A Parenting Confession: I have dabbled in overprotectiveness, irrationality, and dictatorship of and over my children. These are just a few of the "lesser" qualities for which I gave my mother a very hard time when I was the child. In fact, I find myself regularly doing and saying things* to my kids that I vividly recall swearing to myself that I would NEVER EVER do/say to my children when I became a parent.
In keeping with the prime purpose of parenting (the dictionary defines it as “the methods, techniques, etc., used or required in the rearing of children”), I think many of us often see it as a future-focused sort of opportunity - to follow in our own parents’ footsteps in passing on positive qualities and at the same time, improving upon the short-comings of our own parents as another generation of a family unfolds.
But perhaps parenting has an additional purpose that moves us in the opposite direction: empathy for and sometimes forgiveness of our own parents. I now have a greater understanding of how my mother must have been feeling in any number of situations when she was raising me. I see how hard it is to inculcate patience and perspective when losing my temper proves so much more instinctual; I know the deep fear that sets in when one of my children does anything that I just “know” will place him/her in imminent danger; I understand how sometimes what seems to be the best choice in a given moment really only demonstrates a complete lack of rationality; I even value the right to throw in the “Because I told you so” card from time to time because sometimes it is just about the only thing I can think of. And I see already, as I demonstrate these same "offenses" against my children, they are saying to themselves: “I will NEVER EVER do/say that to my kids when I am a parent!”
In a powerful passage from the second collection of books in the Hebrew Bible called Neviim/Prophets, the prophet Malachi prophesies the conditions that will indicate the fulfillment of God's vision for a perfect world (put more traditionally, the conditions that will immediately precede the Messiah's coming): that the hearts of parents will turn to their children and the hearts of children will turn to their parents. (3:24) I can't imagine that Malachi was referring to only two generations relating to each other, but rather, that such a condition might more likely include three (and if one is truly lucky, four generations.) If so, it serves as a powerful antidote to the traditional notion that the sins of the parents essentially carry to their children and even grandchildren to the third or fourth generation. (see Exodus 34:7) Understanding our own role as parents as an opportunity to not only to impact the lives of our own children but to transform negative feelings of the past toward our own parents into positive ones might serve as profound treatment for the very real world condition of grudge holding that so many people hold against their own parents, even when they are no longer children themselves.
Perhaps if those of us who are blessed to become parents are able to turn our hearts not only toward our own children but also to our own parents at once, we really will create a chain of parents and children, connecting past, present, and future throughout the continuum of generations, and indeed, such a reality might truly stand as a measure for when our world might be fully imbued with wholeness and love.
*I refer here to a cadre of general parenting habits/choices within a range of normative parenting -- this is in no way meant to address patterns of sickness and/or abuse that some people may experience or perpetuate. If you are seeking resources on breaking the chain of violence or abuse, please click here for some helpful resources.