The Power of Seeking Our Children’s Forgiveness

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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?

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  1. I completely agree that this is a powerful practice. Thanks for the wise words!
    .-= tacy´s last blog ..Thoughts on Reflection, Continued: Margaret’s Musings =-.

  2. This is a fantastic post and just what I needed on a day when my imperfect mothering is very obvious!
    .-= Jesica´s last blog ..Free Audio Download of John Piper Book =-.

    • Jessica and Tacy – I have to tell you that as I wrote this, I was inspired by our two year old who really did dump out a bowl of popcorn on to the carpet I had just vacuumed! It was perfect timing for me as well.

  3. love this! such a powerful way to be with our children and to teach them the power of forgiveness! I had a situation with my son where I did this earlier this year.. very very powerful:
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..
    anabel’s laugh =-.

    • As I noted, the opportunity for me to practice this comes up often. It has made SUCH an impact on the dynamics with my girls!

  4. Yes. Oh, yes. The greatest gift we can give our children is to let them see we are all imperfect, we all fail, but how freeing and beautiful it is to admit it, seek restoration, pick ourselves up and try again. It’s the dance of humanity, interwoven with success and failure, but perpetually laced with grace.
    .-= Prairie Chick´s last blog ..From Leftovers to Crumbs =-.

    • Wow. THAT is gorgeous. I can’t think of a single thing to say in response, but thank you so much for sharing such lovely insights.

  5. I have asked for forgiveness many times, and when we are all having a particularly manic day, I sit the boys down on my lap, we all ask for forgiveness, and we decide to “start the day over”, even if its 6pm. We all take a big breath in, breathe out all the bad day feelings, and then decide to start over. It really clear the air when its just one of those days.
    .-= jill´s last blog ..Play with Swords =-.

    • I love this! Dacey and I have a code for when things are going wrong between us – and we will usually say, “Let’s start over.” So cool to know that other families find that approach to be helpful, too!

  6. Thanks for the inspiring thoughts.
    I must admit I have not gotten as far as asking for forgiveness. But I always apologise for my actions when I have a bad mummy moment. I always apologise and explain how I could have acted differently, as this is what I expect my children to do when their emotions boil over. But forgiveness – what a beautiful idea. Going to add this to my personal list of things to work on.
    .-= bonnie´s last blog ..Pirates at war =-.

    • I think what you have described is all very much the same concept – it’s about modeling what to do when we make mistakes and how to mend the heart of those we hurt. Asking the other person for forgiveness invites them to be active in the healing process (in my humble, totally non-professional opinion!).

  7. Thank you. Your words helped me today.

  8. I must say that my eyes are very teary right now. I thought back to many times I’ve needed to ask for forgiveness and did not. At some moments it is soooo difficult.
    Honestly, there have been times when I have done this, but not enough.
    This only reaffirms the importance. Thank You.
    .-= Victoria´s last blog ..What I’ve noticed in November… =-.

    • Oh, and I have to say I in no way meant for this post to inspire guilt in any of us. All parents have enough to feel guilty about already, right?

      I hope that it will simply enrich the dynamics within families as we all consider how to better love our loved ones.

  9. forgiveness is so huge in our family. its so powerful. and healing. its also a way to turn a yucky moment (s) during the day in to a teachable moment.
    .-= esther ´s last blog thousand gifts =-.

  10. Thank you for writing about such a powerful concept. Apologizing to my daughters and discussing our mistakes openly has been wonderful for our relationship. Now they are my greatest teachers. My oldest daughter recently said, “Mom, raising you voice does not help the situation.”

    • Mariah and Esther – our days with children are SO full of teachable moments, aren’t they? And yes, it’s so amazing (and challenging!) when we hear our own words – good and bad – returned to us . . .

  11. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Years ago, break of a marriage found me as a single mom to three sons, and I still shudder at some of my less than stellar parenting moments as I struggled to stay afloat. I really needed to read this…I did what I thought was the best I could, but I know I still fell short.
    But I can still apologize….oh! Thanksgiving is taking on new meaning….

