If someone makes a mistake that you cannot forgive, you will no longer have trust in their ability to make decisions, especially decisions involving your life. We all have vulnerabilities. We all make bad decisions sometimes or speak out in anger. Our children see these things. We have taught them right from wrong from the very beginning. In order for them to trust anything that comes out of our mouths, we have to be able to live by the same moral code that we set for them and we have to humble ourselves to being simply human in their presence.
How forgiveness relates to trust:
If, no matter what they do, your child cannot earn your forgiveness for small mistakes, they will begin to feel worthless. They will also never learn how to truly offer their own forgiveness to others, including you. Once they grow into the teenage years and start to see for themselves that even parents make mistakes, they will find criticism in your choices the way you used to find in theirs and forgiveness will be very hard to achieve. Without the ability to forgive those mistakes, there will be little trust in your relationship.
Saying “I’m sorry”
Saying “I’m sorry” is admitting that you are wrong. Many parents think that to say “I’m sorry” to a child puts them in control of a situation. They think that if you admit being wrong, then you are also admitting that the child was right, when that may not be the case. Most adults get this same sensation when speaking to any other adult who admits to being wrong. We make jokes about it and tease people close to us when we were right and they were not. Too often, we assume that this is a natural reaction to the right and wrong debate and our children must get that elated feeling when we express being wrong as well.
The thing is society teaches us how to feel giddy when we are proven right. We learn that being wrong is bad. In reality, being wrong is human nature. It is the exact force that we learn from. If we are never wrong, then how will we ever learn what NOT to do? Saying I’m sorry does not admit defeat to another person (in this case, your child.) It opens up the door to share a personal vulnerability. We are all human. We all make mistakes.
Apologies and Self-Esteem
If you grew up thinking that it was never okay to make a mistake, you don’t likely think very highly of yourself deep down. If you burn the toast in the morning and think about it all day, it is probably because you had very high expectations of yourself as a child. Some of us are born that way all on our own. But having parents who do not forgive small mistakes will lead you down the same path as well. If you’re irritated all day because of small mistakes like that toast, forgetting you needed gas in the car and all the other little mistakes we all make from time to time, then you are really beating yourself up over nothing.
We don’t want out kids to grow up feeling worthless because of burnt toast. We want them to know that everyone on the planet will make mistakes. Some mistakes are big, others are small and happen a lot. If we find forgiveness for other people’s mistakes, we will also find forgiveness for our own mistakes much easier.
When you show your child what forgiveness looks like, to give and to receive, they will model it back to you. When we foster good self-esteem in our children by helping them see that being human is normal, we are building them up. They will grow to know that they can trust you to always find the good in them, even if others around them fail to see it.
Unconditional love is just that – love without conditions. Withholding forgiveness for mistakes is placing a condition upon your love. If you want the unconditional love to be given back, you have to be willing to show forgiveness and also to receive forgiveness for your own mistakes. You have to say you’re sorry and show that you value their forgiveness and trust in you the same way they value yours in them.
You can ask forgiveness without denying yourself the respect you deserve as a parent. “I am sorry that I yelled when I was upset earlier. I don’t like they way you behaved at the table, but I could have used a different voice instead of yelling. Moms don’t always use their best manners when they get frustrated, just like kids don’t always use their best manners when they are excited. I will try to work on my tone of voice. Will you try to work on your table manners as well?” You are offering your apology, without undermining your authority as a parent, maintaining the family rule, asking their forgiveness and offering yours all at the same time. You have shown that you both made a mistake in your behavior with each other and that you both will be trying to recognize those things in the future.
Consistency is the key to any behavior modification, including giving and accepting forgiveness. You have to work toward making forgiveness a recurring theme in your parenting style. Offer forgiveness to them for their wrongs when they show true remorse. Offer it as an example even when they don’t show remorse. “I know you don’t think what happened today was wrong. I know it was, and I think you’ll realize that in time. I forgive you. We all make mistakes. I hope that you’ll think about it and consider again whether you feel your actions were justified.”
If you are dependable in offering and asking forgiveness, it will become a part of life for your family. They will place a higher value on truth, trust, justice, and honesty. They will expect better of themselves because you have clearly defined what is right and wrong. You will also have shown them that it is okay to learn the hard way because there is a soft place to fall when they do.
Forgiving Others; Forgiving Yourself
If you did not grow up in a very forgiving home, you probably have very little experience in forgiving yourself. Once you make it a habit to show your children forgiveness, you need to make it a habit to forgive yourself. If you only model one, you will not be taken seriously. If you expect perfection from yourself, and never afford room for your own mistakes, then the message to your children is that only children make mistakes worth forgiving. That will erase all the hard work you have put into helping them understand the human nature of the learning process.
Work on personal forgiveness so that it shows. If you spill a glass of milk on the table, try not to grumble at your self as if you are better than that. Yes, you should know how to manage a table without dumping a glass, but we all do it sometimes. Use self-talk if you must to audibly explain that every once in a while we all knock over a glass.
If you notice that your children become lackadaisical about their mistakes because forgiveness is so abundant, help remind them that with learning comes responsibility. When we make a mistake, we should also make a note to ourselves of what went wrong so that we can work to make a better choice next time.
Using forgiveness unconditionally with your children will lend more trust to your relationship. Trust in you will build their self-esteem, and a good self-esteem will lend itself to finding forgiveness for others in their adult lives. Forgiveness is very important to trust in the parent – child relationship. Without forgiveness, there can be no trust, and without trust, what kind of relationship do you have with your children?