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.
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.”
So what does forgiveness have to do with our children?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Joanna Jullien firstname.lastname@example.org
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.