    • I think the most important part of your response is that you were doing the best you could! And I have to believe that your children will know that, particularly as they get older and look back to see the big picture.

      And yes, this is the perfect season to nurture healing where it may still be needed!
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..The Power of Seeking Our Children’s Forgiveness =-.

  12. I have had to ask forgiveness too many times to count!
    .-= Aaron Shaw´s last blog ..Baby Animal of the Day! Lemur! =-.

  13. Thank you so much for this timely post. I have been struggling with my getting upset at the children of late and have been trying to deal with this specifically of late. This post is so timely and a blessing. Thanks!
    .-= Asha´s last blog ..Goodness =-.

    • Aaron and Asha – I will be the very FIRST to admit that I write of this practice from a place of MUCH experience. I’ve been a mama for less than five years, and I still have so much to learn about how to do this parenting thing!

  14. So so true, thanks for the reminder! My baby is only 9 months but already I’ve learned that my mothering will not always be perfect. But asking for forgiveness is a great way to heal the mama’s regret and the little one’s hurt heart. I also tell myself that having 100% perfect parents cannot be healthy for a child either! They can learn so much from seeing how we cope with failure.
    .-= Linda Kristin´s last blog ..Waiting for winter =-.

    • “I also tell myself that having 100% perfect parents cannot be healthy for a child either!”

      I absolutely agree with you on this! So I guess it’s a pretty good thing that none of us are perfect 100% of the time, right? 🙂

  15. Thanks for these words.
    I remember a day when my middle child, then three years old, threw one tantrum after the other when we were in the city, shopping clothes and running errands. It was very annoying for me, and on our way home, for the first time in my life, I slapped one of my children on the back. It happened from sheer exhaustion, and I instantly felt awful. I nearly started crying myself – my daughter was so freaked out that she didn’t stop yelling.
    We got home finally, made it through dinner and when I brought Clara to bed I couldn’t stand the guilt anymore and asked her forgiveness for what I had done. I told her I knew I did something wrong but at that moment, I haven’t been able to control myself. She threw her arms around my neck and said ‘Mommy, I’m really sorry I made you do this. Please, forgive me, too.’ She was only three years old. I’ll never forget her earnest face.

  16. Thank you for this. I do try to apologize to my children when I have lost my cool, but, like bonnie, I have not taken the step of asking forgiveness. How powerful!

  17. I have tears in my eyes reading your post…this is my first time reading you and can not believe how timely this gets to my heart. I had a particular hard day today, cried, yelled and cried some more. I asked for my son’s forgiveness but then have a hard time being tender with myself. He told me “i love you mami” and gave me big hug.
    your words are like fresh water right now.
    .-= Ximena´s last blog ..Buscando la dulzura =-.

    • I’m so glad this was meaningful for you. We all have difficult parenting days – all of us! I think this process goes a long way towards allowing us to forgive ourselves as well.

  18. Hi, wanted to add something that helps me right now. In my case, one reason that I tend to get frustrated or irritated with my children is because I myself am tired. On weekends I tend to be more relaxed and thus, much calmer and patient in dealing with the children, whereas on a weekday, after office work, it is much more of a strain. Getting a nap or even just lying down for about half hour helps so much. I do this when my kids go out to play in the evening. Usually, this is the time that I am so tempted to work on chores or a hobby before dinner preparation. Now I tell myself that I need the rest and try to enforce it on myself. Just started this practise and found that it helps so much.
    .-= Asha´s last blog ..Twilight Tomatoes =-.

    • I absolutely agree!! It is so important that we, as the parents, are feeling good on the inside so we can more effectively parent.

  19. We practice this as well, and I think it is powerful for both of us when we’re having a difficult moment (or day…or week!) Great post, Megan. 🙂
    .-= Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom´s last blog ..Easy peasy Mac n Cheesy – quick and easy mac n cheese =-.

  20. I agree with others that asking forgiveness, especially from someone as important in your life as your child is exceptionally difficult. Perhaps with practice it might become easier. For me, a recovering perfectionist, it is near impossible. I recently had been pondering how to help my son see that imperfection is to be embraced when this concept is so hard for me to live. This post definitely turned me in the right direction to find that connection within me, and within my relationship with my children and family. Thank you! I came over from SouleMama.

