My parents were not perfect parents.
I am not a perfect parent.
Every day that I parent, I am humbled as I face my own failures.
Every day that I parent, I am more able to grant grace to my own parents for what I so often perceived as their failures.
I was raised in a very conservative home. Like many (if not all) of you, I don’t agree with every decision my parents made. They made a lot of rules for our family. Some of those rules ended up having negative impacts on our family in the long-term. Many of their other decisions had benefits I greatly appreciate–now even more than I did then.
I didn’t have terrible parents: they were (and are) great parents! But they are human, and therefore bound to make mistakes. As a parent now myself, I know I’m already (unwittingly) making decisions my children will someday have to forgive.
While I don’t want to minimize the experiences of my peers who had truly abusive parents, I don’t believe that was the case in most families, at least in my circles. By and large, my friends and I had parents who loved us and truly wanted to raise us well. They were often first-generation Christians, and certainly first-generation homeschoolers, and they were figuring it out as they went along. Were they sometimes reactionary, or operating out of fear of man? Yes. But the vast majority of their decisions were made in love, after a lot of prayer and conversation, and they truly wanted something better for their children.
I think that my generation does more harm than good by harping on the mistakes our parents made. If we want to be a generation of grace, then we must start by extending grace to those closest to us: our parents.
Sometimes it’s hard to let go of hurts. There are things from years ago that I would like to hash out with my parents, and in my short-sightedness, I’d like an apology and an admission that I was right. But what purpose would that serve? Occasionally it is very important to get to the bottom of things, especially if they are current points of contention in your relationship. Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean sweeping things under the rug.
However, to keep a running list of ways you’ve been hurt, as I’m sometimes tempted to do, is like tearing a scab off a healing wound. Perhaps time and distance from the incident really is enough. Maybe your current good relationship is worth not damaging over something that can’t be changed anyway. I’m learning that often my need for “closure” is just my pride, wanting to be acknowledged that I was right. And that kind of pride doesn’t need to be encouraged in my heart!
I need to give my parents the kind of grace they gave me as a child. I need to give my parents the kind of grace I hope my children will give me on a daily basis. Mom and Dad didn’t get it all right. I’m not getting it all right. But as my friend Elisabeth says, being human is a messy business. We all need the kind of love that chooses to forgive and extend grace.
So how can we extend grace to our parents? Here are three ways I’m working on:
1. Appreciate the good in the way you were raised.
For most of us, there was a lot of good in the way we were raised. Focus on the good memories, the values that were instilled, the relationships that were forged. Try to see your parents’ hearts behind the rules and restrictions. Remember that all kids think their parents messed up: it’s universal because it’s true! All of us are broken (Romans 3:23).
2. Honor your parents in your conversations about your past.
Honor your parents in the way you talk about them, whether talking to them directly or discussing them with others. There is a very heavy weight of responsibility as parents, and I know mine felt that keenly. I don’t have to agree with everything they did to honor the position God put them in. There is no need to pretend they got it all right, but we’re still commanded to respect them (Exodus 20:12).
3. Remember that ultimately it is God who is in charge of our lives, not outside influences.
No matter how misguided some of our parents’ decisions were, they don’t have the power to ruin our lives. I keep thinking of Joseph’s testimony when confronting his brothers after the atrocious way they treated him. He said, “… do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me here to preserve life… So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:5-8)
What are some ways you’ve found to show grace to your parents?
Photography: JenniMarie Photography