As a parent, I have a hard time forgiving myself. I’ll admit it. Looking past indiscretions, mistakes, poor performance, behavior – I’m just not good at it. I reflect back on mistakes and get mired in them. I have a hard time ignoring the things that go wrong; the moments that escalate; the small things that accumulate. I’m not good at forgiving myself for the mistakes I make as a parent.
My kids? I unconditionally love them and forgive them always for a bad grade or a poor decision. I forgive them when they shove mountains of toilet paper into our drains and cause the plumber to spend a Sunday morning at time and a half.
I forgive them when they say things that hurt me because I know that they are living in a moment that will pass. I forgive them because it’s easy and right. I forgive them because I want to teach them how to forgive others.
Me? I don’t forgive myself well at all. I get into long, endless loops about how I should have changed my tone or approach with my son. How I could have navigated a tantrum or some intermittent yelling with my daughter. How I could have taken my voice down 20 decibels and made the same point, but done so in a graceful way. How I could have been less reactionary and more mindful as a parent. How I failed. How I fail again and again.
It seems that many parents feel that same way as I do and we are searching for places to share our stories. To be forgiven so that we can move out of the endless loops of shame we feel as parents; parents who aren’t good enough to be entrusted with the growth and development of our children.
So we turn outward, sometimes to social media or chat forums to share “bad dad” stories and have people tell us “it’s o.k., we all do it.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s healthy to have others share our experiences, be empathetic, and find safe spaces where we can acknowledge things that worry us about being parents.
I’ll admit, though, that when I think of turning outside of myself for that forgiveness, I wonder: What am I teaching my children about forgiveness? When I externalize and search for forgiveness from others, am I showing my children how to be their best selves by reflecting on their choices and behavior, forgiving themselves, and learning how to do it better next time?
Forgiveness is important because it creates a safe space for us to move away from the negative emotions and interactions we have and replace them with a way to look forward as parents. And forgiveness gives us the cognitive space to learn and grow based on where we’ve been as people – adults – and teach our children what forgiveness and learning and growing can look like for them.
It’s something that I’m thinking about today when I stare into the eyes of each of my children. I hope they are learning how to forgive themselves by watching me do it – and learning how to be a little bit better every day.
About the Author:
Bill Anderson is a father of 4 who shares his experiences in parenting and life with Guidepost Parent.
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