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Learning to Forgive Our Imperfect Parents for Their Mistakes

Parents

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an account of physical abuse and may be triggering to some people.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~Oscar Wilde

I couldn’t tell you if Oscar Wilde’s quote is entirely accurate. You see, my biological parents abandoned me and left me with my grandparents at birth.

Growing up with grandma and grandpa was the best childhood I could have ever imagined, and I didn’t miss my biological parents at all. I guess in that sense they were my parents, and perhaps Oscar Wilde’s point is correct.

However, my biological parents eventually came back. During the summer before my fourteenth birthday, my parents came and took me “home.”

I didn’t know much about my new parents, but within a few days here’s what I did know…

Mom and dad didn’t love each other.

They argued every single day, putting each other down in ways no child should ever hear. Their unhappiness toward one another would often times elevate from verbal abuse to physical fighting, and when their fight was over, the final punishment always landed on me.

Perhaps it was because I couldn’t stand seeing the anger, violence, and sadness. I couldn’t stand seeing my father beat up my mother, so I would get into the middle of their arguments to stop the fight, even if it meant getting beat up myself.

The days and nights were filled with chaos. I felt like I was walking on egg shells, not knowing when one parent was going to explode and punish me for their bad marriage. My fear turned into anger, and the anger brewed to a boil inside me. I couldn’t continue living like this.

Arguments and beatings went on for years until I finally collapsed and I ran away from home.

As expected, both my parents disowned me the moment I left the house.

In fact, my mother was so mad she didn’t even allow me to come back and pick up any of my belongings. At seventeen years of age, I left to start a new life with my backpack and one set of clothes.

When I left home I was still in high school. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but the risk of going back was far greater. I made up my mind and there was no way I could ever go back. To me, our relationship and their existence were over.

Luckily, my best friend’s parents opened their door to me. They let me stay in their home until I graduated high school. I got a part-time job to help contribute. Things were looking up, but inside I was building resentment and blame toward my parents for putting me in this situation.

For years after high school graduation and into college, I would continue to blame my parents for not having enough food to eat, clothes to wear, and somewhere to belong.

I blamed them for everything.

I had made a promise to never talk to them again, and I kept that promise for seven long years. But as time passed and life experiences taught me new lessons, I learned that resentment and blame were emotions that hold and push you down, never to let go.

Like it or not, it was time for me to let go and forgive.

I’m not going to say it was easy; nor am I going to say I didn’t have doubts throughout the entire process.

But I eventually learned to stop blaming my parents for my life. It was like a load of bricks was off my back. I was finally free from this emotion that I had carried with me and which had shaped my life for so long.

Learning to let go and forgive taught me that:

Parents also hurt.

Sometimes we forget that our parents have lived a life and have had struggles too. We don’t always know about their pains and sorrows. I see now that I have the ability to help them overcome and grow.

No one is perfect.

We’re not perfect, so why expect our parents to be? Parents make mistakes too. Of course violence is not excusable, but people make mistakes, and we cannot hold a grudge forever.

Forgive them.

It wasn’t easy for me to forgive my parents, but forgiving them gave me peace in my heart. When we hold anger inside of us, we’re the ones that get hurt the most.

Take the initiative.

I wanted a relationship with my parents, and so it was I who needed to take the first step and reach out to them. We have to be the ones to step up and harvest it, otherwise, who ever will?

Build trust.

Rebuilding trust when there was none (or very little) to begin with is a difficult process that’s going to take time. There’s no secret or shortcut. Get right into it and start by being honest with one another, even if it hurts.

Stop judging.

I would always ask myself why they couldn’t be better and listen, care, and love. I had to learn to accept them for who they were. As soon as I was able to accept them as my parents, and accept them for who they were, I was able to accept myself for who I was.

In the end, all you can do is try. There are no guarantees.

Before making the decision to call I prepared myself as best as I could for total rejection, and at the same time I defined what a win would look like—what could happen that would make it all worth it. All I could hope for was a small token of reciprocation.

So, after seven years I picked up the phone and called my parents. We shared a thirty minute phone call, first with my dad and lastly with my mom. To my surprise, there was no anger, just sadness. They listened more than they spoke, and I could feel that they were hurt because they had hurt me.

I could see that they had changed, and perhaps it was only then that they were ready for this call.

I hung up and could feel a sense of relief take over, and I knew this was only the beginning.

I realize now that change must go both ways. And, if your parents are still abusive and are not ready, or are not willing to be ready, then you must go on with your life. Your life cannot wait.

