5 Steps I Took to Learn to Forgive My Parents

After hundreds of hours of counseling, I embarked on a profound journey of healing and forgiveness. As a Black woman, the steps I took to learn to forgive my parents involved a range of activities and mental shifts, some of which I share here to possibly guide others through a similar process.

I left home at age 21 and moved from London to Nigeria. I am ecstatic to move thousands of miles away from my parents and dysfunctional family. Even though I moved far away, I was unable to escape the trauma and contempt I felt for my parents. Actually, my hatred increased as a result of the infrequent “just checking in to see how you’re doing” phone calls, their unwillingness to ask for my address, and each missed birthday.

Yet it wasn’t until years later that I understood I had subconsciously attempted to fulfill my childhood demands and relived my trauma in romantic and platonic relationships. It took the dissolution of my marriage for me to realize that much of my suffering arose from my strained connection with my parents.

Hundreds of hours of counseling have allowed me to begin forgiving them. I have taken the following steps to facilitate the process.

Even when they didn’t finish with an apology, I had awkward talks.

In our Black household, it was unacceptable to question my parents’ authority. The setting made it difficult for me to speak and express my emotions, and I feared reprisal. I also had difficulty during awkward chats. Throughout my life, it has taken me between ten and thirty minutes to communicate my emotions during delicate conversations.

During my path to healing, I’ve learned to utilize my voice and engage in awkward conversations, particularly with my parents. A few years ago, while seated in the living room with my mother, I first attempted this. She brought up a former event, and I thought it was a good opportunity to express my animosity. She responded to me with evasion and hostility. She concluded, “I did my best, and I’m sorry if it wasn’t sufficient for you.” That was not what I had hoped to hear. But it offered me the closure I needed, despite it being difficult not to hear a sincere apology from my mother.

Dr. Shanita Brown, a certified clinical mental health counselor and teaching assistant professor at East Carolina University in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains that if your parents do not know how to apologize, you may not receive one.

“Sometimes closure looks like accepting, ‘I won’t get that apology’ or my parents can’t make it,’ or my parents lack the capacity to do what I want them to do,'” she adds. “You must next work on healing your pain and adjusting your behavior in that connection. Yet, this can be exceedingly challenging.”

I asked about my parents’ lives in an effort to humanize them.

After facing my parents, I got interested in their life experiences and personalities. The answers I discovered led me to understand that they were not the superheroes I had assumed they were. They are complex individuals with flaws, just like me.

If you struggle with acceptance, according to Brown, you should attempt to comprehend who your parents are. She states, “It would be helpful to acquire some clarity and context on their past; I believe we must accept and understand more about our parents.”

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your parents for more information, you might alternatively seek advice from family members or friends.

After facing my parents, I got interested in their life experiences and personalities. The answers I discovered led me to understand that they were not the superheroes I had assumed they were. They are complex individuals with flaws, just like me.

In an effort to better comprehend my mother, I questioned my aunt about her childhood and life before I was born. I realized that my mother had to fend for herself at an early age, which helped me understand some of her habits. Similarly, I sat down with my father and inquired about his youth. His life, to my astonishment, was fraught with cruelty and neglect. Understanding this made me more empathetic and enabled me to comprehend why he may struggle to have a loving relationship with me.

I abandoned the idea and mourned the parents I would never have.

I desired my parents to be compassionate, nurturing, understanding, and interested in who I was. I required them to celebrate my victories, attend my poetry readings, comfort me when I was upset, and not shame me for my errors. It has taken me years to get over the fact that they were incapable of performing these tasks. We all have fantasies about the kind of parents we wish to have. Sometimes this indicates that you have unrealistic expectations. Acknowledging that I had a fantasy picture of my parents and allowing myself to grieve have been of great assistance to me.

“Let yourself grieve the loss of the mother-daughter or daughter-father relationship you had envisioned,” advises Brown.

The Grief Recovery Handbook was crucial in guiding me through every stage of grieving. Anger, acceptance, and letting go were important phases. Whether I watch This is Us or watch From Scratch, I still cry when I see my fantasy parents. Then, however, I practice appreciation for the parents I have and resolve to maximize our relationship.

I am learning how to parent myself again.

After seeing my parents were unable to support my demands, I recognized it was my job to provide for myself as an adult. I had to reparent myself and concentrate on my inner kid to accomplish this. My therapist and Black wellness influencers, such as Sheah Marie assisted me in my journey.

Working on the inner child involves understanding your early trauma and mending it by accepting your younger self. It involves determining how they were neglected and how to meet their requirements. Throughout the procedure, you will require a great deal of self-care.

“It’s really about working on your own self-care and self-compassion,” says Esther Boykin, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Chief Executive Officer of Group Therapy Associates in Washington, DC. She also explains that it is about asking, “How can I nurture those very young, very vulnerable parts of myself, so that version of myself feels cared for?”

Inner-child work for me consisted of sitting with my emotions, learning to celebrate myself, having a kinder internal dialogue, and engaging in pastimes that the younger version of myself loved. “When you care for your inner kid, it can be simpler to accept that these are the only parents you will ever have,” explains Boykin.

I realized it is acceptable to establish limits in our connections.

In America, black families frequently adhere to Afro-centric values such as obedience, faith, and respect. Yet, it can be difficult to determine which of these characteristics stem from slavery and Black parents’ attempts to teach their children how to cope with stress and stay alive. In many Black cultures, no matter what your parents do, you must forgive them and retain a relationship with them.

“I believe that traditionally, as Black people, we value family and frequently have a feeling of hierarchy within the family. In Black homes, respect is sometimes confused with conformity,” adds Boykin.

She says accepting your parents for who they are is acceptable, choosing not to forgive them, and severing ties with them if it’s best for your mental health. Yet, you can also limit your interaction with your parents in order to protect your tranquility.

Boykin explains that this might make it difficult to set limits or to feel that it’s acceptable to speak to one’s parents three times a year since that’s the only way to take care of one’s emotional health.

While I am still in a relationship with my parents, I am learning that it is acceptable to set boundaries and limit my interactions with them when I am unable to do so. “The question is, ‘How do I love and respect people while still loving and respecting myself?’ And occasionally, that requires space,” adds Boykin.

My relationship with my parents is not as close as I would like. Yet, I’ve come to accept them for who they are, and I now enjoy our time together. I hope my son will extend me the same grace when he finds I am flawed as an adult.

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