of guilt and parenting


It’s not for the faint of heart, this parenting business.

Lately, he’s gone more than he’s home and I’m feeling a lot like that sludge circling the bottom of the sink after the dishwater has been drained.  Down, down, swirling bubbles and gone, left with the bleh.  But I read to know I’m not alone, because C.S. Lewis told me so, and boy, was he right.  And I remember a friend who writes healing words about my hands.  About the miles they’ve traveled and the beauty they’ve seen.  About the beauty they are.

I turn them over, though soggy with dishwater and wrinkled sensitive, they are a bit beautiful, aren’t they?

Even the sensitive parts.  No, especially the sensitive parts.

These hands that tap keys and wipe buttocks and make dinner.  Again.  These hands that upsweep ponytails and hold the camera so I can find the maddening beauty here, in all this preposterous repetition, so I don’t succumb to the maddening.  Or perhaps, I do.  These hands that massage sore muscles in whispered night hours when he finally warms the other side of the bed for his few winks.  To paraphrase the sage words of Mother Teresa, these hands do no great things, only a few shabby things with great love.

But I think the hardest part of parenting is not the ordinary struggles of schedule balancing or discipline or the days that all line up and blur together like a string of monotonous Mondays in late winter.  I think the hardest part of parenting is a poisonous little word that eeks into our emotional center, insidious, suggestive, serpentine.  It’s guilt.*

And we talk about our kids on our date (because what else do you talk about, right?) and we start to hear it in the sound of our own voices reverberating off the windshield.  We feel guilty.  Not enough time together.  Discipline’s inconsistent.  Saying “yes” to too much.  Saying “no” to too much.  No pool for the summer.  Not enough opportunities for their talents.  More candy than they need.  On and on and on.  First it’s my fault, then it’s his.  And round and round.  I’m getting dizzy and why does the car seem to spin all of the sudden?

He names it first, puts down anchor, “I guess I just feel guilty.”

And it’s like something has split wide open.  We both see it and neither of us is pointing a finger.  Not at each other.  Not even at ourselves.  We are starting to see the pernicious root of the problem, there, lying quietly concealed under all the rubble of blame.  The poison is the guilt we have allowed to saturate our thinking:  That we’re not doing it right.  That there must be a right and a wrong way to do everything and we will feel better – stable, even – when we’ve discovered the right way.  Like God needs us to decipher His formula so He can bless us.  Because certainly He’s much more like a nasal, calculating math teacher than like a storyteller, spinning yarns . . . er, right?

Not only does this guilt affect the decisions we make, but more importantly, it affects how we feel about the decisions we make.  Every decision is made half-heartedly, a “yes” can’t be confident and a “no” is wavering at best, because insecurity, like an untrusting spouse is present in the background, wreaking doubtful havoc.  Our little things, though done with love, look more like crumbs for the dogs than bread for the children.  And it’s single-handedly sabotaging our enjoyment of this once-in-a-lifetime amazing adventure called parenting.

We look at each other.  The grace shines in our eyes with the tears.  We know we need both.

My eyes go to his work-worn, cracked and dry hands, what a tale they tell.  And is it my imagination, or is he looking at my hands, too?  Seeing the soak in large sinks of dishwater and the middle-of-the-night-wiping-of-the-brow for a sick child.  We hold them out as a lifeline.  As a grace line.  All the sensitive parts and calloused parts, too.

And my hands, these mysterious, creative, resplendent things, they perform yet another not-so-shabby little thing.  They wipe the tears from his cheeks.  He sees I don’t hold him hostage for missing dinners and soccer games just as much as he doesn’t hold me hostage for the mountain of unmatched socks that I’ll never climb.  We take our forlorn hands, all generous grace contained, and wind them together.  Stronger that way.  Healing in the touch.

It’s our hands that bring us back to true Center.

To the only firm place to stand.  To the only One who will ever get it all right.  Or better yet, who will make it all right.  Because the truth in parenting – the truth in all of life – is that He doesn’t do good work because of us, even on our best day — but rather, in spite of us.

Like beauty in spite of dishwater hands.


*Note: I realize there is such a thing as ‘healthy guilt’.  This piece is not meant to address that in any way, shape or form.  What I mean by ‘guilt’ here is the vague sense that what I do is not enough.  And the heavy footprints of shame that often ride with it.


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Kelli Woodford
Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/).
Kelli Woodford

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  1. Kelli, this is so true. Every parent I think feels this and isn’t there such peace knowing our Father (the perfect parent) already has it figured out and “in spite of us” He works His plan? I also take comfort in your words years ago to me regarding parents and how God gives each child the perfect parents for him/her. ;) You and Jason are the perfect parents for your blessings!

    • Kelli Woodford

      i said that?!? wow.
      maybe i need to listen to myself more, eh? ;)

      thank you for your generous comment, Mom. it’s not always easy to think of myself as a “perfect” fit for my kiddos … but i think maybe i get too caught up in my idea of “perfect” versus His.

  2. There are so many outside voices saying what is right and wrong with parenting a child. Thank you for the reminder to listen to our true selves and the Spirit who is there to guide us.

    • Kelli Woodford

      Sandra, i love every word of your comment. that’s *exactly* it.
      thank you for hearing my heart through my somewhat faltering words.

  3. Insecurity. Hmm…yes, I see how it wreaks havoc. Bless you for seeing this. May He continue to fill our gaps.

    • Kelli Woodford

      i’m counting on it, Amy, that He is the only One who can fill the gaps my humanity leaves behind.
      … and that maybe it’s intended to be this way.

      thanks for your comment.