Today my parents and I have an open relationship. It’s still a work in progress, but I believe it’s something worth working for. We all have changed for the better, and I am certain this was how it had to be.

I forgive them for all they did and accept them for who they are.

If you have resentment toward your parents, what’s preventing you from forgiving them?

Photo by Belezza87

About Veronica Nguyen

Veronica Nguyen is an entrepreneur with a passion to help the world become a better place. Visit Veronica at masterplanlife.com, a free website that helps you focus on life's goals and dreams. In her personal life Veronica spends time with family, friends, hiking, cooking and volunteering.

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  • Stephen Fraser

    I liked the whole thing except the part where you said it’s “our responsibility to help them (our parents) overcome and grow.” I disagree…each of us is responsible for our own growth…we have no direct roll in the growth others other than to not interfere with it..we have even less responsibility for the growth of those who’s responsibility it was to care for us, but didn’t….if you grow up in a home like you discribe, and I did, it is the parent that has the responsibility to meet the needs of the child, not the other way around…unfortunately, children who experience the type of neglect and trauma you speak of learn to minimize, hide or make excuses for the parent. The children actually learn to accommodate the abuse as a means of survival. Essentially, they engage in willing self deception and a whole lot of self blame and accommodation.

    You were fortunate in that you spent your first 14 years, your formative years, with your grandparents, who were loving and supportive….additionally, you had the good sense to walk away from the toxicity of your birth parents after less than 3 yrs with them..ultimately, assuming no further harm can befall us, it is preferable to heal our pasts and our relationships with our parents so that we can move forward…forgiveness is always the doorway through which we can walk toward this healing…but our only responsibility is toward ourselves…we have to learn to stop accommodating being treated like crap, not take responsibility for those that treated us that way.

  • heythere

    I am glad you got out of that dangerous situation. the luckiest ppl r those who never have children but can still be humanist in one way or another.

  • The parent-child relationship is one of the most complex and emotionally intense relationships of our lives in my opinion. As children, it is easy forget that our parents are just people. We often expect our parents to be perfect, which they aren’t. We may at first think they are but as we grow older (of course this happens at different times for everyone) we start to see their flaws. We notice their addictions, their defence mechanisms, and the inconsistency of their beliefs and actions. We start to revolt against the people we once thought of as gods. We blame them for our situation, our psychological and emotional problems. Everyone gets fucked up by their parents, I don’t think it is avoidable. But what we must do to maintain a good relationship with them, is acknowledge that they are just people, and love them for trying.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective Stephen. I believe as adults we can help our parents grow and that’s where the responsibility comes in. We have to grow first of course and be willing to deal with the end results. Great topic for discussion.

  • Hi Jules, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Parent-child relationship is complex and keeping the relationship is work in progress.

  • heythere, I was glad too. Thank you for reading the post.

  • Hi Veronica. Wonderful article and something I needed to read! On another note,
    I visited your website, masterplanlife.com and was excited to start using it, however, it doesn’t seem to be working properly. It doesn’t allow you to select your 3-5 buckets in the initial set up process and now I can’t get back to the homepage. Please help.

  • Its sad that most parents who re supposed to be a source of light to their children end up being a source of darkness to them. As parents your children should bring joy to you. I understand that parents also have their hurts too as u earlier mentioned, but what happens to maturity, learning, being wiser with time, and letting go of hurt?Transferring this hurts onto your children is more harder on them. Visit http://www.tinyphoenixx.blogspot.com for dating tips and inspirations

  • PinkleyTaurus

    Amen. I forgive, but there is no way I will subject myself & my loved ones to more abuse. I care enough to be apathetic, not hostile, nor enabling.

  • Shreys

    Thanks for this article. My parents neglected me, I understand what you must have gone through. Still coming to terms with complete forgiveness.

  • Uju, I believe with time we all can either grow or stay the same. I am just glad my parents are willing to grow and not be stuck in the old mentality.

  • Hi Shreys, You welcome. It was not easy to forgive my parents but I am glad I did. I am sorry to hear your parents also neglected you. Hopefully there is light at the end of your tunnel too.

  • phoenix

    Hi veronica, it was a good read.I too grewup in a chaotic household witnessing regular abusiveness.In my early years I’d envy children having loving parents and normal family atmosphere , it pushed me to curse and resent everything and everybody around me. As years passed by, I understood reason for them being so unloving and reckless , it didn’t hurt anymore , I distanced myself from it making it least painful .As an individual we must be responsible for our actions and its repercussions, both my parents never cared for their behavioural outcomes on their own children. They were unwise in their sense of understanding this simple thing , still, I forgive them for being imperfect parents.

