The good thing is that our kids are smarter and more resilient than we think. With time, they’ll come to understand that hey, we struggled with our issues too as parents, as adults. The fact that we weren’t always there or perfect? Hopefully they’ll realize and come to accept that it wasn’t because we didn’t love them.
It was because we’re human! Just like them. And humans have drinking problems, they work too much, they make mistakes, they do things that disappoint other people–including their kids. Humans are why marriages don’t always last, why childhood isn’t always idyllic. Indeed, we were raised by humans ourselves and what we learned, what we went through, shaped what kind of parent we were able to be (or not able to be.) Your kids will understand this with time, especially if you can be vulnerable enough to talk to them about it.
Yet that doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard for them! “I understand why you had to leave my father,” the daughter of Doris Lessig once told her mother, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t resent it.” This is perfectly expressed. Your kids know that your job is important, they know people are counting on you…but they still miss you. They know you’re doing your best…but that doesn’t change the fact that they have unmet needs.
We have to understand that just because they understand doesn’t change the fact that they hurt, that they struggle, that they have feelings they’ll have to deal with. This is a tension that we, as adults, are going to have to figure out how to manage. Yes, we can be kind and forgiving of ourselves but that doesn’t let us off the hook. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.
Your kids can love you and be mad at you at the same time, and it will be this love they feel that will allow them to forgive–unless you take it for granted.