The Role of Forgiveness in Parenting

Originally posted July 10, 2013



I have come to a conclusion about life:  forgiveness is really difficult and will always be difficult.

You can quote me on that brilliance.  Hell, make a Facebook meme.

I have a very hard time with forgiveness in general because, well, I’m human.  Also because I feel things deeply and intensely.  Forgiveness is not forgetting (if someone has told you that, I hope you’ve politely cackled at such absurdity).  Forgiveness is having a desire to seek revenge or punish the other person for your feelings of hurt, and not doing it.

Let me define this a little further when it comes to parenting.  It also applies to other relationships, but if this one really punches you between the eyes, feel free to swim around in some denial until you’re ready to consider the overlap.  Cause it fits every relationship.

I know, I know.  Say it with me:  blerg.  This is difficult for all of us.  Don’t you see all of the bold print and italics? This is heavy stuff.  Bold AND italics.

So … I said what forgiveness is:  having a desire to seek revenge or punish the other person for your feelings of hurt, and then not doing it.  Let’s focus on the part I just underlined.

“for your feelings of hurt”

This is my focus these days.  This is why I’m writing about it specifically.  Forgiveness does not mean that a person should not be expected to repair something that has been stolen/broken/damaged.  Forgiveness does not mean the actions were okay.  Forgiveness does not mean that you feel better about it and the hurt is gone.

Yet, in all honestly, I many times exercise my authority over my kids in these moments … until I feel better.

Maybe they’ve repaired what needs repairing.

Maybe they’ve said what needs to be said.

Maybe the “fixing it” has been completed.

But … I’m still mad.  Or hurt.  Or whatever.

That’s when I lecture.  That’s when I add negative consequences on top of what is already playing out naturally, because I feel like they haven’t really learned from the experience (read:  I’m still mad.  Or hurt.  Or whatever).  That’s when the way they did it is a problem for me (it didn’t seem sincere … enough … because … repeat the mad, hurt or whatever thing again).  That’s when I find myself DOING DUMB STUFF.

That is when I’m not forgiving.  I’m still hurting and I want them to hurt.  Until I am no longer hurting.

Yup.  I just said it out loud.  And if you cannot relate to this, please feel free to lie or not comment, because this is really, really hard to admit.  I mean, we all do it.  And we don’t just do it with our kids.  But if we say it out loud, we are acknowledging that we are aware of it.  And if we are aware of it, we need to do something to actively change it.

Some of my kids are still learning how to have big, overwhelming feelings and make a positive choice through those feelings.  If I can practice forgiveness, and I can want to punish and pay back but use emotional tools to make a positive choice … I can be a better guide.  I can be an actual model of how it looks.

I can lead by doing.

And yeah, yeah, yeah.  Then I also have to acknowledge that it’s this way in all relationships.  Hurting people hurt people … or, at the very least, lecture people.  Badger people.  Passive aggressively torture people long after the other person has taken steps to make it right.

Even if the other person has not taken steps to make it right, our own guidance to our kids holds true for us:  it’s never okay to hurt someone just because you are feeling hurt.

I am practicing forgiveness.  I am practicing it while still having some big feelings about what happened.  I am working hard to separate those feelings from reconciliation and repairs.  I am resisting the urge to lecture, badger and passively aggressively torture simply because I still feel crummy.  I am doing all of this while saying, “I’m still feeling kinda’ crummy about what happened.  Thank you for doing all you are doing to make it right, but I can’t help how I feel.  It will pass.  And I will follow my own advice.  I will choose not to hurt you while I am still feeling hurt.”

For an added boost, check out “How to Forgive” at PBS.