Teaching Our Children by Forgiving Ourselves

The hardest parts of our ordinary days can mean the most

On the first cool morning after a long, hot summer, I pulled up the covers and snuggled in with my little ones, feeling a sense of optimism and anticipation as autumn approached. The start of a new school year has always felt like a clean slate to me, a chance to implement new routines and start off right. This year was no exception.

I made lists: Rent a cello. Buy new rain gear. Sign up for art class. Arrange after-school sitters. Plan a schedule for nightly dinners and chores. (No more dishes in the sink and piles of laundry!) Attend back-to-school potlucks and meetings.

I also planned to shift back from a late summer bedtime to a more reasonable lights out before the first stay of school. I had images of organized afternoons with healthy snacks. I pictured us doing homework right after school and forming other good habits right off the bat.

But two weeks into the school year, I found myself dragging my oldest out of bed after too little sleep and handing the kids breakfast in a Ziploc bag to eat in the car while yelling at everyone to hurry up and get their shoes on.

Most mothers are familiar with the feeling of trying to keep everything running smoothly so you have happy kids and an ordered home. But most of us also know what it's like to break down when we reach our limit. We keep pushing ourselves to do it all until we find ourselves yelling at the kids, slamming a door, or breaking into tears when there is yet another mess to clean up.

What many of us don't think about is that most moms are going through the same thing. These are the taboo moments we keep to ourselves as we exchange pleasantries at drop-off in the morning. We all have our own unique way of pushing ourselves too far and reaching our limit. And we all know what it's like to be overwhelmed and make mistakes. We all experience humanness and imperfection.

But we also need to forgive ourselves and teach our children to forgive themselves as well. It is absolutely right for our children to see that we are not perfect – and know that we don't expect them to be either. As my older son grabbed his backpack and headed out of the car after a rocky morning when we both acted in ways we regretted, I paused and looked him in the eye, just for a moment, and said, "Sorry, buddy. I love you." He looked a moment longer, gave me a half smile, and then walked off. He knew I didn't need him to forgive me or say anything back. He also knew we were both going to be ok. 

Without upheaval and the imperfect moments, we don't have the opportunity for repair. Sometimes the moment of repair is a heart to heart with an older child at bedtime when we get the chance to apologize without expecting anything in return. Sometimes it's just a pause and a look that says, "I love you, and we are going to be just fine."

These moments are not only forgivable, but good teaching moments for our children. We show them what it is to be imperfect and demonstrate how to forgive ourselves and each other. We show them how to stay connected, even when things are hard. This education in reconnecting after a rupture makes for an authentic, empathetic bond with our kids as our children grow and builds the foundation for healthy relationships that will serve them well in the years to come.