My mom, Sheri, taught us many important skills as kids. But there’s one that I know I must pass on to my own: forgiveness. Growing up in a family of three girls, we didn’t fight too much, but when we did, we did a good job of it. I can’t quite remember what we squabbled over but I do recall, in vivid detail, how my mom handled it. Now, as a mother of 4 myself, I look back and slow clap her efforts. They were 100% on point. And I feel like parents everywhere need to know her strategy of teaching forgiveness in the home.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t do a lot right as a parent. But if there’s one thing I know I do well; it’s teaching forgiveness in the home. And I owe that to my mom. This is something I don’t just want to instill in my kids, I need to. It’s no secret that the society in which we are raising our children needs a lot more love and a lot less bitterness. So, if I can teach my kids to be a little more forgiving in this life, then I will have done my part to raise decent humans. Thus, in our family, we have adopted Sheri’s strategy. It works for us, and I think it could work for your family, too.
The year is 1989.
I remember being around the age of 5 or 6 when I got into it with my younger sister. We were fighting over a toy- maybe a Barbie or cassette tape? Anyway, it got to the point where we were pulling at each other and she hit me. Not super hard, but enough to make me wail and alert my mother to our mischief. I remember her swooping in, and doing what she did best.
Teaching Forgiveness in the Home: Sheri’s 3 Step Process
Step 1: Separate to Forgive
First, she separated us. She placed us in two matching chairs, no more than six feet apart from one another, separated by a rather large and obstructing china cabinet. At the time, it felt terribly inconvenient, but now, I smile, knowing that she was wisely peeling us apart to diffuse the problem. It was a kind of time out to cool down. You can’t forgive someone if you’re still mad.
Step 2: Sit to Forgive
Next, she would leave us there for a bit. While it felt like eternity, we would wait, and maybe peek about the corner of the cabinet to see how the other was faring. She would occasionally pop over to see if our anger or frustration had simmered. Sometimes we would talk it out. Looking back, the mental health therapist in me is proud. She smartly encouraged us to sit with our emotion(s). You see, it’s important to learn to label the emotion that you’re feeling in a given moment and to recognize that the emotion itself is not a “bad” thing, although it might be uncomfortable. Raising emotionally healthy kids includes teaching the child to label and allow tough emotions to pass, without fueling them.
Step 3: Say It to Forgive
Once our hot little heads had cooled, my mom dragged one child-filled chair to meet the other. She would ask us to look into the other person’s eyes. When ready, we were expected to apologize and say “I love you”. This was the uncomfortable and intimate part. It was awkward and almost always resulted in laughter. But, it encouraged empathy and empathy is critical when teaching forgiveness to children. And made us feel responsible for our behavior toward the other. It’s amazing what a little facial reading with your sibling does to your internal moral compass. After this step, it was easy to see that the sibling was one thousand times more valuable than the object we were fighting over. In the end, it was impossible to withhold forgiveness.
Present Day: 2019
Fast forward to present day and if you hang around our family long enough, you’ll see me pull out Sheri’s strategy. I may not have the poise that she did when she used it on us, but I see it working. I see how my five year-old can’t stay angry at her brother as she accepts his distracted apology. It melts my heart when my two middle children begrudgingly envelope each other, post-brawl, in a hug that quickly escalates into giggles. They may still be too young to fully grasp the concept of forgiveness, but they’re getting there.