A Toddler’s Capacity to Forgive

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 - 10:55 am

A Toddler’s Capacity to Forgive

This past weekend, I kept mulling over the content of our recent show, “Getting Revenge and Forgiveness” — especially what Michael McCullough said about how easily parents forgive their children.

I forgive my seven-year-old son every day. … Because he’s an active, inquisitive seven-year-old who sometimes accidentally elbows me in the mouth when we’re cuddling and sometimes puts Crayons on the walls. And yet it seems demeaning to call it forgiveness. … It’s just what you do with your children. You know, you accept their limitations and you move on.

As a father of two toddlers, the thing that amazes me is not how easily parents forgive their children, but how easily children forgive their parents. Every parent I know has had moments of utter exasperation and impatience with their kids that they later regretted. But when our children are little, they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive our mistakes. Krista once wrote about a Hebrew proverb that says “just before a child is born, the angel Gabriel tells her everything — all the secrets of God and the universe. Then he kisses her on the forehead, and she begins to forget it all.” So it seems that, though our children will forget it by adolescence, they are apparently born knowing the secret of forgiveness.
The poet Robyn Sarah sums it up perfectly for me in her poem Nursery, 11:00 p.m. The speaker of the poem describes coming to the end of a day when she’s been a terrible parent, wishing she could apologize for how she behaved, standing over her children as they sleep in their cribs.  She likens the forgiving sound of their breathing to a shawl being knitted in the darkness.

How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.

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