In my third guest post, Holly Redding Cooper shares her thoughts on reconciliation, forgiveness, and parenting.
My oldest son will soon participate in the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation. It seems like a lofty one for a seven year old and one that I never really understood or valued in my own spiritual life as a Catholic. But as I listened to the teachings that prepared him, it spoke volumes to me as both a parent and a human being. The focus is on the release our failings, the task of making amends (through prayer or action), the forgiveness of acts, and the intention to do right.
When I heard these words and shared them with my child, I was struck by their value for me as a parent. Religious context aside, the word reconciliation has powerful connotations. According to Merriam Webster, it means: “the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement,” or “the process of finding a way to make two different ideas, acts, etc., exist or be true at the same time.” This made me think about the reconciliation of the selves that simultaneously exist within me: The parent, professional, and partner I desire to be and the human I am. What if I offered myself that same reconciliation? And how might I model that level of self-acceptance for my children?
When I think of my favorite parenting moments, I am tempted to tell you about the times when I bake with my children or have a dance party in the kitchen. But if I am truthful, the most meaningful moments are often in the aftermath of parenting failure, when I take the time to reflect on my own behavior and acknowledge that I wish I had done things differently. It is the moment when I hold my child’s hand and say, “Mama is sorry that I raised my voice. I do not want to speak to you like that. I will try to do better. We will try to do better.” In my children’s eyes I see pure forgiveness, because children do not understand perfect. They understand mistakes.
When I think about reconciliation in this new way, I think about finding a way to accept and honor the different parts of myself: who I aspire to be and the reality of my own humanity. I want to find a way to accept my whole self as genuine, valid, and a source of learning. It is in the acknowledgment of my failing with a sorry heart and the intention to do better that I can forgive and free myself from guilt that prevents me from growth as a parent and as a person. This acceptance of myself helps my children release themselves from the idea of perfection and instead models for them the intention of doing and being better.
It is a powerful moment as a parent to offer an honest apology to your own child. The grace is in the reparation. The beauty is in the forgiveness. The healing is to model to your child, “We can try again.” Nobody can wipe a slate clean like the heart of child. As parents, it is a gift to offer our own humanity to our children and to receive self-acceptance in return.
Holly Redding Cooper is a clinical social worker, wife, and mother to three fantastic boys. She has worked with children, adults, and families in medical social work for 12 years. Her role as a parent is constantly evolving and guiding her social work practice.
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