  4. This is what we do, friend: Remind each other that we are enough.

    • Kelli Woodford

      yes. yes.
      thankful for friends like YOU, who not only know this, but who do it.

  5. My husband and I were just talking about two of our sons this morning and both of the topics brought on a bit of tension. I’m certain we both feel guilt in some form or another as we try to untangle this mess that is parenting. It really is so daunting sometimes, Kelli. But you are able to boil it all down for us in this beautiful, poignant and simple way. So I’m passing this on to the “One who will get it right … or make it right!”

    • Kelli Woodford

      oh, Beth. what a beautiful comment.
      passing these things on to Him, indeed. echoing this prayer.

  6. Sometimes it feels like the guilt (my guilt) is egged on by the social media-Pinterest driven perfection right now. The same tools that can be so encouraging and informative also have that condemning element. Don’t get me wrong I love Pinterest, Facebook, blog surfing… ! But I don’t love the guilty feeling of “I could easily do that, but I’m not, so I must not be enough!”
    The other side is the difficulty in discerning when I need to give myself more grace and when I really do need a swift kick in the arse to Suck It Up Buttercup and get my act together! And sometimes it’s BOTH! To be kicked by grace into the correct actions.

      • Kelli Woodford

        i agree, Sheralyn. comparing is an ugly thing, isn’t it? and it comes in sooo many forms.

        may God lead us in the actions of grace that fit each of us differently. thank you for commenting, friend. touched.

  7. Thank you. Too many connections happen here for me to even list. Your heart ministers to my heart and gives me lingering words that will be companion to me as I trapse through the string of common things today. Blessings.

    • Kelli Woodford

      you are kind, Karin. i’m so glad this resonated with you.
      thanks for reading.

  8. Brandee Shafer

    This is a really good post, Kelli.

    • Kelli Woodford

      Brandee! what a grace to see you here.
      thank you for your comment and your friendship.

  9. Kelli. Yes. This. <3

    • Kelli Woodford

      hey, thanks, friend.
      you bless me.

  10. Diana Trautwein

    Lovely work, Kelli. And it is exactly this unhealthy, unproductive kind of guilt that needs to be stared down, regularly, in the parenting task and almost any other thing that is worth doing in this life. These are the ‘enemies’ the psalmist talks about – right here and now, in the year of our Lord, 2013. Those negative voices that can cripple and overwhelm are truly our enemies – thanks for calling this one out.

    • Kelli Woodford

      i never personified it as much as to call it an “enemy”, Diana. but i think you are so right. the name Kelli (any spelling) means “warrior maiden” for such battles as these, perhaps.

      thank you for your thoughtful words here. i appreciate you.

  11. i truly believe that if there’s sin involved, the Spirit will convict specifically and clearly.

    guilt? it’s just a wet blanket that the enemy loves to immobilize us with …

    • Kelli Woodford

      yes, that’s well put, Linda. *clarity* being the key. so true.

      good point. especially that wet blanket part … ha!

  12. Funny how the Enemy likes to ALWAYS make us feel like we aren’t enough; when, really, it’s a conversation that ended when Jesus hung on the cross in my place. And when he uttered, “it is finished,” I believe He was saying, “it’s enough.” Now if only I could live in the light of that grace! Especially at the end of the day when these hands are ready to quit rubbing backs and folding laundry and flipping the pages of bedtime books.

    • Kelli Woodford

      yes, “it is finished” must be greek for “it is enough.” (actually, i think, if i remember my word study days [ha.], the word does mean “complete” – and that’s pretty dang close to “enough.”)

      thanks for bringing up this very important perspective, Alicia. you are a gift.

  13. Kelli, this is such a needed word of encouragement!! Write it again and again. . . and yet, again!! So many young parents feel the same way, but as a result of that guilt, they turn away from their parenting “fears” and disengage. So sad. . . for both them and their children!! Thank you for being so honest. And for NOT turning away, but instead, of continuing to stay in there day to day. You and Jason are both doing a wonderful job!!! And I love you all!!

    • Kelli Woodford

      awww, thanks Mom.
      i could write it again and again … or just have it tattooed to my eyelids — not sure which is easier. ;)
      i love you, too.

  14. Oh, grace. Why is it sometimes so hard to give it to those we love the most? Why is it sometimes so hard to show it to ourselves? This is where love lives, Kelli. Such a sweet telling too.

    • Kelli Woodford

      you are right on the money, Laura.
      perhaps it’s the sign of a listening heart to know that grace is hardest to come by in our own homes … and our own mirrors.
      thank you for drawing that out, friend.

  15. KrisCamealy

    kelli, I’m just now reading this, I feel so desperately our of the loop… but I wanted to say thank ou for writing this. Thank you for this graceful word of encouragement. It resonates with me well, my friend. ((hugs))

    • Kelli Woodford

      “desperately out of the loop” can be a good place sometimes, but i know that you know that. :)
      thanks for lovin’ on me, dear one.

  16. Oh, just now reading this. And a lump in my throat and *tears*, because this is where I live. And I hope it’s enough. And thank you for reminding me it is. Thank you for reminding me also, how grace is needed for that other person in our life that is weighed down by all the “mistakes”… grasping hands, how beautiful you write, my friend. (((you))).

    • Kelli Woodford

      thank you, my lovely friend.
      i think it is sometimes in showing the grace you speak of to that other person in our life that we are somehow able to apply its balm to our own wounds. and recognize that it’s He who makes it enough.

      so glad this resonated with you. love you much.

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