The Power of Forgiving Yourself

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Let’s be honest!   Parenting is one of the most challenging, demanding, wonderful, exhausting, overwhelming, joy-filled occupations in the world.  While there are many days filled with “Facebook” moments of hugs and laughter and vacation, there are as many filled with angst, anger, and doubt you will make it to the end of the day without causing the demise of one of your precious little ones.  We say things we wished we never did.  We break a promise we said we would never break.  We ignore a cry for time and presence because we have nothing left in us.  And as we lay our heads on the pillow at night we listen to the lies that tell us we are a bad parent.

Let me share with you a little secret.  You are not a bad parent.  Yes, you said or did something stupid, but you are not a bad parent.  You are simply human.  That means you are going to mess up.  So cut yourself some grace and do two things.  1) Ask your child to forgive you.  Tell them you were wrong.  Don’t make excuses.  Simply ask them to forgive you.  2) Forgive yourself!  This is where I see many of us struggle.

I remember one day having a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” while caring for David.  I lashed out at him and was unkind.  I felt like such a loser.  Due to David’s cognitive loss, I couldn’t interact with him and ask him to forgive me.  I felt stuck in guilt and shame.  I was struggling to forgive myself.  And then I had this idea.  Why not write a letter to David and tell him I was sorry.  It allowed me to identify what I did.  It allowed me to tell him I am sorry.  And it resulted in me feeling like I could forgive myself.  I was blown away by the power of writing these words out.

I wonder if there isn’t a letter you should write to yourself.  You don’t have to sanitize it.  You can be brutally honest.  You just might find the power to forgive yourself.  Do it.  Go find a #2 pencil, a pad of paper, a cup of coffee, or other appropriate beverage and start writing.  This is the letter I wrote to David:

June 13, 2009

Dear David,

School is over and the summer has begun!  Yesterday we went to Dave’s Diner and hung out together.  I wonder what your summer is going to be like?  You would have been returning from your second year of college, looking for a summer job, and hanging out with buds from high school and hopefully church.  Instead, you will be working with a Community Support Staff, Brandi Fuller, at the recreation program, friends no longer call you because it is so hard to communicate with you, and you are totally dependent on us to bathe, feed, toilet, and transport you from one room to another.  And you know what David, that’s OK!  I am so happy you are happy.  Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, other times I literally cry as I shower you or hold you at night if you are afraid or can’t sleep.  I’m so glad you are my son.  Just as I am learning to be patient, I hope you will learn to be patient with me.  This morning as Mommy and I were changing your bed and clothes because you had an accident you kept on repeating, “Do you know Brianna, Do you know Brianna?”  I responded in frustration and mocked you by asking you a question six or seven times.  That was infantile and unkind.  I am sorry.  As I sit here and think about it I’m sure it is because my plans for a peaceful morning on the front porch with Mom, reading my bible, and listening to the Birds were interrupted.  NOT YOUR FAULT!  Damn Battens, not you.  David, I’m sorry for taking out my hatred for your disease on you.  I love you, buddy!  Your Dad