toddlers, tempers, and forgiveness

Now there’s a week in review, eh?

I was surfing through some websites I’ve saved in a running list of things to link to from this blog, and I came across an episode of Speaking of Faith on the spirituality of parenting. I bookmarked the show ages ago and still haven’t gotten around to listening to it. But a post on the page caught my eye: “A Toddler’s Capacity to Forgive.”

I’m willing to take advice on the subject from any corner lately. Why not from my own child?

The author writes about his two toddlers’ amazing ability to forgive their parents with ease. Perhaps, he says, we are “born knowing the secret of forgiveness;” it is only with age and cynicism that we forget.

During the moments when I have lost my temper at S, he looks at me with wide eyes and a blank face, as if to say, What was that? Who are you?

Waves of guilt immediately wash over me. I usually sigh, take a deep breath, and lean over to kiss his head, say I’m sorry. Some dark days I can’t even do that; I pick up his squirming, squalling self and stomp upstairs to his room to figure out what to do next.

But regardless of my reaction, he is generally quick to forget and offer me a smile, undeterred by the storm cloud still hanging over my head. I am astonished by his resilient good nature, while I am more likely to write off the morning as a loss to my Irish stubbornness.

I’ve never considered that I had something to learn from him in this regard – only that his emotions and memory must not yet be developed enough to comprehend anger, conflict, resolution. But perhaps I’ve been wrong: perhaps his is the more developed sense of forgiveness. Mine suffers from an inflated ego and years of wounds from other relationships. Growing up means gaining baggage, not always wisdom.

I like this turn to the child as I think about going forward into a year of (hopefully) quieter tempers and calmer days. I don’t think it’s an overly romanticized or idealized view of childhood to say that adults have much to learn from those whose horizons are less muddied than our own. It’s humbling to consider what more he has to teach me.

The idea of learning forgiveness from our children reminds me of this remarkable poem: Nursery, 11:00 pm by Robyn Sarah. What mother doesn’t find herself, guiltily, in these words?

I, the mother who did not smile all day,
who yelled, Go away, get out, leave me alone
when the soup-pot tipped over on the stove,
the mother who burned the muffins
and hustled bedtime, tight-lipped.

But the poet reminds us that the quiet of day’s end brings forgiveness in its hope for a softer dawn. The sleeping babe will awake tomorrow with a grin, oblivious to yesterday’s tantrums and tempers. There’s something God-like in that, I think – being created anew and loved unconditionally.

3 thoughts on “toddlers, tempers, and forgiveness

  1. I so relate to this. It has always blown me away how forgiving my son is. He has a lot to each me about unconditional love.

  2. What a great perspective! I remember getting glimpses of this as a teacher, but now I experience this more fully as a parent! I am sure this was one of the reasons Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Thank you for this reminder!

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