I have a terrible memory for most things except fantastic food, unusual feet, or situations where someone accidentally farts in public. (What can I say?🤷🏻♀️) Ask me about movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, or places I’ve visited, and I often can’t come up with many details about those things—unless, of course, it involved any of the above. (Case in point, I will never, ever forget the toilet scene in the movie Along Came Polly…look it up.) I have no idea why this is—I’m referring to my poor memory here, not the fact that I seem to be able to recall ridiculous displays of toilet humor—but I wish I could fix it. Given there are such large lapses in what I can remember from my 62 years, it’s significant that one of my most powerful memories is of the time my dad apologized to me. It was such a shock—in a good way—that it is entrenched in my memory forever.
I don’t remember many details preceding the apology—no surprise there—but Dad was in a rage about something, and I got hit. As my head hit the light switch on the wall, it broke off, and I started to bleed. I’m not sure if the amount of blood pouring out of me scared Dad or if Mom somehow intervened (bad memory, remember?), but what I do remember is how I felt after he said, “I’m sorry.” Besides being stunned, I was elated. Although I don’t know if I was smiling on the outside (I mean, there was blood dripping down my face, for goodness sake), I was definitely smiling on the inside; I remember feeling seen. And for one short second, I (for once) felt that what happened Wasn’t. My. Fault. Oh my, that sure felt good. I can feel that sense of relief even today.
I wish I could say that the practice of apologizing when a parent caused harm to me was the norm in my house, but it wasn’t. According to therapist Adam Young, this is the most important thing a child needs to form secure attachments with their primary caregiver. (For those new to this blog, for the past three weeks, we have been exploring the six things a child needs to form a secure attachment to their parents.) Young calls it a “willingness to repair.” He writes, “A healthy, trusting attachment is not built on the absence of failure but on the willingness of the parent to own and rectify failures when they do occur.” In other words, children don’t need a parent to get it right all the time—thank goodness—but when parents recognize they missed or hurt their child, they should respond in a way that brings comfort and connection to them. I wonder if this was the norm in your house?
As I mentioned last week, the purpose of looking back is not to blame or vilify our parents. Rather, we do this to acknowledge pain that we might be healed. That said, if you are a parent and you recognize that you didn’t do a great job at helping your child become securely attached by repairing the relationship, it’s never too late to own the harm you may have caused and ask for forgiveness. I’m not going to lie; it’s very painful to come to terms with the fact you have failed your child, but the healing it brings for you and your child—no matter how old they are—is worth it.
I want to pause a moment for those of you who are still raising children and feel some guilt coming about the mistakes you have made. Please remember, there are no perfect parents (except God), and making mistakes comes with the territory. This is why it’s important to get good at asking for forgiveness and repairing the relationship (offering comfort and care to your child). Children don’t need perfect parents. They need parents who can model the most important message of the Gospel: repentance and forgiveness.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:21-24)
For the past several weeks, I have been encouraging you to reflect on whether your parents were able to meet your need for attunement, responsiveness, engagement, regulation, handling your big emotions, and (today), repair. (See previous posts here and here.) As you sit with the ideas that I present in this and previous posts, what comes up for you? If you recognize that you were let down by your parents in this area (even if they did their best or were great at meeting your material needs, etc.), I encourage you to acknowledge the hurt and pain in that revelation. Just because your parents “did the best they could” does not negate other truths, such as they caused you pain. Both statements can be true at the same time! Until we allow the pain to surface and invite God in to heal us, that pain stays trapped inside, dictating how we react and respond to others. It’s worth repeating this quote by Sigmund Freud: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
If you are willing to do this work, here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Begin by inviting God to be with you. Consider also asking a trusted person to be with you as you process what comes up.
- Start by acknowledging where your parents or other caregivers have let you down.
- Allow yourself to remember and experience the pain of whatever memory surfaces. (As I wrote about my experience in the second paragraph, I felt grief for the little girl who was hit so hard that her head broke the light switch. I allowed myself to sit with that grief.)
- If you don’t have anyone to talk to, consider journaling about what comes up.
- Take time to forgive your parents for the pain they caused. If the pain is deep, you may feel resistance about doing this. That’s okay. Keep in mind that no one ever feels like forgiving someone that hurts them. Forgiveness is a choice. You can use your will to choose forgiveness.
- Ask Jesus to heal your heart and take your pain. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.” (Isaiah 53:4)
- Consider forming a group (or join one) to process your pain with others. Healing comes when we share our pain with others. Please share below if you like the idea of doing this. We may be able to form a group among us.
As I close out this post, I am praying for each of you. May the God of peace and healing be with you on this journey.
As always, please share your thoughts and feelings below!