Forgiveness and Grace in Parenting

forgiving handsI was reminded of the value of forgiveness by a blog written by Dr. Walt Larimore. It includes a short test to tell if you have forgiven someone and here is the link if you are interested in taking it.

It points out the emotional resonance of forgiveness and whether we have really dealt with that when we think we have forgiven someone. I tested myself with memories of my father and found that there was only the shadow of emotion which used to exist there, so I guess I have actually forgiven him for being the person he was (and wasn’t) in my life. That is a good thing.

There were other people I thought of that were more emotionally charged and I will have to work on those. Make no mistake, forgiving is hard work. It is so much easier to hold that little snake to your breast and nurture it from time to time, wrapping the kernel of wrong or resentment with more and more layers like a toxic pearl.

Just like any other toxic substance, however, it will eventually damage you.

I think that forgiveness is intimately tied to the concept of grace, or “giving grace,” and in my parenting experience, I have seen the incredibly powerful effect of grace on children.  

When our older daughter ended her middle school years and was entering high school, she hit some rough waters. Too many distractions, too much change all at once and her personal learning style collided into a heap of angst, anger, and frustration. To be frank…we got scared.

She had always been a top student, a great kid and easy to love and raise in so many ways. The person looking back at us from those big, blue eyes was not the girl we thought we knew. We began to fear that this was the beginning of some large and potentially dangerous rebellion and we reacted in our own personal ways.

I retreated and my husband flipped into problem-solving mode and we both got angry. It was exactly the wrong thing to do. Dr. Stephen Covey says, “The more emotional they are, the less you should be talking.” We didn’t remember that important lesson in the stress of the moment and my husband and daughter entered what we now refer to as “the death spiral.”

The death spiral is a seductively easy path for caring parents to slip into and it starts when you get angry with a child for their bad behavior. Consequently, in that frame of mind, every small slight or tiniest failing in the child gets magnified and as you become more angry on a regular basis with them…they get angry with you because you are not being fair and they know it. Anger begets anger and disappointments beget disappointment until you are looking at each other across a very stormy chasm and no love or light is getting through the chaos.

Have you ever been there?  Are you there now?

There is an answer, and my husband found it. He decided that this course of action was going nowhere good and he unraveled the death spiral with grace. He demonstrated love and gave grace to our daughter. Undeserved, unasked for grace was the answer.

How do you forgive and give grace? I think it is very different and highly personal for each parent, but if you have paid attention and know what your child’s love language is…you will know what to do that will tell him or her loud and clear that you love them, forgive them, and hope they will forgive you, too.

My husband and I went out of our way to do nice and meaningful things for our daughter, to catch her doing things right and praise them, and to listen more than we talked. We fell back in love with our little girl and the woman she was becoming and that summer she had the most wonderful, transforming moment on the top of a mountain with her church youth group. She came back more centered and focused on the future and we relished listening to her plans.

Do we all still get angry or frustrated with each other? You bet we do. But we know what cures the “death spiral” now and we will never forget it.

Wishing you forgiveness, peace, and most of all, grace.

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