Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

How to forgive our parents

13 December 2015


At the request of a friend, I’m writing this blog on how to forgive our parents. I asked her if she meant forgiving them for being our parents. I was wrong. “For doing such a crummy job of raising us”, she replied. I asked her if this could be a universal feeling. She said it applies to lots of people. I am afraid that this topic may actually be some kind of taboo.

Digesting her suggestion wasn’t easy. I began seeing the bigger picture after she sent me an Oscar Wilde quote: “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” The real reason for accepting her suggestion is that I may have said something to her which led her to this topic. Obviously, she shares this Oscar Wilde quote despite calling him a fool in an earlier discussion on the (im)possibility of male/female friendship (my 19 Feb 2015 blog).

I suppose her question is ultimately about maturity. When we are small we idolise our parents as if they are heroes or Superstars. Growing up – both in size and maturity – makes us realise that we are able to compare ourselves with them. We ignore and neglect their sacrifices in raising us, partly due to a lack of knowledge and partly due to a lack of willingness to gain such knowledge.

Our increased self-awareness, from child to adult, does not automatically bring “an accurate view of your skills, abilities, and shortcomings, as well as understanding how other people perceive your behaviour” (HBR). We tend to overrate our own importance and underrate theirs, partly because we lack comparison to others, and partly because our brains are less mature than our bodies (BBC).

In all fairness, all parenting comes with errors in judgement as no parent has ever had any parenting training. For many activities you need a license but not for parenting. Errors in judgement are quite likely and especially with first born children as parental fear often takes over from logic and reason. Also see my 2 May and 3 October 2015 blogs, Extreme Parental Guidance and Parental love.

Essentially, parenting is always on a “best efforts” basis as parents cannot give “guarantees” with respect to the upbringing of their children. Best efforts in parenting are based on role models and clouded by good and bad memories about our own upbringing. By definition these experiences are incomplete and most likely also biased by certain particularly memorable events. 

The challenges in parenting can only be understood once you are a parent yourself. Before that it is impossible to comprehend the full dimensions of parenting. Seeing best and worst practices doesn’t make you a parent yet. The proof of the pudding is in the eating (meaning).

Blaming your parents is “normal”. The process of forgiving them for their “mistakes” is likely to start happening as of the moment you are raising your own children. In exceptional cases, there will be no forgiveness. Unfortunately, that comes at a prize. Please refer to this tiny buddha blog.

Recently, a good friend taught me a new subtle ancient Dutch saying: “Jij leert je kinderen te spreken, de kinderen leren jou te zwijgen” (source). I did not find a suitable English equivalent (eg, children should be seen and not heard). I would translate this Dutch saying as follows: “You teach your children (how) to speak, they learn you (how) to be quiet”. Essentially, forgiveness works both ways.

The more I know, the less I understand. All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again. I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter. But my will gets weak And my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it’s about forgiveness, Forgiveness. Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore. 

Don Henley – Heart Of The Matter (1989) – artist, lyrics, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


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