A Parent’s Confession is Good for More than One Soul

A Parenting Principle that Works in Every Relationship You May Have

shutterstock_148510727Nothing harms relationships more than trying to perpetuate the perception of perfection.

That is my quote. It demonstrates why it’s so healthy— and necessary— for us to maintain a sense of humor about ourselves, and even to laugh at ourselves now and then.

This “perfection” principle is proven in every facet of life. Yet parenthood provides some of the most compelling evidence of it’s truth.

Parents who pretend to be perfect detonate explosions that can alienate, sabotage communication, and inflict casualties of conflict and guilt not only in their children but in themselves.

In the early days of my ministry I conducted seminars on parent-teen relationships across the country.  As a part of the seminars we surveyed several hundred teenagers. One of the questions in the survey was this: “What words do you most want to hear from your parents?” Of course, “I love you” was the overwhelming first choice. It was their second choice that caught me by surprise!

These kids were desperate to hear their parents say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Not only is it okay for your children to see that you make mistakes, it is essential to their well-being that they hear you admit it. Such openness frees them to be open and honest. It frees them to take the kinds of risks necessary to live life; it demonstrates the security of unconditional love and forgiveness.

An angry man approached me after one of my seminars. “I would never apologize to my children or admit that I’d been wrong,” he blustered. “It would erode my authority.” He feared that admitting he was wrong would cause his children to lose respect for him. To the contrary, his rigid insistence on maintaining the illusion of perfection was teaching his children a paralyzing fear of failure, and also encouraging deception.

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This is not Heidi!  This is Juliet, also a master of deceit.

Our dog, Heidi, was an expert at deception. Every time we were gone, Heidi would leave a disgusting surprise somewhere in the house. We learned how to discover where she had committed her little crime— all we had to do was watch which room she avoided.

She would romp and play as though nothing were wrong but would not even look in the direction of the room where her evil “duty” lay. If we entered the scene of the crime, she would wait timidly down the hall, peeking around the corner.

I call it the “puppy syndrome.”— If a child lives in an atmosphere where there is no demonstration of confession or forgiveness, that child will feel a desperate need to cover up their mistakes at all costs. They learn quickly to create the perception of perfection by practicing the “puppy syndrome.”

Here is the plain truth: Our children aren’t stupid. They know we aren’t perfect. Our refusal to say “I’m sorry” teaches them that it is not acceptable to confess sins or admit mistakes. The more dangerous and subtle message is: Unless I am perfect, I will not be loved.

I once falsely accused my daughter, Traci, of something she had not done. When I discovered my mistake my first impulse was to save face. But I finally realized I needed to apologize.

When I entered her room, Traci was sitting on the bed, sobbing. She turned her head away from me, obviously deeply hurt, angry, and feeling helpless. My status as a professional speaker couldn’t help me now. I stood speechless, just inside her room. “Traci,” I called, but she refused answer or even look at me.

Finally I sat on the bed next to her and confessed, “Traci, please forgive me for not believing you. I’m sorry, honey. I was wrong.”

I barely got those last words out of my mouth before she was in my arms. I had not jeopardized my authority, I had strengthened it.

The discussion that followed served as a turning point in our relationship. I explained how her previous lying had set us both up for this confrontation. I told her that I hated lies because they destroyed trust. I had her complete attention. The words “I’m sorry” had brought her to my arms, and I’m convinced that those same words had opened her heart to the conversation that followed.

As she skipped out the door after our conversation had ended, she paused. “I’m sorry, Daddy— that I lied a couple of days ago. I won’t do it again.”  I believe that my willingness to say “I’m sorry” freed her to do the same.

Personal Confession Demonstrates God’s Unconditional Love

A famous line from the movie Love Story goes, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It made a great promotional gimmick for a movie, but a lousy representation of truth.

It’s interesting that the man at my seminar who refused to apologize to his children was a minister. After all, the beginning of real faith is confession of our sins. Courage to confess only comes when we know that forgiveness is available.

As a parent, then, our model of confession and forgiveness is key in our child’s ability to comprehend his or her relationship with God. Our willingness to admit our own weaknesses indicates to our children that forgiveness must be available— otherwise, how could we dare to be so open?

The first step in any twelve-step recovery program is to admit that there is a problem— more specifically, that you have a problem. You’re not perfect— but that’s okay – God loves you anyway. Believe it!  In every relationship, model it. Watch what happens

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. – James 5:16

I am still learning this important lesson. How about you?

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4 thoughts on “A Parent’s Confession is Good for More than One Soul

  1. This piece is very illuminating ! I wish all parents can read this. I can’t forget the response of your daughter to your expression of apology….down to the heart and so practical. Thank you sir and may God bless you.

  2. I am 71 and I cried as I read this post. My Mom died when I was 22 and I loved her but she was treated badly by her parents and then suffered many traumas before I was born. Somehow I became the object of her misery and instead of spankings she would withdraw her love for every perceived wrong I committed and there were many. I never felt good enough and tried several times to leave this life rather than face another day with Mom. At 18 the Lord found me and I have never since been unloved, He even gave me a great husband who also loves me no matter what. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  3. I have all wasy thought this as i grew up. then watching others raide thier kids before I got my bundle of joy. The families that had great relationships knew when to ask for forgiveness–the parents. Thier kids all wasy seemed more connected all the eay around. Thanks Ken, love getting your insights. Hope i can pass some of this on to others and my daughter.