Love keeps no record of wrong
Why parenthood fosters the forgiveness muscle—and an etiquette question!
The “terrible twos” weren’t a thing in our home. At two, our Percival James was a complete and utter delight—and also at one, and everything leading up to one, now that I think about it.
And then along came three.
Suddenly, vibrant outbursts of emotion seemingly out of nowhere—although usually when Percy doesn’t get exactly what he wants—became a near-daily occurrence.
This Saturday, for example, we took Percy and our Sophia Margaux, age one, for an Easter egg hunt with our church. After the exuberance of the hunt, Percy—with a mischievous grin on his face—decided it would be fun to overturn the bins of empty Easter eggs that the organizers had worked to clean up.
When I asked him to put the eggs back, he refused and began throwing them across the lawn in defiance.
We were in public. The normal “rest time”—where he sits in his room to calm down—wasn’t tenable.
I improvised and told him to stand alone for a minute as penance for his disobedience, but he refused, and even hit me.
I felt frustrated and helpless.
I silently swallowed the emotion and hurt that welled inside me, picked up the eggs myself, and took both our children to the car.
Percy waled that he wasn’t ready to leave. I told him we were leaving because of his disobedience, trying to associate the undesirable consequence with his unacceptable behavior.
Within seconds of getting in the car, Percy’s yelps and tears stopped, as if he had simply turned off the faucet. “Where are we going, mama? How your day was, mama?”
I found myself at a loss. I was still seething about his behavior. But he was ready to forget it and move on like it had never happened.
I, however, wasn’t yet ready to forget about it.
I felt like I needed an apology, penance, and reconciliation. I wanted him to better understand the gravity of his actions—and how they had affected me and others—before moving on.
But in his three year-old-brain, the moment had passed, and he was ready for a fun day with his mama.
In all earnestness, three is not all that bad. Our Percy is still a profound joy. But the joy is now occasionally peppered with frustrations such as the above, as I find myself confronted with the difficulty of dealing with our son’s intense bursts of emotion.
Parents as teachers and students
As parents, we are our children’s first, best, and most important teachers.
Percy is three, and I’m going through a homeschooling curriculum with him to work on letters, numbers and art. He loves to create works of art—“I made a masterpiece for you, mama!”—which nourish my soul like nothing else.
Sometimes, he’ll abruptly interrupt our lesson and say, “I want to be the teacher now!”
I’ll often smile and and let him teach me his lesson.
And yet, the reality is, my children are constantly teaching me—about the beauty in the world around me, about myself, and especially about my shortcomings.
Love keeps no record of wrong
Growing up in a Christian household, a well-loved passage in our home was 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The idea of love not keeping record of wrongs struck me this weekend.
When my son had moved on from his overwhelming emotions and was ready to re-engage as normal, I found I wasn’t ready to let go of the record I had kept of his wrongs. Maybe it’s the Irish in my blood, but I tend to have a long memory, and this instance caused me to recognize how mentally and psychologically inflexible I am, and how slow I am to forgive.
I am loathe to let things go.
Un-forgiveness as anti-power
For some strange reason, I’ve unthinkingly accepted the lie that holding on to grudges gives me power.
In reality, and on reflection, I know from experience that the opposite is true: un-forgiveness drains me of power.
Holding on to un-forgiveness, caught up in grievances in the past, leaves me with less of myself to give to my projects and those that I love.
And yet the lie that resentment = power still persists deep in my mind.
While leafing through Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, I noted that one of his rules is to “know how to use one’s enemies.”
Never keep an enemy, Greene advises. One never knows when they might come in handy when doing battle with an even greater enemy.
The naked utilitarianism of this aside, I was stuck by this. Again, I realized that I had swallowed whole the lie that un-forgiveness is a source of power. And yet here was someone—an expert on power—telling me that the opposite was true: that it is in fact advantageous to let go of grudges, and to be open to working with anyone at any time when the need arises.
Parenthood Depends on Forgiveness
Of course, this lesson far transcends petty personal politics. Parenthood depends on forgiveness: forgiveness of the mistakes our parents made in raising us, forgiveness of our children when they fall short, and forgiveness of ourselves when we make mistakes, too.
I’ve come to see forgiveness as a muscle that is toughened with use. The more often we use it, the stronger it becomes.
While I have an inclination towards un-forgiveness, I know that, as a parent, holding grudges toward my young children would be horrible for them. My children give me a high motivation to change—to unlearn old habits, and to form more grace-filled and more life-giving ones.
Holding grudges toward others in the world around me also doesn’t serve me. It drains me of emotional energy that could otherwise be put into my creative projects or enjoying life with my children.
That’s the truth I’m trying to re-learn, and trying to allow to displace the lie about un-forgiveness as a source of power that I’ve accepted for too long.
I reflect on forgiveness in my book, The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves, coming out in October. Learn more about here!
What are your thoughts about forgiveness?
What experiences or tactics have empowered you to forgive with greater ease? Parenthood has done this for me—how about you?
Write to me with your thoughts at email@example.com
An etiquette question…
In life, there are two types of people: inviters and invitees.
