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If there’s one thing we humans have in common, it’s our need for forgiveness (Romans 3:23).  Thankfully, the Heavenly Father offers us just that (1 John 1:9).  Sadly, we aren’t very good at forgiving each other.

Rule number four in the Parenting Short List is essential if you want an open, loving, guilt-free relationship with your child when they are older.

4.  Give your child a clean slate.  For some reason, it’s easier for us to forgive other people, even other people’s children, than it is for us to forgive our own kids sometimes.  Why is that?

I think it’s because when we forgive other people, we can excuse them, hit the delete button on our memory key board, and move on.  It’s up to them to grow and learn from their own mistakes and our loving response.  If they continue to make mistakes and treat us badly, we can distance and protect ourselves to a certain degree and still extend God’s love and mercy.

It’s not the same with our kids.  After we forgive them, there’s still the job of training, teaching, and molding to be done.  We can’t just hit the delete button and pretend it never happened, can we?

Yes and no.

The choices that our children make must inform our parenting decisions.  When making rules, setting boundaries, and determining future consequences, we would be foolish, even neglectful, not to take our children’s past mistakes, tendencies, and judgment lapses into account for their own good and potential growth.

The key is to separate the factual past from the emotional present.   Your mental self might have to keep a file on your children, but your heart doesn’t have to.  When you forgive your children, wipe it clean for your sake and theirs and let them know that their choices do not affect your love for them, your commitment to them, or your desire to be close to them.

How?  Here are a few tips.

  • When your children apologize, look them in the eye and say, “I forgive you.”  Here’s the hard part (for me, anyway).  Don’t say “but…,” just, “I forgive you.”
  • Begin every day with a genuine smile and an intentional display of affection to let your children know that your heart has forgotten what happened yesterday.   Our kids are fourteen and eighteen, and we still start each day with back scratches and hugs, no matter what happened the night before.
  • Avoid judgmental adjectives.  If you catch yourself saying something like, “You are so….,” stop yourself.  Stick to the facts.
  • Control your emotions.  Sometimes, it’s necessary to let children see that their choices can cause others pain, but do not use emotion to manipulate, a harmful behavior too easily learned.
  • Do not wield the past like a weapon or guilt your child into submission.  Bring up the past only when absolutely necessary for instruction or explanation.  We all know that choices become habits, and habits become character traits.  If and when it looks like a poor choice might become a habit, sit down with your child, pull out the past in love, and share what you see happening.   Once the talk is over, lock the past away until your next intentional talk.

Where forgiveness is concerned, it’s especially important to do unto your children as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12) because that’s exactly what will happen sooner or later.  Whether we like it or not, the example that we set for our children in the area of forgiveness affects both their ability to forgive others and their ability to accept God’s forgiveness.

Next time, we’ll discuss the importance of telling your children the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Don’t miss it.