By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
I believe I need to start this article with a caveat from the jump. As my parents frequently will read my Crosswalk articles, I have no doubt they’ll stumble across this one, and that could lead to an awkward conversation later.
After all, most of us would love to believe that our parents have tried their best, but due to our fallen sinful nature (Romans 3:23) even the godliest of parents can mess up from time to time.
To avoid their potential embarrassment, I will not go into great depth about how and in what ways I received childhood pain from my parents.
Many of the issues at hand had been resolved with them, and the ones that remain, I continue to wrestle with and put into words before I can properly approach them with those.
With that said, I think most people who have had a parent, biological or adopted, can say that at the very least someone had shortcomings that led to pain on our parts. Maybe we even tried to change how we parented in an effort to avoid the same mistakes.
In this article, we’ll dive into some of the reasons our parents may have hurt us (accidentally or intentionally), what the Bible says about forgiving our parents, and how we can approach reconciliation.
Why Do Parents Hurt Their Children?
Intentionally or not, most children carry some sort of scar from their childhood. Maybe their parents were workaholics and didn’t devote enough time and care to them. Perhaps the parents put too much pressure on the child to succeed, and the child ended up tangled in anxiety and perfectionism in an effort to win his or her parent’s affection.
Or maybe a parent physically or psychologically hurt a child through abuse, wounds in which someone can carry with them for an entire lifetime.
The list below is by no means extensive. Any time we try to break down someone into categories we always will find exceptions. But we can offer up a few reasons as to why our parents hurt us.
First, maybe they wanted to avoid something their parents did.
If their parents never came to their sporting events or never really cared about their grades, maybe they swing to the opposite end of the pendulum and hyperfocus on making sure they attend everything their child does, to the point of exasperation.
Maybe they had far too lenient a parent, and so they decided to rule with an iron fist. Or vice versa.
Generations tend to rebel against previous generations, and we do witness this when it comes to parent-children relationships.
Secondly, maybe they haven’t healed from their wounds.
Perhaps a parent had a grave childhood wound they carried into a marriage. Christians often, mistakingly, believe that marriages can solve all problems. They don’t. In fact, they often exacerbate them.
If a parent never properly healed from a childhood wound, even left by their own parents, they may project or expect certain expectations on their own kids. They may lash out unexpectedly or grow absent.
It’s like what every flight attendant tells us before we take off: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help your child.”
When parents don’t put their oxygen mask on, they can’t breathe, and therefore, they can’t help their child. In fact, they may end up hurting them.
Finally, maybe a parent is oblivious to the fact they have hurt or are hurting their children.
We all have blind spots and tend to have an inward focus. Often, we don’t see how our actions can affect those around us.
Even a parent with the best intentions may, accidentally, hurt their children in some way. Perhaps toxic habits they picked up or bad parenting examples they’ve witnessed (1 Corinthians 15:33) rubbed off in their parenting style.
We could, of course, list dozens of other reasons as to why a parent may end up hurting their child. But the truth of the matter is most of us do not escape childhood without wounds. So what do we do about it?
What Does Scripture Say about Forgiving Our Parents?
Scripture has a lot to say about obeying our parents.
But what does it say about forgiving them?
We don’t have any specific verses on, “This is how you forgive your parents who wronged you,” but we can point to several passages that talk about forgiving those who have wronged us. Let’s explore those.
Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Mark 11:25 “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Check out more verses on the subject here.
Scripture makes it clear that we should forgive everyone, especially those who hurt us. But how do we go about doing this?
4 Ways to Forgive Your Parent
We need to add another caveat here that forgiveness does not always mean friendship. We can forgive those who we need to stay far, far away from. And sadly, for many, this includes parents.
With that said, let’s explore some ways to forgive our parents and work toward a path of reconciliation. Know that they may not also want to follow you down that path. Leave it in God’s hands in those instances and know that you did what you could to help heal the relationship.
1. Realize how God used them to shape you.
This article points to the example of Joseph. His brothers had sold him into slavery, and he was alone in Egypt for the rest of his childhood and early adult life. Still, because they had put him in this situation, God used Joseph to save Egypt and the surrounding lands from famine.
He later reconciles with the very brothers who had sold him as a slave.
2. Pray for them and realize how they have been hurt.
Scripture tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and at times, our parents may fit the bill. We also need to understand that people who hurt have often been hurt themselves.
We may be the only hope of our parents hearing about Christ or of them taking a chance to renew their faith if they’ve fallen off the path. So pray for them.
3. Lovingly confront them.
In the cases of church discipline, Scripture tells us to go to the person who has wronged us first, before we bring anyone else into the equation (Matthew 18:15). Be honest with them about how they have hurt you, but also offer forgiveness and reconciliation.
4. Know reconciliation involves both parties.
You may try everything in your power to reconcile with your parents, but they may refuse. They may refuse to acknowledge the hurt they have caused you and the part in which they played.
In those painful cases, continue to pray fervently that God unhardens their hearts.
No parent is perfect. Many have great intentions, but they still end up wounding us nevertheless.
Scripture encourages us to forgive those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is on us, but reconciliation requires both parties to participate. No matter what happens as we extend a hand in forgiveness, we know that God has a plan for our relationship with our parents and that he is moving, even when we cannot see it.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/greenleaf123
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.