I’m grateful to receive many invitations, but I’d say that, on net, I am an inviter.
I derive great joy from convening people for conversation and community for everything from dinner parties to themed period celebrations. (For Percy’s first birthday, we did a King Arthur and a knights of the roundtable theme!)
But being an inviter isn’t always easy.
For example, I never understand the “let me check my calendar and get back to you” response. In the time it takes to type, one could have checked their calendar and answered with a definitive yes or no. Is it a delaying tactic hoping the inviter will forget? A symptom of mental ambiguity?
I took to social media to get other’s idea on this question, and received many thoughtful responses.
For example, some shared that they use two calendars and must consult both before an affirmative answer, or they use a physical cal which isn’t handy, or they have to check with spouse, etc.
These are all plausible, but if that’s the case, why not do those things and THEN respond?
To my mind, the courteous thing to do is to send fewer emails than more. And, if the invitee doesn’t want to attend, it’s certainly more respectful to give an affirmative “yes” or “no instead a “maybe” and hope the inviter forgets. It just leaves one more detail hanging among many details of putting an event together.
In my forthcoming book, The Soul of Civility, I argue that saying no to others is the respectful thing to do—respectful of others even if it tells them a truth that may disappoint them, but respectful of ourselves because it’s important to set and stay mindful of personal capacities and boundaries in life. We can’t be all things to all people, and cannot say yes to everything!
What are your thoughts on this question of etiquette?
It seems simple, and yet, as with most etiquette quandaries, they are rich with ethics and morals because all of human life is.
What do you think of my reasoning on this issue?
Do you find yourself tempted to send more emails than necessary to avoid making a decision?
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think!
Thanks for being here.
It’s so funny to find this etiquette question in this moment. This is an area in which I'm trying to improve. I feel compelled to respond rapidly when someone reaches out, even if it is with a, “Let me get back to you on that” reply. I’ve been asking myself: Why do I do that? The answer is the Marshmallow Experiment. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment
As a child, I would have absolutely eaten that marshmallow and I still struggle with impulsivity to this day. When I respond immediately/impulsively, instead of a marshmallow, I get reinforced by the dopamine rush that our electronic communication provides. I am also demonstrating that I’m an efficient person and not a procrastinator. Secretly, I am a procrastinator but I’m sure my efficiency here has effectively deceived the inviter. If I would prefer not to attend, I am able to avoid discomfort by postponing issuing a rejection until later. Sadly, I have found out that Future Janet doesn’t like feeling discomfort either, nor the anxiety of leaving the invitation in the air, so these things are best dealt with in the moment.
I have made the decision to work on this, in order to be decisive, honest, and efficient- but most importantly because the
sense of urgency that causes me to behave impulsively is imaginary. Dispelling this illusion in my own life, I believe, will lead to a happier existence.
I was 8 months pregnant when I completed my undergraduate in special education. My focus in college, and my subsequent teaching career, was around students with emotional and behavioral disorders. I studied applied behavioral analysis extensively. I learned that all human behavior can be broken down into behavior to obtain something, or avoid something. Small children interact with the world seeking joy without the concept that their joy may negatively impact others. This information was fresh in my head, and was being practiced daily, when I was raising my toddler. I feel like I had a serious advantage. As their first teachers, parents have to introduce the concept of empathy to their children. When joy is interrupted with redirection it results in the emotion of shame. Shame is a big feeling for a tiny human, necessary, but unpleasant. Children will immediately try to avoid it. When I think of Maslow’s hierarchy , introducing the feeling of shame into a person who believes that I hang the moon is going to knock them down to the bottom, and put them into fight or flight mode. Humans are not rational in that space. The opportunity to communicate is over at that point. A trick I learned with my little one that I carried with me into my high school teaching career: I kept a sippy cup of juice with me and when the wheels came off the bus I said: I am so sorry you are feeling so badly, handed my child the juice, and got them into a safe space.
As a high school teacher I was on the “Code 99” team. This is the group of professionals that rapidly arrives when a student is having a crisis that has escalated to verbal or physical aggression. I would bring a mini Mountain Dew with me, and no matter what the child had done, I could say with absolute truth that “I am so sorry this is happening to you right now” and hand them a soda. It worked 100% of the time… with high schoolers- my 3 year old absolutely bit me once- but that is a story for another day. The consequences still arrived in both situations- they were just delayed until everyone was calm enough to be rational, and be in the space where contrition and forgiveness were possible. It makes for a much more civil exchange.
I saw a fridge magnet once that said “Hug me when I’m bad, that’s when I need it the most. “ It’s easy to love when things are good, but there is so much satisfaction in loving a child when it’s hard.
Parenting and teaching made my heart break open with compassion. My ABA professor once said: Once you understand someone’s story their behavior makes perfect sense. Once it makes sense, forgiveness is effortless.
This article speaks loudly to me…i feel it is hitting at the root of unlovable behavior and how to infuse how it is treated in a humane and helpful way. instead of guilt , fear, shame, you're no good, a less than o\person into recognizing a true self with all of the qualities of a Good Person, reflectoon of godlike values and principles.