  • Phoenix, congratulations in being able to forgive your parents. I know it’s difficult to forgive parents like ours and is sad to hear that some parents don’t want to change or be responsible. I was lucky that mine were willing to change and admit their mistakes.

  • Debra

    I agree w Stephen. It’s not a child’s responsibility to stop childhood and say hey where do my parents need to grow at? Ludicrous!!!!!!!!!

  • You are a much better woman than I will ever be. I want to disown my step-parent and I probably will eventually. I am sick and tired of him. I am typically in a good mood until he comes around. I think in some cases the best thing to do is simply put as much space between yourself and that person. I know a lot of advice is forgive and forget. I simply choose to be picky on who is in my life and who isn’t. The odd thing is the idea of him not being in my life is what gives me peace of mind. Keeping him in it fills with me dread.

  • Tyler Russell

    Thanks Veronica!

  • Alma G.

    Thank you for this article, Veronica. I didn’t physically abuse my son nor did I abandon him. Rather, I “abandoned” him temporarily for 3 years when he was 3 and left him with my father. The aim was for me to pave the way for him to join me abroad. As a single parent, I did what I thought was best for us at that time. It was tough finding a decent job and when I did, I succeeded in having him join me. He still remembers these “abandoned” years and raised the issue only a few months ago. This brought me to tears and gave me a feeling of remorse. I wish that I could spin back time and redo this part of his life. It did make an ugly mark in his life and he told me that when he has a family of his own, he will never abandon his children for the sake of a greener pasture. In retrospect, I could have sought a job, at a nearby city, probably less paying and one which did not offer much in terms of savings. Sadly, I cannot move back time. A new issue has cropped up. He’s blaming me for not allowing him to shift to a different course when he was in Year 2 in college. He doesn’t enjoy his IT course and dropped 3 major subjects without telling me. It’s a big loss in terms of money and time. He’s almost at the finish line, with only these subjects, thesis and on-the-job training to be completed. He enjoys working rather than being in the classroom. As an educator, part of me doesn’t blame him, but this is another story. I hope that he’ll be able to steer himself to the right direction and see the positive side of things rather than blaming me for what he’s going through in college. I’m going to share with him your words of wisdom.

    I applaud you for the person you have become. I have sought my son’s forgiveness. I know he loves me but he’s grappling with some negative emotions at this moment. I know I cannot always shield him from life’s lessons, but I pray that your words of wisdom will enlighten him.

    Thank you for having the “passion to help make the world a better place”. The world needs more people like you. All the best in your work. Alma G.

  • bones

    This was a very touching article. My mom and dad were in and out of my life for years growing up like they’d be here for a couple of Days and gone for years. I felt a lot of resentment towards them for a long time and sometimes I still do think that way but I realized I couldn’t change that and I had a great childhood with my grandma. Recently I did try to contact my dad but it didn’t go so well, and my mom did like to come over but she had been stealing from us :/ so I don’t think I’ll ever be happy with who they are but I’m OK with that cause I don’t need them

  • Crystal Lai

    Veronica: I’m glad to read your piece. So much of it resonated with me and what my family went through. All of the things you wrote, about what you learned from this, I could have written. Thank you.

    My mother and father lived apart for a long time. I saw my father once a month. My mother was a workaholic, worked extremely long hours in a stressful job with the nastiest temper when she got home; it’s safe to say I rarely saw her, unless I was being yelled at or beaten by her. She used to yell at me for the smallest transgressions. She beat me for the bigger ones. Like reading Harry Potter in bed. That instance was the most terrifying in my life. There were a bunch of other imperfections that I won’t even list.

    Finally something (it’s a long story) made her see the error in her ways. By that time I was almost 18, and going off to college. You might say, too little too late. She took a couple of years to be less controlling and verbally abusive (she had long stopped the physical abuse since I was 14); she was mainly abusive because 1. she was stressed from work 2. she was self righteous and perfectionist. When the books said she was WRONG, and not as perfect as she had believed, she was distressed and wanted to become the perfect mother, so she made A LOT of effort to see things my way. She doesn’t get it all the time, but I can see her efforts.

