As a parent of two children, there are countless hours within the family life where one child has hurt the feelings of their siblings, stolen something, eaten their candy, touched them when they told them “no”, stayed in their space when they are trying to be alone, and the stories go on and on. I began to hear countless approaches of parenting to try and instill “Forgiveness” and unfortunately, I found many of these attempts to be forced. The most typical (and my chosen course of action) was telling (not inviting) one child to apologize to the other. Something about my approach always left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Whenever I had personally experienced very real moments of forgiveness, as receiver or giver, it was never forced. Forcing doesn’t allow a person to experience their true emotions in the moment. So we began telling our kids, “when you feel like it, it would be great if you could forgive your brother”. Well, we all know they go on and forget and I wasn’t satisfied with the lack of empathy it seemed to inspire within my children. Nor did it allow the victim to have their feelings or voice heard.
I heard of people forcing their kids to hold hands, or being taped together, etc; until an apology was given and accepted. But I saw this as only teaching my kids to stay in an unhealthy situation, one that was not expressing love or mutual respect. Not to mention the stubbornness of most children could leave a parent waiting for an hour or so, and in those moments of desperation in trying out one of these scenarios, it became clear that the misery had expanded to include another person. ME! I witnessed my own kid squirm her way out of the “forced forgiveness” by making fishy lips and giggly saying please forgive me, pls,pls pls…”. While this lightened the tension in the room and allowed everyone to go about their business, I recalled too many moments where humor was an escape from the very real emotions or repeated offences in my own life. Eventually, bitterness or resentment will take over and no one would believe your apologies when humor is your catalyst.
After a good discussion with my husband, he suggested that we teach the kids to say “I FORGIVE YOU, BUT IT’S NOT OKAY”. This was great! This statement allowed the immediate victim to be heard and express what words or actions were hurtful (and as children do, they always spoke the latter half quite firmly and loudly) and “I forgive you” was usually expressed with tenderness. There were MANY times the kids required Nathan and I to say the same to them or to one another. No surprise there, to realize it was still not easy to say at times even as grown-ups.
What I really have appreciated, is it has allowed us to address the issue at hand. Oftentimes, this statement opened up short conversations about respecting someones wishes, their space, the word “no”, someone’s feelings (even if it doesn’t make sense to you or you would re-act differently). Like so many confrontations where we offend one another back and forth, we got in the practice of running this statement thru for each offence within that particular exchange or fight. I like to think, it has allowed the kids to have great self-awareness for their actions, their words, and their thoughts. I have often wondered if this statement would prove as fruitful an exercise in our schools? and perhaps even at work?