Children are human just like parents, except that they are younger. A great separation between the parent and the child, however, is that children neither know, nor have they experienced all that the parent has found out or been through. With that reality in mind, there are two great gifts parents can offer children—throughout their lives because they will always be younger, no matter how old they become. Parents can become really good about seeking forgiveness and living in confession. These two gifts are primary blessings for children. They teach and offer children blessings that are needed for their own success in life, long beyond the life of the parent.
Concerning forgiveness, the best a human being will ever become is clumsy. All of us will always be like giraffes running on ice, forever living in the potential to bumble, fumble, and crash in a pile of legs and necks. In our clumsiness, we are all going to do that which we wish we would not do or wish we had not done. Instead of attempting some form of excuse—like “I did the best I could,”—a parent can approach the truth with, “I wish that I had not done what I did; I’m sorry. I hope you will forgive me.” This truth spoken arouses forgiveness giving, and teaches how to seek forgiveness.
Children of any age tend to be very good at forgiveness, especially in the younger years because they know how similar they are to everyone else. When they get older, like the adults they emulate, they tend to become a great deal more defensive, surviving in the rationalizations required to avoid the admission of personal responsibility. The phrase, “everyone is doing the best they can,” becomes the great whitewashing over the reality of our need to simply seek and/or offer forgiveness. While most everyone is doing the best they can, we all are doing a great deal of harm avoiding the admission of how we will never, ever consistently be able to do the best we can imagine or hope.
Concerning confession, children need to know that it does take a lifetime to learn how to live and parents are doing just that, going through life for the first time. They need to hear, “This is my first time through life. I’m still learning how to live it.” Children find comfort in the confession of this truth, because it gives them room to be what they are—first learners of life just like us. Speaking this truth to a child arouses empathy and courage; they already know their condition of need, and the condition of not knowing how to live this life. This recognition of kinship allows the child to know that we are all in the same condition. Children derive courage seeing the parent step into the risks of living, not knowing for sure what the results will be.
Parents will always be like giraffes running on ice, and children can grasp that reality. The reality of imperfection, of course, makes them cry because their own imaginations can conjure a world in which all that is harmful is conquered—like when they pretend to be the superheroes who rescue others from danger or have perfect tea parties of light and shining calm. Children can grasp grief if parents are emotionally present to show acceptance of grief, since they themselves live in the same imperfect world with great loss, too. Parents can bless their children with confession in a world that will never be what we can dream it could be.
Confession does not just mean admitting wrong. It means to acknowledge the reality of one’s own human being status. To say it again, parents are going through life for the first time, just like children. No matter what age a parent is, it is the first time for them to go through life. Parents are always learning how to live, and because they are going through “first times” their whole lives, it will take a lifetime to learn how to live. Children desperately need to know that a parent is a work in progress, too, without it being an excuse. It is reality.
While a parent may be stronger, smarter, and bigger, they are still discovering how to live life well. Children benefit from confession because it lets them know that human is as good as it gets; they cannot do life perfectly. Children will know themselves as normal for their own struggles in imperfection. They also will see the need to offer mercy, as they are offered mercy. Big people aren’t gods; they are in need of God and others, just like children. And the older people need the younger people’s cooperation and mercy, so the parents themselves can lead well, as they work hard to love deeply.
Forgiveness allows the bond of love to remain intimate, and confession allows parents and children to help each other out along the way to a lifetime of living. Forgiveness and confession bless children with the beauty of humility and vulnerability. Humility makes room to admit the need for forgiveness. Willingness to be vulnerable makes room to take risks, and thus arouses courage. Also, forgiveness lets children know that they are worth the love they need. And confession shows them how to live with the voices of their own human experience. What magnificent courage parents have who can offer these gifts.
Chip Dodd, PhD, is a teacher, trainer, author, and counselor, who has been working in the field of recovery and redemption for over 30 years. With his clinical experience, love of storytelling, and passion for living fully, Chip developed a way of seeing and expressing one’s internal experience called the Spiritual Root System™. To read more from Chip, visit his blog, or check out his books.