To be Forgiven and to Forgive Ourselves

ImageMy family watched General Conference today. The big kids sprawled across my bed drawing pictures and coloring geometric designs; Henry and Ivy played on the floor, while Jack escaped out of the room multiple times, only to be found five minutes later in the laundry room, helping himself to fistfuls of cat litter, or dog food.

Mostly, (minus the cat litter) it was a good day. We felt spiritually uplifted and encouraged. We all got along. Except for the one moment when we didn’t. I’m not sure what it was. A lethal combination of too much noise at once combined with too many children calling my name and asking for help or whining about having to help pick up the shoes that were all over the floor. None of those were particularly good reasons for me to do so, but I snapped anyway. For about 5 minutes, I unloaded my dishwasher with such force, I’m sure my children were expecting forks and knives to go careening across the counter. I slammed doors and tossed plates and shoved drawers into place. And then I turned around and I yelled at my family, told them I was tired of the whining and the yelling (ironic as I stood there… yelling.) and the ignoring and the refusing to do what I’ve asked them to do. I was tired of cooking meals that no one liked and washing clothes that I didn’t wear and picking up messes that I didn’t’ make. When I was finished, they all looked at me like lost (and contrite) little sheep and skulked off to some corner of the house to lick their wounds.

And me? I retreated outside where I could stew in my own awareness of how ridiculously stupid my little outburst had been. Slowly, the big kids came to find me.

Sam was first. “You okay, Mom?” he asked. Lucy quickly followed.

She gave me a hug and said, “Mom, I think your meals are awesome.”

It was an amazing thing, really, to sit there and feel the love radiating from these wonderful, incredible, spectacular children. They wanted so desperately to make me happy… to give me the gift of their forgiveness.

And that is what this post is really about.

I am not, by any stretch, a perfect mother. Today I behaved like a selfish ninny. But the wonderful, glorious truth is that I’m not expected to be perfect. Clearly, my children didn’t expect it today. They were more than willing, when I took them into my arms and asked them to forgive me for yelling (and acting like a selfish ninny), to forgive me in an instant.

Another lesson was driven home even further when I tucked Ivy into bed later that night. I lay my head on her pillow, our cheeks side by side, and said, “Ivy doll, I love you.” The remainder of our conversation went something like this.

Ivy: “Mom, I don’t love you.”

Me: You don’t? Well why not?

Ivy: Well, everyone was just so loud.

Of course. She heard me yell today too.

Me: Ivy, I yelled today, didn’t I? I’m sorry if my yelling made you sad.

She reached over and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Oh mom,” she said. “I do love you.”

As I reflect on that experience I am struck first with how much of an impact our words, as parents, have on our children. They hear us. They internalize our words, our tone. They watch our actions and even when we don’t know it, when we might not realize they are watching, they are. And they are learning from us, from how we choose to be.

At the same time, when we are wiling to say those simple words–I’m sorry–they are so willing to forgive, to open their tiny hearts and make everything right with the world once more.

I don’t know why we hesitate so much to say it. Because we’re the parents and parents are never wrong. Because we can’t show weakness to our children and they have to know who’s in charge. Because so many times, pride wins.

But I believe I’m sorry is a gift. If we allow ourselves to say it, then we’re allowing ourselves to believe it too, aren’t we? We are freeing ourselves from the burden of having to be perfect. We are admitting that we can make mistakes and still be okay. God loves us that way, you know.

I think when the scriptures tell us to become like little children it is because God knows that our kids love us that way too.