Forgiveness is a hard virtue to teach. It requires that we lay down our right to be angry over an offense committed against us—a tough sell in a world where we’re encouraged to “look out for number one.” But there’s one sense in which choosing forgiveness is looking out for number one: it gives you a chance to be happy, and to release the burden of those hard feelings you’re carrying around.
As a mom, this is one of the major reasons you should want your children to be forgiving people! Bottom line: those who know how to forgive and move on are happier people with better relationships. Here are some ways you can model this important life lesson for your children in everyday circumstances.
1. Show forgiveness to your children. Sometimes our kids’ behavior doesn’t just break a rule, it breaks our hearts (or makes us mad as a hornet). Of course, we have the responsibility in all circumstances to address and correct the behavior, and to enact disciplinary measures when needed. But your child knows the difference between discipline given in anger and discipline given in an effort to help them. If you are still angry or hurt with your child, take some time before you engage with them about consequences. If they are aware of your anger or frustration, proactively offer your forgiveness before you proceed with correction. Even if they don’t seem to understand that they need your forgiveness, offer it anyway. One day they will.
2. Model forgiveness in your marriage. Your children have a front-row seat to the lengthy play that is your marriage. They see the miscommunication, the milk dad agreed to pick up and forgot, the laundry you promised to make time for and never got around to. And they are watching to see how each of you reacts when the other makes a mistake. In every one of these instances—and certainly in the bigger marriage crises—you have a choice. Each time you choose to forgive your spouse and work together to move forward, you’re teaching your children a priceless lesson.
3. Practice forgiveness in community and school relationships. That teacher or coach who dropped the ball and upset your child? Forgive them. Especially if it was an isolated incident. (Ex: “I know Coach Nelson embarrassed you today, but that’s not like him. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Let’s forgive him, and move on. If it happens again, we can talk to him about it.”) The church staff member or committee member who hurt your feelings or ruffled your feathers? Same thing. Your kids hear you talk about these things, and are more aware of the small dramas in your life than you probably know. Handle them in a way that you’d want them to emulate.
4. Show forgiveness in extended family relationships. Some of the longest-standing grudges in world history are held by members of the same family. If your parents divorced and your childhood was rocky, you may still be dragging around the baggage. Your prior failed marriage may have left you with hurts that you’ve never laid down. For your own sake, and for the benefit of your kids, call it quits on being angry and let it go. You’ll be glad you did.
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years