Forgiving Your Parents

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Forgiving Your Parents

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My dad is so unfair!" exclaimed Connor, age 17. Ever since he'd gotten his driver's license, he'd been enjoying driving over to his friend's home and even running errands for his mother. But his grades at school began suffering due to his lack of study.

His dad had talked to him previously about this problem and warned him that he would lose his driving privileges if he didn't bring his grades up. After seeing the latest report of Connor's continuing poor academic performance, his father announced that he would no longer be driving until his grades improved. Connor felt like he was being treated like a little child.

For Amanda, age 16, it's her mother who has her upset. "While I was at school, my mom snooped through my desk and found my diary and read it," she related. "Now Mom knows all this personal stuff about me. She said she read my diary because she was concerned about me. I've been really quiet lately, and she wanted to know what was going on in my life. But I think what she did was a horrible invasion of my privacy. I'll never forgive her for doing that!"

Complaints like these are all too common among teens. One or both of your parents may have done something that upset you, and you're having a hard time forgiving them for what they did. It could be due to any number of offenses—perceived or real. Your parents may seem overprotective or too strict, or perhaps their punishments seem extreme. Or it could be you've seen some very real shortcomings in your parents. Maybe your mom and dad do not follow through on their promises, lose their temper a lot or play favorites among you and your siblings.

(We're not dealing here with cases of actual abuse or abandonment. If that's happening, we encourage readers to seek competent counsel.)

The old adage, "Forgive and forget," may have popped into your head. It'd be great if you could do that—to let go of your anger, stop dwelling on what happened and move on. But forgiving is often easier said than done. Why is it so hard to do? "Being angry with someone is empowering. It makes us feel in control when someone has hurt us," replies Peter Kanaris, Ph.D. He is a clinical psychologist based in Long Island, New York, specializing in adolescent issues.

Still, forgiving is something you must do. Matthew 6:15 says, "If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (New American Standard Bible throughout). Forgiveness is something we must be willing to bestow on everybody we feel has wronged us if we are to have God's forgiveness ourselves.

When it comes to your parents, however, forgiving has special importance. Forgiving them is part of honoring and respecting them—something the Fifth Commandment instructs us to do (Exodus 20:12). If you truly hold your parents in high regard as you should, you will be willing to let go of anger and hurt when they disappoint you or make mistakes.

Furthermore, you need to reconcile with your parents and make peace so that you can live in harmony again. This may not be the easiest thing to do, but it can be done. Here are some suggestions for helping you forgive:

Understand what is causing you pain

When we are upset, sometimes emotions can get the best of us and take on a life all their own. In other words, if you get miffed about something your parents did and you hold onto those negative emotions for very long, they can start to "brew" in your mind. Before long, you feel much more agitated than warranted. Carefully examine your emotions to see if this is the case with you.

It may help you to write down exactly what's bothering you. What sequence of events led up to the conflict? How did you react? How did your parents respond? Do you feel worse now than when the offense first happened? Understanding what led up to you feeling offended will help you see whether you've "made a mountain out of a molehill" and should just forget about what happened, or whether there are specific issues you need to address with your parents.

Acknowledge your part in the problem

You'll be much more willing to forgive your parents for mistakes they make with you if you admit your shortcomings too. Connor—one of the teens mentioned earlier—did that and it really helped him patch things up with his father.

"After Dad grounded me, I was really upset with him. But then I started thinking about my part in the fight," he admits. "Dad was just trying to be helpful, but I was determined to show him that he didn't know as much about math as I did. I started arguing with him and let things get ugly. I should have just kept my mouth shut and reminded myself that Dad was giving up watching his favorite TV shows that night to try to help me out."

Remember that while your parents may indeed have flaws, you are not a flawless son or daughter, either.

Try to see things from your parents' perspective

You may not understand or even like all the decisions your parents make concerning you, but it's important that you at least try to see things from their point of view.

"That's hard to do," states Christine Nicholson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Sequim, Washington, specializing in teen and parent relationships. "You may not completely understand their decisions until you're an adult someday and have kids of your own. In the meantime, you need to give your parents room to be right. They've lived longer than you, and can't help but have certain insights that you don't have."

When parents say "No" to things like clothing choices, entertainment options, parties and dating, often they see potential dangers and negative consequences that teens don't readily see. Because you're not yet an adult, it's their responsibility to make a lot of these types of decisions for you. They want to keep you safe and raise you so that you will grow up to be a responsible, well-grounded individual. For parents, that is more important than your being cool or fitting in with the popular crowd at school.

"Your parents are doing the best they can," Dr. Nicholson adds. "Even if they might be a little overprotective or strict now and then, they really are trying to do what's best for you." It's much harder to stay mad at your mom and dad if you remember that.

Recognize who is being hurt by your choice not to forgive

If you refuse to forgive your parents, you not only hurt them, you also hurt yourself. "Refusing to forgive others makes your own life miserable," says Brett Laursen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University. "You lose a great deal of mental and physical energy each day just holding on to that anger—energy that could be used to do something constructive."

Chronic unwillingness to forgive is stressful, and is associated with anxiety-related disorders like heart disease and high blood pressure. Not only that, but, Dr. Laursen says, "staying mad and holding grudges can turn you into a very negative, angry person—someone others do not want to be around."

Everything just mentioned holds true for unforgiving attitudes in general. However, when you hold grudges against your parents, there are additional consequences. Specifically, Dr. Kanaris observes, "Communication starts to break down between you and your parents, a rift starts to develop, and that can grow bigger and bigger until you are totally alienated."

If that happens, you probably won't receive as much guidance, support and encouragement from Mom and Dad as you did in the past. That's not their doing though. "You've basically shut your parents out, and you will suffer for it," Dr. Kanaris says.

One way to prevent this from happening is to remember your parents' good qualities and all that they do for you, rather than dwell on their faults. You'll be less likely to do something to jeopardize the relationship you have with your parents if you keep in mind how much you need them.

Talk things out

Once you've thought through what happened and you know what mistakes you made and how tough life would be if you didn't make up with your parents, you need to have a chat with them.

But don't just blurt out something the minute your parents walk in the door in the evening or when they're busy doing something else. This is something you want to plan in advance. Ask your parents if they could set aside some time to talk when you can have their undivided attention. Figure out what you want to say ahead of time. You want your parents to know that you've really thought about the issue being discussed, so choose your words carefully.

Your words should be respectful and not offensive. Proverbs 15:1 tells us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Keep a calm tone of voice, and do not use sarcasm, yell, accuse, insult your parents or put them down in any way.

Use "I" statements to communicate how you feel, rather than "you" statements, which can sound argumentative and accusatory. For example, telling your mom, "You always embarrass me when my friends come over" can have a different tone from "I really feel embarrassed when you make jokes about me in front of my friends."

Try to understand your parents' perspective on the situation too. If your parents start telling you their side of the story, listen carefully. You may learn some facts during your talk that shed new light on the situation—and make your parents' actions seem less horrible.

Sure, it all sounds like a tall order. Examining your own actions, trying to put yourself in your parents' shoes, opening up a dialogue with them, patching up the relationship and reconciling—that's asking a lot! But keep in mind, forgiving your parents is not something that's optional. You need to have a good relationship with your mom and dad, and they need to know you honor and respect them. Taking the steps that lead to forgiveness will help you do just that! VT