Why forgiveness matters for our children

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

 

bananas-11“To forgive is indeed the best form of self-interest since anger, resentment, and revenge are corrosive of that ‘summum bonum,’ the greatest good.”  – Bishop Desmond Tutu

 

Forgiveness is important for family relations.

Forgiveness is important for family relations.

It is easy to become offended. 

Perhaps your husband drinks too much, your child lied to you about something very important, whenever your wife does the laundry you have pink underwear, or a stranger attacked you. 

Forgiveness, so often misunderstood and underutilized, can strengthen family bonds and demonstrate how to live our lives in victory, rather than as victims harboring resentment and holding grudges against those who have offended us. 

How we respond to these offenses, especially those perpetrated by relatives and friends, will determine how we live. How we handle forgiveness demonstrates to our children whether we can live in freedom from oppression or under the yoke of anger, resentment and fear.

“When we release others from their debts we also release ourselves from the powerful effects of what they did to us." - Kim Fredrickson

“When we release others from their debts we also release ourselves from the powerful effects of what they did to us." - Kim Fredrickson

Kim Fredrickson is a marriage and family therapist in Roseville, Ca. “Forgiveness moves us from a ‘should’ system to a ‘grace’ system.  None of us really wants to be on a ‘should’ system,” said Fredrickson,   “When we release others from their debts we also release ourselves from the powerful effects of what they did to us.  Conversely, when we harbor bitterness against others, that bitterness eats away at us.  The only way to get the poison out of our system is through forgiving.”

Forgiveness is important for everyone

Forgiveness is important for everyone

So what does forgiveness have to do with our children?

Everything.

As parents, we experience opportunities to be victorious or defeated with our children every day. 

Last fall the mother (Stone Mountain, Georgia) of a relentlessly screaming toddler who was slapped into silence by a 61-year-old- unemployed man while shopping at Wal-Mart reportedly forgave her daughter’s attacker. He was arrested for felony child endangerment and recently sentenced to six months in jail.

While it might feel more reasonable to forgive someone who is “getting just desserts”, forgiveness is nonetheless important for the emotional well being of you and your child. If Mom holds a grudge, the action of the attacker continues to do harm, and signals she sends her child is “we are victims”. However, once the offender is forgiven, the transgression is rendered powerless.

As parents, we experience opportunities to be victorious or defeated with our children every day.

As parents, we experience opportunities to be victorious or defeated with our children every day.

A more challenging forgiveness opportunity happened in Hasbrouk Heights, New Jersey last fall. A mother of a 13-year-old girl, who’s pants were pulled down in gym class by boys who had a reputation for “pantsing” on campus, was cited for disorderly conduct because she lost her temper, shouted and cursed at the principal in the hallway of her child’s middle school. According to the MomLogic report, this mother lost her temper after repeated and extensive attempts to secure corrective action to prevent a pattern of harassment on campus by the “pantsing” boys. And the 13-year-old “pantsing” victim became ill from the stress of it all.

According to the mother, the fruit of all their grief was publicity and awareness raising.

But the outcome, it would seem, is not victorious if everyone involved is still harboring resentment towards one another and not able to collaborate on solutions to improve the situation on campus. This story also leaves me concerned that the 13-year-old learned to be a victim through this experience whose suffering resulted in becoming ill and medicated.

Demonstrating forgiveness and accountability

Katherine Piderman, Ph.D. is the staff chaplain at the Mayo Clinic. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong,” writes Piderman, “You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”

This understanding of forgiveness has profound implications for family life.

Children can become offended by our efforts to discipline; that's just the reality of human nature.

Children can become offended by our efforts to discipline; that's just the reality of human nature.

Holding children accountable for their transgressions out of love, rather than out of resentment demonstrates forgiveness. When we discipline our children with an angry heart, they can feel victimized rather than corrected, and the cycle continues. As a result, your child can harbor resentment toward you, and then, whether you feel it’s justified or not, they have an offense for which they need to decide whether or not to forgive you.

My youngest, when he was three years old, tried to return the spanking I had given him, telling me: “We do not hit!” as he took a swing missing me by a hair. His gut reaction gave me pause and at that moment I knew that disciplining him would require more intelligence than emotional reaction to his testing of limits. I realized that although my intent was to correct his conduct, the message he received from the swat on his behind was my frustration with his behavior, not that his behavior was wrong.

We were both offended.

Over time this type of scenario defines relationships, where our child receives negative emotions and misses the intended instruction; and without forgiveness this pattern may contribute to discord in family relations.

bananas-11It’s a power thing

Making that decision to forgive is a powerful move, and starts the process to release ourselves from emotional bondage to the offender.  When we do not forgive, we bind ourselves emotionally to the people who offend us: it is a form of bondage in which we surrender personal power.

More importantly, as a parent how we handle the offenses of others teaches our children a great deal about how to be: victorious or defeated.

For more information about the process of forgiving, go to Kim Fredrickson’s article: Process of Forgiveness.

  Sources:

Mom forgives Wal-Mart baby slapper

Mom who cursed out principal speaks out

Coleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ, 1995,Bantam Books, New York, New York

Wiseman, Rosalind, Queen Bee Moms and KingPin Dads: Dealing with the Parents, Teachers, Coaches, and Counselors Who Can Make – or Break _ Your Child’s Future,2006,Crown Publishing, New York, New York

Carnegie, Dale, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living: Time-Tested Methods For Conquering Worry, 1944, Pocket Books, New York, New York

Meyer, Joyce, The Secret to True Happiness: Enjoy Today, Embrace Tomorrow, 2008, FaithWords, Hachette Book Group, New York, New York.

Piderman, Katherine.  Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. November 2009.Mayo Clinic.

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May all your “banana moments” be rewarding as well as challenging.

joanna-0071Joanna Jullien jullien@surewest.net

Joanna married her high school sweetheart and over the  past 25 years they have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from UC Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture) and has over 20 years experience as a professional manager in information technology, manufacturing, energy and environment.  Joanna writes on parenting in the 21st century, as she has observed and personally experienced many strains on the parent-child relationship with the advent of the Internet, mobile phones and popular culture.

 

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.

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