Pastor John explained it to us. “We all inherit the sins of our fathers. Sin is passed down from generation to generation.” At the time, I thought of the notion of inherited sin like a genetic pre-disposition. Like my mother’s brown hair, I inherited the wrongs she committed.
Becoming a mother has drastically changed how I view most of the world. I drive a lot slower, because I want to make sure Carly’s mom makes it home every night. I rush less, because nothing is as important as my family. I also view my parents much differently.
If I yell at Carly, how does that shape her as a person? If I feed her certain foods, what will happen to her as she grows? Am I doing things that help her become better? Or am I making choices that will damage her? When I think of what terrifies me as a parent, a great fear that strikes me is the idea that I could make a choice, or a series of choices, that would cause Carly to dislike me as her mother. I can imagine few things more painful than a child hating a parent, when the parent was trying their best.
Alcoholism is the sin of my family. No, I don’t mean drinking occasionally. I mean that when you look at my family tree, many members have struggled to deal with the influence of alcohol in their lives. For some, it was an occasional misgiving that lead to a few apologies. For others, it meant their children were left at home alone while mom and dad drank the day away at a bar. Alcohol is not the devil, but alcoholism can be.
I often wondered whether my personal branch of the alcoholism tree would be hit with similar misgivings. Would I inherit a great grandparent’s taste for drinking? Fortunately – I did not.
Before I can remember, I had heard stories of my father struggling. Fortunately for me, he overcame that struggle. As a little girl, I cannot recall a time where I saw my mother or father drinking or drunk. The only time I recall alcohol in the house was when we bought it for guests staying over. When I think of my father, I will never think of him as an alcoholic. His choices were a gift to my memory of him. His choices also meant that Carly will never have to grow up with a mother who struggles with alcohol.
My grandmother fought many struggles. When my mother asked her about her parenting choices, grandma responded with, “I did the best I could with what I had.” My parents have failed in some of their choices with my brothers and I. As a new mother, it humbles me to see that I will fail as well. Every parent will make choices they wish they could redo.
It would be so easy to write off every person who ever hurt us. It takes so little effort to see ourselves as victims. That perspective denies our own power and removes us from the accountability we should take for our own choices. Yes, our parents influenced us, but at the end of the day each of us is accountable for our own actions.
To me, inherited sin is the choice we make – or stop making as parents to our children. We chose peace over anger. We chose calm over yelling. We chose sobriety instead of drinking. While we may struggle with some sins more than others, we can overcome what we have seen in the generation before us. Parents are just people, and all people will fail at some things. Sin and failure are why Christ gives us grace. I hope and pray that where I see failure in others, I also grace abundant. Because some day, Carly will look at me with as much judgement as I have looked at others. In that moment, I hope she sees a person who did the best she could with what she had.