Some of us had idyllic upbringings: a father who would whoosh in from work, happy to see his children, a mother who was able to stay home and loved devoting her energy to her family.
But a lot of us had less than that. Maybe criticism, yelling, or worse colors your childhood memories. Maybe there was a sense that you were in the way, or you remember being ignored.
In an article written for the Ensign, Sherrie Johnson writes, Strangely, when we probe the lives of the most successful adults, we often find that they too have had emotional scars from childhood. But instead of letting these scars fester and infect, they have forgiven their parents and gotten on with living their own lives? (59).
Forgiving your parents for things they did years ago can lift a burden. Forgiving can allow you to move on and be the parent you were meant to be. You may also find it useful to combine a willingness to forgive with building on your parents' strengths.
Seeing the way you were parented as a stepping stone to improvement means forgiving your parents for their parenting mistakes--just as we hope our children will forgive us for ours.
Their heart was in the same place as ours . . . the right place. They had the same disadvantage that we have . . . imperfect parents.
We can be the generation where many of the negative or unproductive parenting practices will be retired, permitting the generations that follow us to be more effective.
At some point most of us do need to forgive our parents for some aspects of our upbringing. Unless we do, we feel unnecessary pain and suffering and often transmit our own emotional scars to our children. Harboring bad feelings can also impede our spiritual progress? (Johnson 59).
President James E. Faust shared in a conference talk, If we can find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have caused us hurt and injury, we will rise to a higher level of self-esteem and well-being? (68).
But of you it is required to forgive all men?
Forgive your parents. The emotions tied to remembering negative elements of the past can be set aside with the simple act of forgiveness. When the hurt is gone, real learning can begin.
Forgive yourself. Making mistakes is a part of life, part of growth, and a part of parenting.
We can do something unique in our parenting. We can talk to our children about our mistakes and ask them to forgive those mistakes.
Having our children work with us as we hone our parenting skills can show them how much we care and want to do well.
Share With Your Children
Would your children find it interesting (those that can have a conversation about this) if we were to do the following:
- commit to our children that we will improve and change?
- explain deficiencies we see in ourselves to children and ask for their help in remembering that we want to change them?
- emphasize that improvement might be gradual?
- commit to being consistent?
You may choose to involve your family in areas of your parenting you want to improve. One father struggled with feeling neglected as a boy and promised himself he wouldn't work the same long hours his father used to. Soon enough, though, the now-grown man found himself occupying himself with projects around the house that took a lot of time away from his children. He told his children he wanted to change, and asked them to remind him that they wanted him to play with them and be with them.
Some people enjoy having a "let it go" ritual. You could list some of the major hurts you've held on to, then have a ritual where you let the list go in some significant way: burn the list (be careful!), tear it into shreds and let it float away, whatever helps you mark the fact that you forgiving and are letting go of the hurt associated with your upbringing.
If your parents are still alive, create new positive experiences. As an adult, you have more control over your relationship with parents. These experiences can become the ones you remember and dwell on in the future. The new? relationship can become so satisfying that the far-away bad experiences are forgotten. The present becomes more real than the past? (Johnson 59).
Sometimes we just can't seem to get past the past. If there are things you'd like to work through with a professional, there's no time like the present. Ask friends for good resources, or ask your bishop for competent counselors in your area who can help you forgive your parents.
Analyze the past with greater empathy. Try to see situations from your parents' positions. Realize that they did the best they could under the circumstances. Now it is up to you to accept that fact. Often time and personal growth will allow you to see how you contributed to the problems. You can then see what you did wrong. Often you need to seek forgiveness from your parents as much as to forgive them? (Johnson 59).
In the Book of Mormon we read about "retaining a remission of sins"? Likewise, we have to "retain" forgiveness. It can be hard when we feel we've forgiven, but then are faced with the same behavior from a parent. It helps to realize that forgiveness may not be a one-time event, but something we may have to work at "retaining"?
Build a "bank of memories" to draw on, a written account that could be part of a journal or a life history, or perhaps a separate notebook you can turn to when you begin thinking negatively. Fill this "bank" with as many good memories as possible, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Focusing on positive memories can help unhappy ones diminish in significance? (Johnson 59).
President Hinckley said in a recent general conference, "Somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles that can happen in no other way"?
Sherrie Johnson writes, "Forgiving those close to us for faults in our relationships is possibly the most difficult kind of forgiveness. But it is an important key to a happy life and is absolutely essential to eternal progression"? (59).
As we forgive our parents for their shortcomings and ourselves for ours, we can break negative cycles of behavior that may have been handed down from generation to generation.
Through confronting our past and forgiving where needed, we can become the parents we are really meant to be.
Faust, James E. "The Healing Power of Forgiveness"? Ensign, May (2007): 67-69.
Hinckley, Gordon B. "Forgiveness" Ensign, Nov (2005): 81.
Johnson, Sherrie. "A Difficult Kind of Forgiving" Ensign, Jan. (1985): 59.