Why parents should teach their children about forgiveness
Somewhere, in the lost verses of the Bible, a old man with an unkempt beard and a motley rob stuck a crooked staff in the rocky ground and proclaimed:
Forgive thy parents, they know not what they do.
If you’ve been reading this blog since January you know I’ve dedicated 2020 to learning about and practicing forgiveness–both forgiving myself and others in an attempt to become a better person.
Each month I’ve had a different forgiveness focus. I’ve spent the first half of March washing my hands…thanks COVID-19, as well as examining the intersection of parenting and forgiveness.
How will practicing forgiveness, on myself and with my children, make me a better parent? How will modeling forgiveness for my children help them in their own lives? With their own struggles?
I willingly became a parent almost 12 years ago.
I’ve accrued roughly 105,000 parenting hours. Hour-wise, I should be good at this. Well-versed in areas of organization, discipline, fatherly instruction, and timely dad jokes.
The truth is– I’m not.
Parenting, like baseball, is a sport of failure. The last baseball player to bat .400 was Ted Williams. In 1941. Which meant he only got a hit in 40% of his at bats.
Cindy and I have three children now, ages 11, 9, and 6.
Respectively, they’re all demanding. They all pine for our attention in their unique ways. One through academic achievements, one through athletic achievements, and the other through Tik-Tock videos.
No matter how many pups in your litter, raising children–parceling attention, effort, and time offers you little time to reflect on your parenting work.
For any job– reflection is essential for improvement. Is there a better, more effective way to do my job?
The job of forgiveness takes reflection. And like any job, forgiveness takes time, attention to detail, and relentless practice.
But I get it. You and I are busy parents. And these days (especially in March of 2020), our time is more valuable than…handsanitizer.
So why should we spend our precious time reflecting and working on forgiveness?
Here’s why: Mike Trout– the center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels.
Let me explain.
My 9 year old son, Chase, loves Mike Trout.
Trout is arguably the greatest baseball player on the planet. Chase watches youtube videos of diving catches by Trout. He owns a Trout jersey and a pair of replica Trout spikes. When Chase is playing baseball in the backyard he bats like Trout. Throws like Trout. Even chews his gum like Trout. My 9 year son has modeled his game after Mike Trout.
This emulation is fair. I’m strong enough to admit Mike Trout is a better baseball player than I am.
But in the arc of my son’s life, I know that I will play a bigger role in his life than Mike Trout, no offense Mr. Trout.
Children learn behavior from watching and listening to adults. Baseball players or parents, adults are simply models for children to imitate. Children don’t know how to properly act, so they look at us for direction, for decorum.
When we’re hurting, when we’ve been wronged, forgiveness might not be our first choice of action. We rage or grow despondent. We yell. Like an angry baseball manager, we punch the water cooler, throw sunflower seeds, kick dirt at the umpire, and lose our precious cool.
But by choosing forgiveness we show our children negative emotions can be tempered and handled in a cool, positive manner. And that choosing love is the foundation for all healthy relationships.
It’s important to teach children forgiveness is a personal choice they can make. You may not always get the result you want, but you can choose forgiveness and move forward.
Children emulate their parents. And if parents are angry and spiteful and resentful then children are going to grow up assuming that’s just how adults act.
But if you teach forgiveness, if forgiveness becomes a family pastime, children will learn the finer points of forgiveness.
JayIf you’re interest, here my notes for The Forgiveness Journey. This is not a one-size-heals-all system. Forgiveness is not an exact science. Please adopt and modify to best fit your needs.m
Step 1- Set a specific day
Like a doctor’s appointment, schedule a specific day to reflect, to forgive. I’m going to take the lead here and declare the 15th of every month will be forgiveness day. For those who receive my posts via email, I will send you a reminder on the 15th of each month that your forgiveness is due. It will be like paying your mortgage but better.
And since repetition is a part of forgiveness, let’s do it once a month and make self-forgiveness a healthy habit in 2020.
Step 2- Write down the things that need to be forgiven
Today, write down the things you need to forgive yourself for. Writing down our hurts give them a real, tangible representation. They are not just vapor floating in our heart and mind.
I suggest storing the list on your phone for both permanence and easy access.
Also, be specific about a particular action or thought or feeling that needs forgiveness. If you said, “I want to forgive myself for a bunch of stuff I did in my 20’s”, it’s too abstract, too unclear. Forgiveness only works when it’s concrete. I also suggest writing down an estimated date, location, and a summary of your actions.
Also, let’s be honest, some hurts won’t be forgiven with one day of absolution, so there might be a specific hurt that you may need multiple months of attention. For example, my illness causes deep personal shame that I need to deal with. I’m dedicating 3 months (January, July, December) for forgiving my shame.
Step 3- Take time for self-examination
On the 15th of the month, find some interrupted time to think deeply about the specific hurt that needs forgiveness.
Pray, meditate, have a cup of tea and reflect on one specific hurt that needs forgiving.
Begin your reflection with:
I forgive you for__________. I will not seek revenge or revert to self-pity for my past hurts. I will accept myself as imperfect. Yet despite my imperfections, I realize I am valuable, capable of great things, and deserving of happiness.
Recall or write down the details of the event.
Recall or write down negative emotions the event caused you to feel.
Realize or write down a positive positive attitudes/realizations the event has gifted you.
Reframe your hurt. Though you can’t rewind time, you can use your hurt has a means of broadening your perspective and deepening your gratitude. Think or write down how the hurt presented you unique lessons and opportunities that you might use to help other people deal with their own hurt.
Step 4- Honor the private act of self-forgiveness
Keep it to yourself. Forgiveness is a deeply private exercise. Do not gloat. Do not post on Facebook. Do not not look for likes or outside validation. Forgiveness requires humility. Some people will not get what you’re doing. That’s okay. This is just for you.
Step 5- Do something nice for someone else
On the 15th of every month (our forgiveness day) do something nice for someone else. This can be offering a compliment to someone, write a thank-you note, buy a stranger coffee, give a homeless person a meal, donate to a local charity, etc. The point is–doing something nice for someone else is both healthy for us and others. Celebrate your improvement by taking action and improving someone else’s life.
You can make the world a better place for your family, friends, and anyone you interact with if you practice self-forgiveness.
This is important--forgiving yourself can be tricky business. Forgiveness is not a quick fix and there is no one-size-fits all solution.
If you forgive yourself for cheating on the taxes your forgiveness doesn’t exonerate you from punishment. And forgiving yourself doesn’t make it okay. This do-it-yourself absolution can be reckless.
The point is–if we want to positively improve and grow we have to make peace with our past. We must forgive our past actions in order to accept who we are now.