Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

December 21, 2006

a son seeks forgiveness

Lilith is 68 and was surprised when her son, aged 50, made contact after being out of her life for thirty years. He wanted to beg her forgiveness for being a bad son.

"The last time I saw Jimmy he was a young man of twenty - he's now 50, a grown man just eighteen years younger than myself," explains Lilith, "and in many respects he's a total stranger."

"Rekindling a mother-son relationship after thirty years is neither something I was prepared for nor something I particularly wanted," sighs Lilith, "but now that it has happened I am hopeful that a friendship, of sorts, will develop."

"In the past, Jimmy was ashamed of me as soon as he was old enough to understand we weren't like other families," explains Lilith, "and while it was really hard for me - as a young single mother - to accept that my little boy didn't love me I never blamed him for treating me badly."

"It was a real shock to hear from Jimmy after all those years," says Lilith. "When he left home thirty years ago he made it plain that he didn't want me in his life any more and I never forced myself on him like some mothers do. I just let him go and wished him well."

"Apparently Jimmy had got 'religion' later on in his life and pangs of guilt had caused him to make contact with me," explains Lilith. "I suppose I should have been overjoyed to hear from him but under the circumstances I felt very uncomfortable with the situation."

"Jimmy started by spouting religion at me and talking about falling short of God's standards. He confessed to making cruel judgments of people - especially the way he had spent his life judging me"

"I realize that his making contact and begging forgiveness from the people he had judged was part of some sort of enlightenment program he was on," says Lilith, "and if it made him happy to unburden his so-called sins on me then so be it that the price I had to pay was discomfort."

"I can appreciate that a process of going back to your roots and putting things right is sometimes necessary in order to move on in life - in a religious program as well as in a spiritual path of self-healing," says Lilith. "I did the same sort of thing myself many years ago but the difference between Jimmy's religious program and my spiritual path of self-healing was one of confrontation."

"I never confronted anyone begging their forgiveness or contrition," explains Lilith. "I could never do what Jimmy did. It just doesn't seem right to me to go back thirty years and rake up the past in direct confrontation with people who probably don't even remember you or whatever it was they were supposed to have done to you, or you to them."

"I am not a religious person - I am a spiritual person, or just a realist," explains Lilith. "I believe that we must make the most of the good and bad cards we have been dealt by life and take responsibility for how we play them. Judging others, blaming them or confronting them is a waste of time. Sure, I was guilty of trying with some people, but they just humiliated me more by laughing at me, and it's not something I ever do now. I just walk away and forget them."

"If there's one thing I've learned it's that holding grudges against people binds them to you - keeps them in your life when they should be out of it completely," says Lilith. "That's how I felt about Jimmy's dad when he left me pregnant and penniless. And that's how I felt about Jimmy when he walked all over me for twenty years like a rotten spoilt brat and then disappeared from my life."

"I didn't want to live a bitter and twisted life," explains Lilith. "I took responsibility for what had happened to me and I didn't blame either Jimmy or his dad. They were on their path and I was on mine, and when paths cross there are always going to be winners and losers."

"I'm a bit skeptical about the forgiveness thing. Forgiving usually means allowing people to get away with murder and feel good about themselves afterwards - possibly coming back into your life to screw you over even more."

"I prefer forgetness," explains Lilith. "It's a process of accepting that I was dealt a bad card and taking responsibility for playing that card the best way I can so that I can get on with my life and forget about it."

"As far as forgiving is concerned, I believe the only person I can ever really forgive is myself - for placing myself in positions where others can abuse me." says Lilith. "I believe adults should take responsibility for what happens in their relationships. It takes two to tango, doesn't it?"

"Jimmy believes you get over bad incidents by 'forgiving' the people who've hurt you but there's no way I would want his father, for instance, to come back into my life, confront me and ask my forgiveness!"

"If Jimmy's dad confronted me and asked forgiveness - I'd not give it to him because he doesn't deserve it," says Lilith. "His coming back into my life would act to undo all my forgetting. It would be horrible after all these years to be forced to remember all the bad things he did to me when I was a vulnerable young girl."

"Jimmy's got nothing to ask my forgiveness for - all the childish spoilt brattish things he did to hurt me were things he had to do, I suppose, in order to become a man."

"He thinks that 'forgetting' means bottling things up and festering with hatred and that's so far far from the truth in my case that it's funny," laughs Lilith.

"After Jimmy's father and I split up I filled my life with so many happy new memories that it was easy to forget all the unhappy old memories. It's like the old saying - the best revenge is a good life - but I certainly didn't have revenge on my mind. I just believed I deserved a good life after the bad times Jimmy's dad put me through."

"Life isn't black and white, and forgetting doesn't mean unforgiving any more than forgiving means unforgetting," laughs Lilith. "I can't see how you can unforget a person any more than you can unforgive them. In a way, I suppose that once you've forgotten a person you've essentially forgiven them - not consciously mind you, I'd never do that - but deep down in your soul where it matters."

"My own childhood was pretty bad," admits Lilith, "and if I wanted to play the blame game I could blame my mother and father for everything that went wrong in my life. Sure, I regret that I didn't have a fairytale childhood, but my parents - like most parents - did the best they could in their own dumb way just like I did, I suppose, when my turn came."

"Very few of us are dealt good parents and while there's not much we can do about it when we're kids, we are blessedly relieved of this burden when we're old enough to leave home, forget them and make our own lives."

