“Now what do you say…” was a common phrase heard in my home growing up. With eight children somedays I’m sure my mom felt like she was always breaking up a fight or encouraging someone to apologize. It wasn’t just that my mom was hoping to ensure peace in the house, when she taught us how to say I’m sorry, she was teaching us lifelong principles of forgiveness. It may seem like a simple thing but the ability to forgive others and recognize when you have been in the wrong is a valuable skill that will help in all aspects of life. An atmosphere of forgiveness is something that every family should strive to have in their home.
One of my friends told the story the other day of accidentally bumping into his seven year old daughter, and when he apologized, she responded “It’s okay. I forgave you before you even asked.” These innocent words spoken from a child say a lot about how we need to be in our own marriages and families. We need to be willing to forgive at all times. And we need to want to forgive when the forgiveness takes time.
Things don’t always go our way in life and within a family. The simple fact that we spend so much time with each other means that we are occasionally going to “bump” into each other; we have disagreements, forget things, and cause each other hurt. But each one of these is an opportunity to forgive.When families have an atmosphere of forgiveness in their home they are less likely to attribute small outbursts as shots at them personally.
John Gottman uses the example of a couple getting ready for a dinner party. When the husband asks where the napkins are, the wife responds in an edgy tone “they are in the cupboard.” Rather than feel hurt by her tone, the husband can simply attribute it to something else…Like her not being able to get the cork out of the wine bottle (Gottman, p. 21).
This is a perfect example of having an atmosphere of forgiveness in the home. When people are short or act inconsiderately towards us, many times it can be attributed to other things going on in their lives, rather than the situation at hand. And in return when individuals feel they are in a safe environment they are also more likely to apologize for outburst.
There are many health benefits to forgiving others. Sleep improves, while pain, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and stress all decline. It has also been shown that it is harder to forgive others including yourself, if you have never had someone forgive you. The home is the perfect environment to teach this. Children can learn forgiveness over broken toys so that when they deal with the larger issues of life they will know how to forgive.
Parents can encourage their children to apologize and forgive and should demonstrate these values by example. These two things will help all families as they deal with problems no matter what size, and lifelong lessons will be learned.