COMMENTARY: If It’s Broken, Try to Fix It

Former President Jimmy Carter was 70 years old when he wrote this poem about his father:

This is a pain I mostly hide,
But ties of blood or seed endure.
And even now I feel inside
The hunger for his outstretched hand.
A man’s embrace to take me in,
The need for just a word of praise.

Isn’t it extraordinary that even after a life of monumental achievements, President Carter still feels pain when he thinks of his father, who either could not feel or would not express love and approval? Unfortunately, there are many people in his shoes, left with bitter feelings and enduring wounds inflicted by their parents.

Yet not all bad parents are bad people. Caring parents can unintentionally injure children through excessive harshness or permissiveness, or through well-intended criticism and advice that comes out as relentless disapproval or oppressive negativity. Kids not only need to know they’re loved, they need to feel worthy of our love. They need to be valued not simply because they’re ours, but because of who they are.

It’s never too late to try to fix whatever’s broken:

  • Express caring, pride, and approval more lavishly and often.
  • Be less critical, more helpful, less controlling.
  • Set aside your need to be right.
  • Be less self-righteous and more respectful toward those you love.
  • Be sincerely accountable and genuinely apologize, even if it’s not enough.
  • It’s not always possible to fix things that are broken, but it’s worth a try.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 5

  1. I understand the intent here. And I agree for the most part. I really had trouble with the statement, “Kids not only need to know they’re loved, they need to feel worthy of our love.” We have always given unconditional love to our children. It’s not about being worthy but this statement made me wonder whether our philosophy will undermine our intent. Will our children see our statement about unconditional love as some faux magnanimous gesture. I hope not. Hopefully they will see if for what it is… we love them, period. And we hopefully will show them in all of the other ways that we are proud of them and what wonderful people they are.

  2. Thank you Michael! I have shared it with others because I know this is something many of us live with and in my case, I cannot fix it but must put closure to it. My parents have passed away, and I grew up with a void and longing for the healthy love that gives a child confidence and a strong sense of peace. There will always be something missing in me.

  3. When a boy or girl grows up without a dad or at least a loving dad it is difficult to conceive of a loving God. Working with teen boys in the juvenile justice system boys without dads are starved for love and approval.

  4. Michael, thank you for the commentary! I grew up in a home where the words I love you were seldom used by my father. As I got older and learned more about my fathers life growing up it made more sense to me. My father did the best he could with what he had at the time. I am sure if he would have known better he would have done better! As I get older I realize the same goes for me. Today, I have a better understanding about my upbringing and am at peace with what happened and the way things were. So for me, I have come to the conclusion that the only thing I need to know about my childhood……is that its over!

  5. Thank you for sharing this enlightenment about parenting.
    “Caring parents can unintentionally injure children through excessive harshness or permissiveness,” I was raised by both my parents and have struggled in other areas based on what one parent used to emphasize which did not motivate me but instilled fear, I am slowly trying to take my power back by taking baby steps towards my goals.

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