Giving Grace to My Parents
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?
The Work of All Kids: How to Forgive Our Parents by Ann Voskamp
How to Begin Forgiving Our Parents by Leslie Leyland Fields
Photography: JenniMarie Photography
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I really needed it! This was such a blessing! When COVID19 quarantine is over, I’ll be sharing some of these thoughts with my Sunday School girls. I teach 6th grade and I wish I would’ve been taught these truths at that age. It might’ve have saved me from many years of bitterness towards my dad during my pre-teen and teen years
I would so love to talk to you! So many of the things you said made me wonder how similarly we were raised. Very good thoughts and things I have thought often of myself.
I’m glad it was helpful!
This was so good! I especially loved the reminder to honor them in our conversations. I am convicted and encouraged, both. I’m definitely sharing this.
I appreciate your encouraging words!
Thank you so much for this healthy dose of conviction served with such grace.
Glad it spoke to you.
Thanks for sharing this much needed message.
Thanks for reading it!
Good article, my dear wife. 😉
Being willing to admit to our parents where we were wrong as children can also be helpful. Not only does it help put our parents’ failings in perspective, but it also demonstrates that – when we do bring up hurts or disagreements – we’re not just out prove we were right.
I just had to comment and say that I agree with you here so much! I think it’s important to admit to our parents our wrongdoings as children. It helps heal any relationship issues we may have. It’s also important to let them know where/when we misjudged them in the past. I had different assumptions or “wrong judgments” against my parents when I was younger and now that I’m older, I see where I was wrong; so wrong.
Also, just having adult conversations about issues and opinions and viewpoints is awesome. Makes me glad that my parents taught me to think for myself and really study things out so I didn’t just grow up believing what my parents did simply because they believed it. And now, as an adult, I still hold all the same beliefs as they do when it comes to living Biblically and how that is to be interpreted.
Proving things isn’t generally a good way to improve relationships. 😉 Thanks for commenting!
Yes, yes, yes! Loved every word of this. We need to be gracious toward our parents. They were learning as they went along in life just as we are. 🙂 I’m so thankful for the way I was raised and yes, even most of the “rules” that we had growing up. They helped shape me in a positive way; in a way that continues to mold and shape me for the better.
The funny thing is that the older I get, the more I see how I am like my parents and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m not a parent yet but I’m sure when that day comes, I will need even more grace than ever before. 🙂
As far as showing grace toward my parents, I’m definitely learning how to see things through their eyes and not be so quick to judge them or assume. I find that assuming things in general is not gracious and can lead to a whole host of issues….
Assumptions lead to problems in every kind of relationship! As does assigning motives. Good point.
This is really, really good, Jeannie. Thank you!
Thank you, Caroline. 🙂