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January 03, 2013

On forgiveness and motherhood

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."--Mark Twain.
This quote has been with me a long while, lingering in my head, spinning around in there and I loved it from the first moment I heard it. But I did not understand it; not in the true sense of understanding. Not until this year.
This year was a challenging one in terms of extended family dynamics. To say I grew up in a dysfunctional household would be true, but I think all of us do to some extent. My mother and father both struggled with alcoholism and in saying that I also don't want to place labels anymore on those that I love or even myself. So I will say that we all wrestled with our demons and pain and we did the best we could under the circumstances. Life was hard, money was tight, and the darkness and pain of managing it all placed a shadow on our home. As a child it was frightening and this year, as a mother to my own children, those feelings and memories began to resurface in a very real and painful way. At first it made me very angry, so much that I had to separate myself from family members as a way to set boundaries while dealing with the old family baggage. I knew I wanted the pain to go away but not by shoving it deep inside, so I set out to find the space of forgiveness in my heart, to bring the old pain to light and heal it.
Never could I begin to realize how freeing forgiveness really is. Just like Mark Twain said, it is a beautiful fragrance and only released with the crushing of it. Looking back, that is what I did. I crushed the memories and pain and I crushed my expectations that I deserved a better mother or father or childhood. I crushed every notion that I was somehow a victim and deserved to blame others. I turned the spotlight of pain towards myself, tired of projecting blame at somebody else for my own failures as a mother and forgave myself for not being perfect. For the majority of my six years as a mother, I was trying to set my own motherhood bar higher, and raise my children in a way I perceived was "better" than how I was raised. This only set myself up for failure and continued to feed into the separation I felt between myself as a child and my parents who did the best they could to love and provide for me.
In forgiving my parents, I learned how to forgive myself for my shortcomings as a mother. And I learned a powerful word; Sorry. I made a decision to bring that word into my vocabulary as a mother. I say it often and I know I will say it even more when my children become teenagers and adults. I say sorry because I make mistakes and I want them to know that I am doing the best I can, many times figuring it out as I go. That is a powerful word that I hope they will remember when they go through the process of forgiving me someday for how I failed them. I also made a promise to listen to my kids with an open heart. We talk about their feelings and I ask them what I can do better and I accept their childhood anger when they are upset at me. I try not to get defensive. These are choices I make just because I feel they are right for me. No longer do I feel the need to set the mothering bar higher and make choices to combat all the things I wish my parents had done.
The final thing I learned was so simple but weighty. Memories are merely thoughts about something that happened in the past that we bring forward into the present. Just like thoughts that come into my head now, I have a choice whether to dwell on them, let them go or find a space of awareness to witness them without associating with them. For some reason or another, I always treated memories different, giving them more power and magnitude. I believed them to be real without really acknowledging that memories change as we age and just like thoughts are our own interpretations of reality, so are memories our own perception of a past event. When I fully realized what that meant, I gained the power to decide how I would let my memories of my past shape my intentions about my future. I no longer give them power. I have learned that painful memories are just an alarm signaling that I have to dig deeper for forgiveness. I am not pretending that those past events did not happen when I recall them by denying them or  blocking them out, I'm just not letting them dictate how I live my life now, and I am done letting them separate me from those that I love.
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." --Lewis B. Smedes

For a link to a great article that talks about forgiving our parents click  here.

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