When a Parent is no Parent

Parents are not all that they seem. While growing up, you remember being a brat and scared of being caught, but absolutely petrified of getting spanked. Perhaps you even hated them at times, or just simply wondered why they were such grumps and killjoys. But then as you grew up, you realized how much they sacrificed for you. How selfless they were and what they gave up so you could thrive. You feel shame as you recount all those times you blew up or walked out. Now you finally see how much they actually do love you.

But what if you can’t? What if you become an adult and you still struggle with bitterness and insecurity because you awkwardly realize that your parents are not all that you thought they were. Or maybe they are, and that’s still not a pretty picture. What do you do when you can’t look to your parents as examples of Christ’s love and holiness?

People like giving the pat answer of “oh, but God is the perfect father. Look to Him.” True, but God gave us physical parents for a reason. And sorry to shock you, but God never intended to take the role of positional relationships in this world. God’s not your bro, girlfriend or parent. Yes, He is your Heavenly Father, but that is distinctly set apart from being your mom or Dad. True, your parents ought to exemplify God’s characteristics to you and even reflect His love so you can better understand it. But still, there is a major role that if a parent is not filling, the child will seek to fill it via differing avenues, be it healthy or twisted. While useful for sit com material, daddy issues are not funny in real life.

Reality looks like deep seated pain closing in on yourself the more they yell, fear of never adding up to their perfecting demands, lust for approval that will never come, and insecurity that you are only as worthy and able as the stinging words, snide comments, and abusive behavior with which your parents treat you.

How to thrive under such a burden?

Three things.

    1. Realize that there is much merit to looking to God as your Heavenly Father and finding your sole worth and value in how He views you and what he says about you.

You are chosen in Him as an adopted child by Jesus Christ. That’s good news. Because we are not just a biological child who’s identity and personhood our Maker rolled some dice for and accepted whatever he got. We are an ADOPTED child who God purposely CHOSE to make His own (Eph1:4-12). Flaws, talents, personality, body type and all. You were purchased. An exchange was made for you. And for you, God handed over HIS SON. That’s how much he values you. Not because you have worth in and of yourself, but because He placed it on you and is pleased with his purchase. Now you have an inheritance, a purpose, and an identity that eclipses any condemnation your parents could place on you with their reactive, condescending, prideful actions. You are not them. You are God’s.

  • 2. As stated above, realize there is a need, even a demand for that godly parental role to be filled in your life. If you can’t get it from your Dad and Mom, look around and pray for a compassionate mentor.

Think I’m being weird? Check out any of the apostle Paul’s letters. In almost every one he addresses Timothy as fellow servant, brother, and beloved brother. He labored in the ministry quite a bit with Timothy. But once Tim got his own church, Paul writes him a letter and calls him “my own son in the faith” (1Timothy1) and “my dearly beloved son” (2Timothy2). (He did the same with Titus, and referred to him as a son too (Titus1).) Paul mentored Timothy for several years and trained him in wisdom, love, holiness, manliness, church administration etc. Why? Because Timothy had no father. And Paul recognized the need for a paternal role in every child’s life. So I would challenge you, be wise. Gauge if your parent is equipped to spiritually guide you through life. If not (make that a very cautious not), it’s no disrespect to allow different adults to carefully and healthily fill a role that is lacking. Not enough is said about the benefits of parental support in a world of self-empowerment, self-sufficiency and peer approval.

  • 3. Forgive them.

You must. Else you will forever drag around a ball and chain emblematic of the many wrongs and offenses committed against you by their reactive, condescending, and prideful behavior. “But I can’t forgive! That would be enabling and excusing them!” No. You’re not God. They answer to Him and ultimately have offended Him through their poor parenting. You are simply called to forgive them (1 John 4:7-10). True forgiveness stems from the acceptance of God’s love and forgiveness that you realize is so little deserved. Would you deny someone the very thing that you daily and abundantly accept from God?


There is an obvious tension here, as you can see, between point one and two. Please be wise. I’m not suggesting that God’s the only parent you need, nor am I advocating for you to throw off your parents and go look for some new ones if they just ticked you off.

Here’s what I’m saying: in God you find completion and worth, not in your parents.

Simultaneously, Surround yourself with wise mentors who are older than you and wiser than you, who will offer the support and even affirmation that you perhaps will never get from your own parents.

But through all of this, love. Love your parents with an intense humility and honor regardless of who they are and what they have or have not done for you. God grants them a place at the cross right along side you, even through their parenting mistakes and through your future ones. Cuz let’s be honest, ain’t nobody ever been a perfect parent.

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