Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am writing to you because I am full of parental sadness and guilt and remorse. I had my daughter when I was young (19 years old), and was struggling in my relationship with her father, who never did marry me. I was always working trying to support both of us. Now that I’m older and she is grown and on her own (at 29), I find myself feeling very sad that I wasn’t able to be there for her and really be aware of her struggles, her feelings and her needs.
She reminds me of this whenever we get into arguments. She is quite resentful, which makes me feel even guiltier. I love her with my whole heart, but I can’t undo what’s already done. In my efforts to support us financially and to take care of my own needs as well, I neglected or wasn’t attentive enough to her. I live with this remorse daily.
I don’t know how to deal with it. I’d love to take her in my arms and somehow let her know how loved she is by me. I’d love to make her happy and heal the wounds between us. She’s just not interested in allowing this and it breaks my heart. I never ever thought that parenting would be so painful.
Dr. Norquist responds:
My heart goes out to you. In the decision to parent, we tend to focus on the desire to nurture and to love, and the immense joy we hope to experience in this endeavor. We have no idea until we are parents, how vulnerable our hearts will be to pain, grief, sadness, remorse, and fears of all kinds. Parenting opens us up to the full gamut of emotions, simultaneously turning up the volume on every emotion that courses its way through our vulnerable hearts. It opens us up to the full experience of life, sometimes from heaven to hell and back. It provides a lifetime of opportunities for growth.
Your sadness, guilt and remorse point the way towards your own healing. Start by acknowledging and accepting your feelings, without criticizing or judging yourself. Can you find a way to be compassionate towards yourself, knowing the stress you were under, and what your understanding was at that age? Only when you are able to forgive yourself will these past experiences stop invading your present state of mind. Once you compassionately forgive yourself, your feelings will start to transform, losing their sharp painful edges, and bringing more depth and richness to the emotional tapestry of your life.
Although you cannot change the past, once your pain is transformed, present opportunities for actively loving your daughter will emerge. Active loving is something you do in your heart. Its healing power is evident, whether or not you express it verbally to your daughter. See her in your mind’s eye, surrounded with love, light and protection. Feel your love in your heart and mentally direct it towards her heart. Do this daily, enjoying the energetic experience of your love for her, without attachment to any expectations of change on her part. Simply love her. This will be healing for both of you. When the timing is right, you may decide to write her a letter or to verbally express your love. Do not push this until you have an inner sense that both of you are ready for this. This must not be done from a need for sympathy, forgiveness, love or reassurance from your daughter.
In closing, I’d like to share the poem “Wild Geese” (by Mary Oliver) with you in hopes that it will help you in your efforts and resolve your pain and remorse.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services