Yesterday at South Bay church, my husband David (Family Pastor) delivered a deep and meaningful message on the subject of forgiveness. I think for a lot of folks it stirred up some emotions that have been buried for a while and maybe for others cast some light on emotions that are constantly surfacing. Forgiveness is a really tough topic for most people, because all of us have been hurt in various ways. It’s especially deep and difficult when hurts come from close family members. Some of us have been walking around with anger and bitterness in our hearts for years, growing like a cancer.
I want to talk briefly about a specific implication of forgiveness for parents. Today in his message, David told the story of my own mother and the journey she walked for 5 years of forgiving her father. Here is a link to listen to the message:http://www.southbaychurch.org/media/
What you need to know about my mom and about my childhood is that somehow, by gods grace, she was able to create an entirely different experience in our household than she experienced as a child. She and my dad have an awesome marriage, great communication, and were always very understanding and affirming of me and my sister. We never knew the emotional abuse that she had endured for years.
The older I get the more I learn about her childhood. And the older I get the more I learn how significant this thread is in the story of my own life. My mom was what I like to call a “pivotal parent.” She could have repeated the unhealthy patterns that were so familiar to her, but instead she intentionally changed the course of our family for generations to come. Of course she would tell you she didn’t do it perfectly, but she was intentional and persevered.
My mom gave her life to Christ at a young age, and He became her father. His love and His ways took root in her heart and eventually after decades of growing with Him and maturing in her faith, He brought her to the point where she could learn how to be free of this anger and bitterness toward her father that she carried for years.
Several months ago I talked about this topic at our moms group at South Bay Church. I told my mom’s story, and gave some practical tools for parents to implement in their own families and relationships to discontinue unhealthy or abusive patterns that they have potential to carry without even realizing it. Especially regarding conflict and how to resolve it. After all, if we learn how to resolve our conflicts and keep relationships clear with one another, then forgiveness becomes much easier and much more normal. I want to share some of those things here. It’s not that I understand it all or can execute all of this perfectly, but this is all very natural to me because of the home that I grew up in. I can’t take credit for it at all! That award goes to my parents, and they would say it was because of God’s presence in our family. Healthy conflict resolution and extending grace and forgiveness is something that was very normal in our house for as long as I can remember.
- When a conflict occurs, acknowledge it. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t not talk about it! Bring it up even when its hard, embarrassing, inconvenient, or humbling. Doing nothing and pretending everything is back to normal is detrimental to a child because they know something happened between you and should be addressed, but don’t know how to do it.
- Apologize to your child and even ask forgiveness in times where you were in the wrong. Maybe you reacted in anger by raising your voice, or yelling, or you said something out of frustration that sounded rude or condescending. Your child will learn from you being willing to humble yourself and they will feel respected. It doesn’t mean they are off the hook for their wrongdoing! They are accountable for their actions just like you are and should be disciplined by you in love. That is your job as a parent. However, they will be much more likely to learn to admit their own fault and ask for forgiveness if they see you do it toward them and toward others. This makes it safe and normal. I can remember times when both my mom and dad (even while disciplining me!) would kneel down and look me in the eye and apologize for raising their voice or displaying anger, and ask me to forgive them. I can remember feeling respected as a person, and knowing that somehow that was healthy, even though I didn’t understand it well at such a young age. They told me what I did too that was wrong, and disciplined me for it. But somewhere deep inside it felt healthy because they set boundaries around me and my heart knew when I was in the wrong.
- Resolve conflict before bed. It’s doesn’t mean all the problems have to be solved before bed, but do the best you can to clear the air. Let your child know they are safe, your relationship together is ok, and that you will always be there and will always love them. A child who is sure of these things is a secure child.
- Tell your child you will never divorce your spouse. And mean it. Don’t dare say that unless you mean it. My parents told me that a lot growing up, and it provided such a safety and security in my identity as a person.
By doing these things above, your home will be one that is emotionally safe. Your children will grow up in an environment where it is ok to have disagreements because they will learn how to work them out together and build trust with you and with one another.
Even if you grew up in an unsafe home, or have carried anger and bitterness for years because of someone in your family, you can create a home where these things are non-existent for your children. And that will equip them to know how to do relationships well and impact every generation after them. With some intentionality and with God’s grace, you can pivot the future of your family in a different direction!