    • In my experience, it does get easier with practice. But I think a large part of that comes from the fact that as you practice admitting you aren’t perfect, you begin to make more space for grace towards yourself. The more I realize my imperfections by verbalizing them, the more I *want* to show my girls that it’s okay to make mistakes.

  21. This is so true! It’s tough to ask for forgiveness, especially to your children, but it’s imperative. It also reminds me of the inward struggle that occurs when we know we need to ask for forgiveness — they feel that struggle, too. It’s a great lesson for all of us.

  22. thank you for this beautiful post.

    i just realized as i was reading this that we don’t use the word forgiveness in our house (not exactly sure why) but we talk about clearing the energy between us and getting back to a good feeling place.

    i also find it helpful on particularly hard days to really talk things through with my children when they are sleeping. kind of like you talking to your baby — it’s more of an energetic exchange. i am able to speak more openly and honestly on a soul to soul level, rather than parent to child, and i find it to be a very powerful healing experience.

    thank you again for such a heart-opening and thought-provoking post.

    .-= exhale. return to center.´s last blog ..keeping mama in check =-.

    • Erin (and Stacy below) – I absolutely LOVE the use of the word reconnect here. It is completely the same idea. I will start to use that word in addition to the actual word “forgiveness” – I think that idea is more concrete and perhaps younger children can more easily grasp the concept here.

      THANK YOU for this insight!

  23. This post has been revelationary to me. I remembered that the biggest gripe I had about how I was brought up was that my mother was never honest about being imperfect. When I was an ‘angry’ teenager I was really furious that I’d been duped about the real nature of people. Since I’ve had children of my own I’ve felt this nagging guilt that I’m recreating this same omnipotent image of myself to my children. I think your post has just shown me the way to get from where I am to where I want to be with ‘real’ parenting. I know to some it might seem obvious, but as my mum NEVER ever apologised about anything, it just didn’t occur to me. Thankyou.

  24. Thanks, Megan! What a wonderful post.

    I have always apologized – that is one thing I am really committed to doing. My parents never apologized and the lack of connection was very troubling for me…

    Of course, I wish I had less to apologize about with my kids 🙂 but I am so grateful for the opportunity to soften my heart and let remorse well up… It brings me to a humbled place where I want to seek that reconnection.

    Like Erin, we don’t really use the word forgiveness … not in a conscious effort to avoid it … We talk about reconnecting… If the kids have a conflict or if I’ve had one with them, we say, “I’d really like to reconnect with you. Are you feeling ready?”

    It is incredible to be welcomed back into their hearts. I can only hope that we manage to keep our hearts open to one another, always.

  25. Crystal from Hawaii says:

    Love the tid bits of parenting advice and boy do they speak volumes. Now I don’t feel so bad about the way we are raising our children to have humilty and compassion for each other and to mankind. It is so healthy for children to see their own parents asking for forgiveness. They will learn empathy and to relaese their hurt feelings in a healthy way and to not hold grudges that can eat at them latter in life. Love your blog!!Your doing a great job mamabear!!!

  26. I love this. I have a 3 year old boy that is incredibly sensitive and a natural perfectionist. Whilst i love his spirit and attention to detail i worry about the ‘pressures’ to be perfect that are all around us. We practice acknowledging our mistakes and downfalls with humour to encourage him to embrace a little imperfection, and to see that its part of the fun in life sometimes too. Asking for forgiveness is great for this and on so many levels and enriches the lives of all involved. I also think that it is an opportunity to verbalise the value of a relationship, which as a parent i often only do when the going is good!
    Love reading you blog!
    thanks, lexie x

  27. Beautiful Words! Like ripples in a pond, it has such far-reaching ramifications if we practice it – not only for those we love dearly but for those we interact with on a daily basis.
    .-= Deven´s last blog ..Thanksgiving Week in Pictures – Gulf Shores Style =-.


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