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Forgiveness 2016: Teaching by Example, for Better or Worse
By Mary Swann
Associate Director of Kids First Center
In the 17 years that I have worked here at the Kids First Center, I have talked with thousands of parents, sat in on countless workshops and meetings and read endless facilitators' program notes.  I can say with absolute confidence from these years of observation that the most commonly recurring theme and biggest hurdle parents face when it comes to moving on after divorce centers around the concept of forgiveness.  In fact, one of the workshops that we offer here at Kids First on a regular basis focuses on this very idea, for obvious reasons.
I'm sure that this is not a revelation to you; any image you can conjure up of a divorced couple brings with it an assumption that one or both parties behaved or is behaving badly, and one or both parties is upset about it. Conflict ensues. Grudges are held. No one moves on.
To many, the mere mention of the word "forgiveness" in such a scenario suggests surrender; forgetting or condoning the wrongs that were perpetrated against us; in essence, becoming a doormat.  But this is truly not the idea behind the term.  Particularly in the context of divorce and separation, forgiveness represents, instead, a form of acceptance of the things one cannot change and a way of releasing oneself from the negative and destructive pattern of constantly reliving the hurt.  In the words of Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, "Without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation."  And it is stuck in this vortex that, understandably, is where we meet far too many parents here at Kids First.
Sadly, aside from the obvious negative side effects of harboring long term resentments, such as the inability to ever achieve true internal peace and harmony, there is also the less frequently addressed consequence of modeling unhealthy behaviors for our children.  As any parent knows, though our children may seem to be tuning us out, they are, no matter what their age, actually acutely aware of our emotional states and learning how to manage their own life's ups and downs by observing the coping mechanisms of their parents.  Do we really want them to see us as victims, as the walking wounded who, if not for the wrongs perpetrated against us by that person who happens to be their other parent, might be able to attain true happiness and fulfillment?
Forgiveness is an empowering process. Letting go often takes forgiving ourselves as well as our former partners. But we also become open and vulnerable when we forgive, which is always scary.  Can we make it happen simply by pronouncing "I forgive"? Simply by wanting it?  And should we make it happen because others need us to do it?  How do we achieve this state, this perspective, this practice? To quote 'Kite Runner' author Khaled Hosseini, "I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded. Not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering it's things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night." 
In truth, being reminded of and truly believing how much our children require us to be emotionally strong and healthy and present is quite often just exactly the cattle prod we need to make that New Year's Resolution to start looking at our lives and our relationships just a bit more critically. In 2016, let's vow to seek out the resources we need to help us achieve this worthy goal, one small step at a time.
Forgiveness & Letting Go of the Past
Presenter: Tricia Weyand, LCPC
Monday, January 11, 2016, 7:00 - 8:30 pm
Kids First Center 


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