Photo by lepiaf.geo
One day when our oldest daughter was a baby – maybe nine or ten months old – I was having a particularly bad mothering day. I responded to her with grouchy irritability, using unkind words spoken in an unloving way.
Later that day, I confessed to my very wise Mommy mentor how terribly I felt about my response to Dacey. She was just a baby, and I had been so harsh! I couldn’t shake the guilt that plagued me. My friend gave me some advice that has had a profound impact on the way I practice parenting. She said:
Tell her that you are sorry and ask her to forgive you. Of course, she won’t understand your words, but it will confirm the sincerity of the apology in your heart, and you’ll be released from that guilt so you can move forward with your day in a healthy state of mind.
Following that advice marked the beginning of a practice I passionately believe is powerful in parenting: seeking the forgiveness of our children when we have wronged them. As I continue in this practice, I’ve learned three important truths:
1) Parents aren’t perfect.
In the daily-ness of parenting, it’s easy to hone in on the ways we feel our children have wronged us. A bowl of popcorn dumped out on a freshly vacuumed carpet or a meltdown in the checkout aisle of the market can cause us to focus our energies on the many ways our children aren’t perfect.
Yet I find that when I acknowledge my own shortcomings to my children, it reminds me of my imperfections which inspires a spirit of mercy and forgiveness when their imperfections on are on display. It also allows my children to grow up with a healthy perception of me. Everyone makes mistakes – even Mama.
2) Forgiveness restores relationships.
All of us have parenting moments of which we are not proud. We need only access hurtful moments from our own childhoods for a vivid reminder of the power of a parent’s words and actions. But when we operate under the truth that we aren’t perfect and we will make mistakes, we are encouraged to act quickly to make amends with the child we have hurt – both confessing our wrong and seeking forgiveness.
In most every relationship, the act of asking for forgiveness for a wrong can go a long way towards healing a wounded spirit.
3) Modeling teaches volumes about the power of forgiveness
Both of my daughters (even my two year old) will very often ask for forgiveness when they have acted in a way that is hurtful, upsetting, or against the rules of our home. I’ve never sat down and taught them how to do this, nor have I ever insisted that they do so. What they have learned about asking for forgiveness, they have learned from their father and me.
We are very imperfect, and so they have had many opportunities to grant forgiveness to us when we have wronged them.
The older we get, the more difficult it can be to acknowledge when we have wronged someone, and our own stubborn pride threatens to preclude us from experiencing the very healthy process of restoring a strained relationship. Humbling myself to ask for my children’s forgiveness often involves a very intentional act of choosing what I know is right over what I feel is right. Yet as I see the fruits of compassion and tenderness grow in my children, I am encouraged to continue practicing the act and art of forgiveness.
Have you found yourself asking one of your children to forgive you? What role does forgiveness play in the dynamics within your family?