“I sorry.” When those words are delivered by the high-pitched voice of a child, they melt you. Of course I’ll forgive you, you think. How could I not?
Even if there is a huge mess behind her.
Bookcases are knocked over.
The dog is barking.
The cat is perched on top of the chandelier.
A team of people are unrolling “condemned tape” across your house.
But when you hear “I sorry” and see those big brown eyes, the anger and frustration lessen a little bit. Sure, they may be staring at a corner for a while or be contained in their room, but you’ll forgive them. There’s a reason God makes them so cute at that age.
But as they grow older, “sorry” gets a little more difficult to digest.
Like when your middle schooler looks you in the face and lies.
Or when she says she’s going one place, and ends up at another.
Or you stumble across a social media account and find your child has been bashing you.
Or your high schooler wrecks the car.
Or in a teenage hormonal rage, he or she took a verbal shot at your most vulnerable point.
There are times when your child’s actions will feel more personal.
There are moments when their words will cut you deeply.
And you’ll find yourself in a unique position.
You may not want to forgive them.
In fact, it will feel as painful, if not more, as the betrayal of a close friend.
You’ll be sad.
You’ll be mad.
You’ll feel like a failure.
You’ll feel like they’ve failed you.
You’ll wonder if you can ever trust them again.
You may find yourself scrambling, wondering where do we go from here?
Forgiveness won’t come so easily.
Those big brown eyes won’t make it all go away.
Your child should have known better.
He or she should have made different choices.
The pangs of guilt, preying on your own parental insecurities, will whisper in the back of your head.
I wish I could offer an easy answer here.
But when you are that hurt, one thing becomes painfully clear, forgiving is a choice.
And so you have to choose to forgive.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for their actions.
Or that trust isn’t damaged.
But you choose to forgive.
Because if you don’t, it will destroy you.
And it will destroy your relationship with your child.
You choose to forgive the hurt.
You choose to forgive the disappointment.
You choose to extend grace.
And you also choose to be wise. To have perspective on the situation and be the grownup. You try to determine what needs to happen differently to avoid being in that situation again.
Even when your heart is grieving.
I don’t think there’s ever been a time I identified more with the heart of God than when my child did or said something that wounded me, and I still chose to forgive.
And when I do, I also show my child how to forgive. Because when we have experienced forgiveness, it makes it easier to forgive.
I don’t want to turn this into a place to rant, or even a forum to vent about what your teen did. So I’m going to ask some simple questions that may be helpful to other parents of teens:
What are some ways you personally have chosen to forgive your child? How did you take “the high road” and forgive even when you were hurting?
Tim Walker works at Orange and is a husband, father of three boys, editor, writer—well, you get the idea. More of Tim’s words can be found at his blog, www.timswords.com.