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They Did the Best They Could

A friend of mine was recently telling me about a bitter elderly relative who still resented the parenting mistakes inflicted on him. I was stunned. For myself, I gave up complaining about my parents once I had my own children. It was almost immediately clear that I was barely up to the challenge and that’s before my sweet little one could even talk back and point out all my flaws.

Once I became a parent myself, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my folks did the best they could in raising me. Sometimes it was great, sometimes, often, they came up short - but I knew that they did the very best they could.

In the words of my old carpool buddy with whom I shared many hair raising child rearing stories, “I was the best parent I ever was before I had children.” Both my two children, three of my four stepchildren and two of three grandchildren were born in October, so it seems like an obvious time to consider forgiveness in terms of my mad parenting skills. My second Libra grandchild came into the world just two weeks ago, so I am vicariously (re)living those early days of motherhood through their little nuclear family. Coincidentally, my own two October offspring visited today for my daughter’s 22nd birthday. I am grateful that their love for me is deep enough to forgive my errs and omissions. Like when I competed with my son for who had the worst case of what my father called ‘last-word-itis’. So many poor money choices. My serious lack of patience. Stupid divorce comments. Neglect for one while dealing with the other. On reflection, I could have done better. But every time I come to this particular soundtrack of my mind, I remember that my own parents did the best they could through alcoholism, air force tours of duty, etc. And so have I.

I believe this consistent, private note of forgiveness has been a lifesaver for me when regret casts a long shadow. When I get a serious case of the woulda, shoulda, coulda’s - this personal forgiveness has been the grace that allows me to forge on.

When I realized this piece was actually about self forgiveness, I was reminded that in the early days of my divorce, trying to understand the nature of love, I returned over and over to the partial bible verse ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’. I’m a Unitarian which is nice because we get to use ALL the scriptures, and my thoughts returned to this verse like your tongue keeps looking for a missing tooth. After a year of meditation on the subject of love, I concluded that for me this verse means that you can only love others to the degree you can love yourself. And I believe that is true of forgiveness as well. As I write this now, I begin to understand the words of Brene Brown when she says ‘self righteousness is armor for self loathing.’ That’s a paradigm shifter right there, right?

Remember that old game of adding ‘in bed’ to fortune cookie readings? Like, ‘A pleasant surprise is waiting for bed’. Thinking about the nature of love and forgiveness, when I read quotes about forgiveness now, I want to add: “and yourself”. Try it now with just these two great ones from Maya Angelou and Fred Rogers respectively.

Now, go look in the mirror and say to her “You did the best you could”.

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