When I write, I keep a small painting of a mother holding a baby on my desk so I’m reminded to remain focused on love. Staying focused on love can be tough, kids do things and parents get mad. When anger and reactions happen, love can feel very far away.
Another time when love can feel very far away is when adults complain about their parents? Those 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 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 the time when wounds that can cause resentment and distance are created, so now is the time to think about this.
Years ago, while complaining 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?”
When I stopped crying, I 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 a life 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 they were really sorry, just like we say to our kids when we act 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.
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, one thing I could do was forgive my parents.
Then, as if on cue, I hit that wounded-place and thought, “I can’t forgive them, if I forgive them, isn’t that letting them off the hook?”
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 anger 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?
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.
Now that you’re more peaceful, you’re more 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 3 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 simply act of forgiveness.
It’s 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.