So many clients that I work with both as individuals and as parents have indicated that they can often forgive their young adult or spouse but find it difficult to forgive themselves. This is particularly true when it comes to parenting. One parent at a workshop said that “parenting is an inherent guilt trip.”
If our young adult is succeeding, we proudly share such information with friends and extended family with. On the other hand, if they are struggling, failing at school, work, relationships or having mental health or substance abuse problems, we may be embarrassed and keep such information to ourselves. We become introspective and search for something we did that might have contributed to our young adult’s struggles.
The result of harboring such thoughts is that we often withdraw from or sometimes attack and blame our young adult. It is painful to face the indictment we perceive in their behavior. Hurt and fear can come out as anger. Our suffering from guilt, shame, regret, fear, and anger becomes a wedge between our young adult and us. Both parties lose and sometimes the relationship can be damaged beyond repair. What’s a parent to do?
Apology and forgiveness are the antidotes to this painful dilemma. There may be a need to start with an apology in which you take responsibility for past actions that were hurtful and ask for forgiveness. But this needs to be followed by self-forgiveness, or you will carry this pain everywhere you go and not just with your young adult. So how does one go about forgiving oneself as a parent?
More than One Answer
There isn’t one answer to this question, and I would welcome comments from you on how you have faced parental guilt and found self-forgiveness.
- Separate the actions of the past which may be a legitimate source of guilt and remorse from the person. Doing something that you know in looking back was wrong doesn’t make you a bad person. Accept responsibility, apologize and forgive your actions but don’t keep beating yourself up.
- Let go. Most writers and experts in this field would make the argument that you can’t constantly live in the past. As such, we have to practice letting go of past actions. Apology and self-forgiveness are practices that enable us to let go.
- Show acceptance and self-compassion. Acknowledge that we have not been nor will ever be perfect parents either in our own or our young adult’s eyes. As we show compassion to ourselves as human beings who fall short, we are able to express this compassion to our young adults. Our compassion can mend relationships.
Do you have other experiences, suggestions or questions you would like to share? Please participate. Your voice is welcomed and needed. We’ll share your comments with other parents who come to the parentslettinggo.com website.