"Sure, we all carry scars of our childhoods, but it's up to us whether we choose to open those scars and let the wounds bleed forever or choose to accept the scars, forget them and make the most of what we do have going for us."

"Jimmy was always resentful that he didn't have a father like most of the other kids," says Lilith, "and I suppose I spoilt him to make up for what I couldn't give him but I always encouraged him to be independent, to get on with his life, to make his friends his family, to put his past behind him and to be his own best friend."

"When Jimmy contacted me I told him that there's nothing he had to ask my forgiveness for," says Lilith. "For thirty years he had done exactly what I had encouraged him to do and I was really surprised that he felt guilty about being a lousy son to me."

"The act of bringing kids into the world requires parents to be responsible for raising them as best they can. No kid asks to be born and as such there's no responsibility on them to be perfect in every way or to reward parents for carrying out their responsibilities."

"Unlike all other relationships, the parent-child contract is a one-way deal - isn't it?" asks Lilith. "Until the child becomes an adult a parent has to grin and bear a lot of stuff."

"I know the bible talks about 'honoring thy father and mother' but it was written in times when children, like women, were family slaves - property rather than human beings. The more wives and children a man had, the better his prospects of being revered in his old age. And brutality was the norm in order to keep wives and children in check."

"These days, children have the right to divorce a parent if they fail in their responsibilities to raise them properly. Even smacking a child for misbehavior is now a crime. To be honored as a father or mother is therefore neither a God-given right nor something every parent deserves. And that makes good sense to me."

"Compared with the grief that other children brought upon their parents, the problems Jimmy gave me were miniscule and were more a result of my circumstances as a single mother than anything directly related to him," says Lilith.

"In other words, when two people are raising a child the troubles are shared. When one person is doing the job of two, the burden can become oppressive. And when the child is openly resentful and ashamed of you - like Jimmy was with me - the burden can be doubly oppressive."

"Sure, Jimmy walked all over me for the first twenty years of his life," laughs Lilith, "but what kid doesn't feel at some time in his or her life that mothers are little more than doormats?"

"I never demanded love or respect or honor from Jimmy," says Lilith. "I just accepted him and did my best to raise him. When things got bad I'd remind myself that he'll grow up and leave one day - and when he did I breathed a sigh of relief for a job well done."

"If Jimmy's religious program required him to track down his father and make similar pleas of forgiveness in relation to judging him as a bad father," sighs Lilith, "then I fear his religion may do him more harm than good."

"Some sleeping dogs should never be disturbed!"

"Jimmy's dad is likely to take advantage of the situation and make Jimmy feel guilty about things he shouldn't feel guilty about," sighs Lilith. "If anything, his father should be asking forgiveness of Jimmy for being such a lousy dad - not the other way around."

"I can see Jimmy's point that forgetting only works if you're not confronted with bad news every day - whereas forgiveness supposedly works all the time," muses Lilith. "But what about relationships where someone is constantly hurting you then saying sorry and you're constantly forgiving them?"

"That's what I'd call an abusive relationship, wouldn't you?"

"When you forget someone you necessarily want them out of your life - when you forgive someone they get to feel that you must need them badly, and that's when real abuse can set in."

"Jimmy feels that forgiving heals but how can you truly forget the damage done to you when you confront the abuser and give him power over you? Once an abuser always an abuser, I say."

"According to Jimmy, in order to heal past hurts you have to re-live the pain of whatever was done to you, and then you must forgive your abusers," sighs Lilith. "He says that by choosing to forget all the bad things in my life I am living in hell."

"Well, as much as I disagree with Jimmy I wouldn't dream of undermining his self-esteem and Christian beliefs by telling him otherwise," laughs Lilith. "But all the same I wonder how he would feel if I did my best to make him 'unforgive' all the people he's forgiven just like he's telling me to 'unforget' all the hurts I've experienced?"

"We all have our own ways of dealing with problems and I'm not saying that I am right and Jimmy is wrong," says Lilith. "All I'm saying is that I've seen more damage done by forgiving than by forgetting."

"Indeed, what did Jesus get for forgiving his oppressors?" asks Lilith. "Jesus got crucified and his oppressors lived a long and healthy life free of guilt because they had been forgiven. Oh, I know, the Christians say that Jesus died to save us all, but it's a strange religion that rewards forgiven sinners and punishes forgiving saints."

"As far as I can see, any relationship that involves saying sorry and begging forgiveness for abusive or grossly neglectful behavior is unhealthy."

"Typical of an abuser is the empty utterance of the word 'sorry' after each incidence of abuse," says Lilith. "Healthy relationships rarely use the word. There's no need for it. You can call someone after a thirty-year absence and say "Hi, how are you?" without adding "sorry I haven't called for so long" - unless, of course, you deliberately delayed calling them in order to make them feel worthless."

"Mark you, I didn't feel worthless when Jimmy said 'sorry' to me when he came back into my life," adds Lilith. "I don't believe his 'sorry' was insincere, but if he feels a need to say 'sorry' to me every time he makes contact with me from now on then something is terribly wrong and I need to be on the alert for some sort of abusive behavior coming my way."

"I'm smart enough to know that some real evil people lurk behind religions," winks Lilith, "and I don't know or care what Jimmy has done to reach for Jesus but as long as his path to heaven does not involve encroaching on my right to live what remains of my life in peace then he is welcome to keep in contact with me."

"Jimmy may be a grown man of 50," laughs Lilith, "but to me he's still the teenaged brat who felt I was not good enough to be his mother."

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