I entered my son's bedroom to find him wrapped in a
blanket, his lovey in his hands and his favorite book on his lap. Tears rimmed his baby blue eyes, threatening
to fall at any moment. Minutes earlier, he made a hasty Irish exit in the middle of a debate about the
grand opening of a new car hotel. Although he was only gone a few minutes, it was clear that a lot went
through his mind during that time.
"It looks like you're feeling really sad right now," I
whispered as I cuddled up next to him.
"Did you get a little
overwhelmed when you guys had trouble working together?"
I hugged him close as the tears made their way down his cheeks and onto
my chest. When I felt him relax in my
arms, I uttered the three words that changed everything for the better:
My kids have very different personalities. Most of the time, this works to their
advantage. They see the world through
different lenses, and that enables them to learn from one another and help each
other out. Sometimes, they dig in
their heels. While these standoffs don't
have much of an effect on my daughter, my son tends to feel very big
feelings. He knows when he makes a mistake,
and he internalizes his feelings of guilt and remorse.
Parents talk a lot about apologies and forgiveness. "Say sorry," we tell a child when he takes a toy
without asking or forgets to wait a turn. "We forgive you," we respond, speaking for the child who was
wronged. We have the best intentions
when we engage in these little conversations involving apologies and
forgiveness, but there's more to forgiveness than acceptance of a forced
apology on the playground.
We talk a lot about the process of forgiveness in our
house. What does it mean to truly
forgive? What do we have to do to reach
a place of forgiveness? We talk about
it, but we also practice it.
Testing limits is part of growing up and differentiating.
Those three little words — I forgive you — might seem small
and insignificant, but they are three very powerful words. In using these words, we choose to let go of
anger and other heated emotions. We
choose to move forward together.
Children hear a lot of feedback about what they're doing
wrong and what they shouldn't do. They
hear a lot "no." They hear a lot of, "Why
did you ...?" They hear a lot of, "Say
But what they don't hear
enough of is, "I forgive you."
Testing limits is part of growing up and
differentiating. Making mistakes is only
human. While we might say that to
our children at the end of a long day, what we really need to do is practice
Kids carry around their emotions in different ways. Some seem to wear their feelings on their
sleeves while others stuff them down somewhere deep inside. Either way, when we practice forgiveness with
our children, we give them permission to feel big feelings, make mistakes along
the way and begin again. When we use
words of forgiveness with our children, we teach them to do the same.
My son took in my words that day and decided to try
again. We walked down the stairs, hand-in-hand, without saying much of anything at all. When he found his sister waiting for him, they said, "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" and hugs and laughs.