I keep a small painting of a mother holding a baby in my office so I'm reminded to remain focused on love. Kids do things and parents get mad, so staying focused on love can be tough. When anger and strong reactions happen, love can feel very far away.
Another time when love can feel very far away is when we adults complain about our parents, as mom-of-two Laura H. did in a long post about her anger at her father. These conversations usually contain a lot of blame, resentment, anger, and lack of forgiveness. Don't get me wrong; there are situations where it's appropriate to cut off a relationship. (This article is not meant to address harsh verbal, physical, or sexual abuse.) However, for many adults, their anger seems to be related to waiting for their parents to apologize for what they did to them as children. Waiting for an apology from a parent can easily cause resentment and distance in the relationship.
What's your story? What type of connection do you wish you had with your parents? And what type of connection do you hope to have with your own grown children?
You might be thinking, they're kids, why bother thinking about our adult connection now, it's years away. The reason is, childhood is when the wounds that can cause resentment and distance occur, so now is the time to think about this.
Years ago, while whining about my parents, a wise woman said, "How would you feel if your children never forgave you for the mistakes you made as a mother?"
I instantly got teary and began connecting the dots. I realized I'm going to want understanding and forgiveness from my children for the pain I caused them. I'm not a perfect parent, far from it, and I hope they keep that in mind when remembering their childhood.
Then it dawned on me: I had not been that generous with my parents. I'd never thought of them as people, I'd never thought of them as having lives of their own. They were "the parents."
It never occurred to me as a child, or as an adult, that my parents were actually beyond upset and mortified at their behavior. I'd only been focusing on the damage "I perceived" was done to me. It never occurred to me that there may be some "adult details" that led up to my parents saying or doing something that created my wounds. I never remembered that they told me many times that they were really sorry, just like we tell our kids when we behave in an over-the-top-way. I only remembered the event and my kid-like translation of the event. I have no memory of their apology.
It's normal that adults remember the event and the apology. It's normal that kids skip over the apology and hold on to the wound. It's normal.
Still, my head was spinning. I wondered if there was anything I could do to lessen the impact of this normal emotional rhythm with my kids. Then it hit me that one thing I could do was forgive my parents. But as if on cue, I hit that wound-like place where I thought, "I can't forgive them; if I forgive them, isn't that letting them off the hook?"
As Nokuthula K. says, "I want to forgive, but can't forget."
What I've come to realize, and what every therapist will tell you, is forgiveness is about making yourself whole. Forgiveness gets rid of the fire in your belly. Forgiveness turns angry reactions back into compassion, empathy, and acceptance. Forgiveness isn't for the other person — it's for you. So how does forgiving your parents affect the relationship you'll have with your adult children?
Holding Hands With 3 Generations
When you forgive your parents, you begin experiencing a new kind of peace inside of you. Remember, forgiveness isn't for the other person — it's for you. When you're more peaceful, you're better able to respond. Since you aren't reacting, you cause fewer emotional wounds for your child. Then, when your child grows up and has a child of her own — your grandchild — she'll instinctively parent from a more peaceful, less reactive place than you did, and the generational cycle will have begun to heal.
I call this "holding hands with three generations." Each change you make as a parent affects the generation before you and the generations that come after you. That's a huge outcome from a simple act of forgiveness.
It will soon be Spring, a time when things begin to grow again. Consider planting some new emotional seeds and watch them grow into the loving relationships you always hoped you would have.
Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.