    In my college years I would ignore her. Every time she said anything I would be angry in return. In short, her very presence made me furious. It was an irrational kind of anger that cannot be alleviated, even though I was otherwise a very rational person. She kept apologizing and showing she changed, even though I wouldn’t accept it. I hurt her a lot during this period, and you might say it was my fault. But she said she was fully prepared to be understanding if I were never to forgive her and reject her forever. She was prepared to make amends for the rest of her life. That really touched me. I guess you can say she made the first step, but I found it really hard to reciprocate until it dawned upon me that none of us would be happy until I did. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but now we have a great relationship.

    There are a lot of things about her life I was just beginning to find out. One is that, her mother was almost exactly like that! She spent a lot of years trying to forgive my grandma too but unlike her, my grandma never came around before she died. She never apologized for anything, unlike my mom. It’s almost creepy how that happened. Secondly, when she was young and financially insecure she did what she could to provide the best possible future for me. She was poor, young, early 30s, and alone in a foreign country (Mainland China). We were nearly broke a couple of times, partially because she wanted the best of everything for me (elite private school, etc.) and spent beyond her means. She never told me any of this because she didn’t want me to worry. Her relationship with my dad suffered because they worked in different cities to make ends meet. Because of how hard she worked, she was constantly on the brink of psychological breakdown, and she left me in an empty house, which contributed to a lot of my problems in life. But I can tell she did her best. Honestly she did better than anyone has a right to expect. No, she was not perfect. But then no one is.

    Is it a blessing or a curse that I have her as my mother? Probably a blessing. But honestly even if it’s not, I have no time to think of the curse. I count my blessings everyday.

  • Crystal Lai

    It can sound self serving to a child when a parent tells him to forgive her… for his own sake. This is what I felt when my mother begged me to forgive her because she couldn’t stand to see me unhappy anymore. But it’s so true. I hope your efforts are a success.

  • kara

    I think forgiving is healthy becoming your parents personal life coach NO, that is classic role reverse it does not matter if your 6 or sixty it is never your burden to heal your parents.

    They must take ownership of their problems and resolve to heal themselves, you becoming mommy and daddy’s nurse is a sick pattern to avoid, not embrace.

    Forgive them, love them release them and step back and maintain healthy boundaries.

  • kara

    You have just moved into the classic trait of parent rescuer it doesn’t work,
    people don’t change if the have no motive to change, by “helping” (enabling) your parents you give them purchase so they are safe and comfortable.

    You think your the first person who thought ” Mom and Dad just need help then they will get better.” or ” I will be my parent’s guiding light actually that
    place is reserved for spouses not one’s children.”

    A muse is an inner motivation to achieve a goal for ourselves or family or both. It requires listening to our better angels Abusive Parents will not get better by not sitting on their behinds letting their children do all the emotional homework they have never attempted to do.

    I think you need to go to CODA Children of Adult Alhocolics your in classic enabler mode, your have confused caret aking abusive people as growth it is not growth.

    Go Hang with the Friends of Bill W for a season or two….

  • Tchi

    Typical rant of a 12stepper . Brainwash….sigh

  • Tchi

    Kudos to you for a mature comment 🙂

  • kara

    I am not a friend of Bill W, I am simply a person that believes no adult child owes an abusive parent who continues to abuse excuses and justifications.

    While that makes it easier for the adult child to deal with and tolerate a parent’s behavior in fact it is key to surviving life with them! IT does not EXCUSE the parents who CHOOSE ( over and over again) not to get BETTER.

  • Mr Perfect

    My father has changed and realizes the hurt he’s caused me, my mom has not and it’s been 13 years already. I find it hard to forgive and move on if she doesn’t even admit to hurting me.

  • Tchi

    How do you know the parent’s intention , or their freedom to choose ? Do you know where they’re coming from , their upbringing by their own parents , and the circumstances of their lives ? No . Figuratively speaking, you think they should all be shot at the stake . Parent-bashing – or the attempt to change them by force – doesn’t work . Veronica Nguyen has chosen the gentle , compassionate and loving path to healing over brutality . I did the same with my abusive Dad a long time ago . That’s a far cry from denial and enabling , and spares everyone the hardship of endless resentments . I’ve been to CODA and found quite disturbing the way they try to push you against your folks ” She looked at me the wrong way ” or ” I never felt love ” , really trivial stuff . Your parents are not supposed to love you 24/7 , they’re asked to feed you , shelter you and protect you the best they can. But for some kids , it’s not enough.
    Look around in the world , parents are respected for the huge task they do in often trying situations . Parents in North America have their share of burdens . Even hookers , drunks and destitude parents deserve love .