I have written a few times here that I’m not as forgiving as I would like to be. I do a lot of excusing, until I can’t anymore, then I can hold a grudge forever. This is something I’m working on, and reading about, and hoping to (slowly) get better at. Given that I struggle with forgiveness myself, it came as a shock to me as I was moderating a fight between my kids in the back seat of the car while I drove and I realized that I’m modelling forgiveness for my kids all the time.
I’m not sure why this realization should have been all that shocking to me. I’m not exactly what you would call new to this parenting gig, or even to parenting two little kids. Of course I know that my kids are always watching and listening. Of course I know that the things I say and do impact their view of the world. And of course I know that any parent of two or more spends a good portion of the day moderating disagreements. Sibling rivalry is alive and well. However, it had not all come clear to me just how much time I spend talking to other people about forgiveness until that day in the car.
With my kids, I have a few ground rules around forgiveness. I’m not sure I’ve actually explained all of them to my children, but they do inform how I handle disagreements. My ground rules are something like this:
- When we have hurt someone, physically or emotionally, we apologize. This is true even if we hurt them by accident.
- Sometimes, saying ‘sorry’ isn’t enough. If someone is still upset even after you apologize, you need to find out what that person needs to help them feel better.
- It’s never okay to respond to someone else’s transgression by transgressing yourself. That is, we don’t hit someone because they’re not doing what we want, or even because they hit us first.
- It’s not okay to repeatedly do something you know full well you shouldn’t do, even if you do apologize afterwards. Apologies are helpful, but they’re not a license to just keep hitting each other anyway.
- It doesn’t matter who started it – placing blame isn’t productive. What matters most is figuring out how to meet everyone’s needs so that we can forgive each other and move forwards.
- We need to be forgiving with each other because we’re a family and we love each other first and foremost.
I’m sure I’m not listing everything that goes through my mind as I moderate disputes. I’m also sure that I don’t always apply these ground rules consistently. I definitely don’t model them myself all the time. All the same, as I look at them I can see that I can think about forgiveness much more clearly when it comes to my kids than when I’m grappling with the issue for myself. I think this is because when I’m parenting I love both parties unconditionally, and I place a priority on forgiveness and reconciliation. In my own life I may not even particularly like the person I’m dealing with, and I may not have a vested interest in ever forgiving them (or apologizing for my wrongs).
There’s more to forgiveness in my own life, too. I have a lot of fear around forgiveness. Conversations about forgiveness are emotionally difficult. Asking for forgiveness makes you vulnerable, because it means admitting you were wrong. Granting forgiveness makes you vulnerable, too, because it means letting go of the anger that can serve as a sort of emotional armour. When we’re angry at someone, we can ignore the pain and hurt we’re carrying. When we start to let go of the anger, we have to feel all those uncomfortable feelings. I can insist that my children forgive each other, and support them when it’s hard. No one can make me engage in forgiveness, so it’s often much easier for me to just hold that grudge or pretend that I didn’t actually make a mistake.
I’m not sure that I’m ready to make big leaps and have lots of difficult conversations. I’m also still not completely clear on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I’m going to have to do more reading and thinking about this, for sure. Right now, though, it’s interesting to me to see that I might be better at forgiveness than I thought, thanks to my parenting experiences. It’s true that it’s sometimes (almost always) easier to just avoid the issue altogether as a grown-up, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the basics of forgiveness. It just means I don’t always apply them.
How does your parenting inform your thoughts on forgiveness? I’d love to hear!