it will forever be with me.”

I knew he meant what he said, and I knew it was true. In spite of my many shortcomings, I had loved him so much and had always wanted the best for him. Yet even though I had always loved Janosch so deeply, I was also painfully aware that I did not give Janosch what he truly deserved: a happy, loving, united family. I also knew we all did the best we could—and that it was not good enough. I knew that this whole situation was so very human, so beautiful and tragic at the same time, so sad and so wonderful, and ultimately, so healing.

That night, sitting in the Oakland airport parking lot, I grew up with my son, who had just become a young man. I grew in inner strength, in compassion, and in mercy. I opened to forgiveness—forgiveness for myself, for my parents, their parents and for parents all over the world, who like me started out with such high ideals of what kind of parents they wanted to be. Then, just like me, they walked through a succession of shortcomings, and inevitably ended up hurting the very human beings they would do anything to protect.

I hope me sharing this very personal story will open your heart to that same compassion and forgiveness. Compassion for yourself if you are a parent, and compassion for your parents, who I am sure, absolutely sure, did the best they could with what was available to them at the time.

Please leave your comments, questions or insights here on our FB page. We’d love to hear from you and support you in your journey to true inner peace.

So much love and compassion,