Family with New Grandchildren Jessica and baby Ethan

What does it mean to promote a culture of forgiveness?

  • Not ignoring signs that we may have hurt a family member, and reaching out to them with concern and humility if we have.
  • Not masking our own hurt feelings with aloof or angry behavior that is difficult for others to decipher and address.
  • Striving to make compassion our default mode in how we view and interpret a family member’s actions.
  • Using respectful language and a loving tone of voice when we talk about what is bothering us.
  • Regularly acknowledging that being open to forgiveness – seeking it, offering it, promoting it – is a core value in our family.

I believe that we as grandparents must plow fertile ground for this process of establishing of a culture of forgiveness in our families.  This means not only with our adult offspring, but with their spouses or significant others, if they’re partnered; with the in-laws (the “other” grandparents); with ex-spouses who may be parents of our grandchildren – and with the grandchildren themselves, once they are old enough to grasp the concept.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are core values of all the world’s major religions, and is a central attribute upheld by nonbelievers as well.  For many years, I’ve embraced the Jewish tradition of phoning my family members, friends, and colleagues (of all backgrounds) around the fall High Holy Days, to wish everyone a good year ahead, to ask their forgiveness for anything I may have done to wrong them, and to offer my own reassurances  to them.  You certainly don’t have to be Jewish or religious to undertake an annual commemoration of forgiveness!  Examining your family’s beliefs and expectations regarding forgiveness, and sharing stories that emphasize its value, can serve as an excellent agenda for a Family Meeting.

Forgiveness is a process that may take a very long time.  But it, too, starts with that single step.  Often that step is a candid conversation with a loved one, in which you say sincerely:  “I’d like to talk about [an issue from the past], because I don’t want it to get in the way of the way of our family’s wonderful connection and feelings about the future.”