In Hall of Shame Part 2, I focused on the shame we feel about the things pertaining to us but what about the shame we experience due to the actions of others?! Perhaps, it’s a sibling that has a mental illness or addiction that impacts negatively upon his/her behavior (and your sense of peace), an adult child that has not lived up to the hopes or expectations you had for him/her, a close relative who is incarcerated for some hideous crime, a parent that holds racist views, or a friend/significant other who betrayed your trust.
Personally, I was ill-prepared the challenges that came along with parenting a child with special needs. One of my children has special needs and I’ll never forget a family gathering when my daughter (then 5 years old) picked up my toddler nephew. Before I knew it, she was holding him upside down and dropped him on his head by accident before any of us could reach her. Fortunately he wasn’t injured but the awkwardness of the situation led to us leaving the gathering soon afterwards out of embarrassment. There would be many other times my daughter would act out at school, church, and just about anywhere else there was an audience. I remember feeling that I could never truly relax in public due to the angst of what she might do next. I wish I could say I always handled her outbursts with patience and understanding but that would be far from accurate.
The mistake I made was believing the narrative that I was a bad parent because I could not control her behavior. Needless to say, believing this narrative led to feelings of deep shame, helplessness, and failure as a parent. Unfortunately, our society is quick to judge or blame the parents of poorly-behaved children? We are so quick to blame that mother, whose child is acting up at the grocery store instead of having compassion for her struggles. We assume she is a bad, incompetent parent and we give little consideration to other factors that might be contributing to the child’s behavior.
Perhaps, part of my shame came from my tendency to have such judgmental thoughts towards other parents…at least until I found myself on the other side of that fence. I often reacted to my daughter’s misbehavior out of frustration and anger, as if she intentionally acted out to embarrass me. It was a very slow and difficult process working through the denial of her disability but our relationship has matured me in some of the most unimaginable ways. My daughter has a heart as big as an elephant’s when it comes to love, grace and forgiveness and she has taught me so much about what it means to love someone unconditionally.
So what do we do about this kind of shame? Fortunately, we are part of a very supportive family and church community that have helped immensely throughout this entire process. I am also learning (with the help of my wife Lela) the importance of not my daughter’s occasional issues to bring me to a place of shame. I need to remind myself frequently that those behaviors stem from a disability beyond anyone’s control and not from a failure on my part. We’ll look at yet another facet of shame in Part 4. Until next time, Peace.