Three Year Old Teaches Mom a Thing or Two About Forgiveness


mother hugging daughter with text

Mary-Kate Backstrom’s shares stories about her two kids on her blog, usually comedic, but one night her daughter gave her mother a crash course on forgiveness. This interaction warmed and broke Backstrom’s heart. 

Her blog “Mom Babble” is “a place to discuss important things through the lens of motherhood. And by ‘important’ I mean anything from coffee creamers to pending legislation.” This where she documents her kids’ antics, milestones as a mom and all of the love, stress, and tears in between. [1]

The tagline is “making sense of the nonsense,” but there was nothing nonsensical about her daughter’s speech. 

Holland’s Wise Words 

Bedtimes are difficult and Backstrom keeps it real. On Facebook, she posted about what she described as a “knock-down, drag-out bedtime hour.”

After a session of frustration and lack of cooperation, Backstrom put her three-year-old daughter to bed and said through clenched teeth, “I love you, Holland, but not another word tonight. You are going to sleep now. I’m done fussing over stuffed animals.”

She was halfway out the door when her daughter called her back. “Mommy?”

Backstrom stopped in her tracks. She bit her tongue, trying to subdue her irritation. “What is it, Holland?”

“I DO have one more thing to say.”

Of course, she did, thought her mother, turning around.

Holland stood on her bed with her hands on her hips. Her hair was tossed and she used her arm to wipe away her tears and snot.

“Mommy,” she declares, intensely in her little voice. “I FORGIVE YOU!”

Then she laid back on the bed and began to sob. For a moment, her mother was at a loss. Her daughter has spoken the phrase like a curse word. 

She walked over to the bedside and leaned over Holland, who was slowly consoling herself. “Baby girl, do you know what forgiveness means?”

Sniffling, her face shoved against her Little Mermaid pillow, she replied, “Yes.”

Her mother leaned closer and Holland said, 

“It means you were wrong, and I’m tired of being mad, and now I’m going to sleep and my heart won’t have a tummy ache.”

Backstrom dashed into the bed and hugged Holland closely for a long time.

In her post, she writes, “Tonight I was taught a lesson in forgiveness by a three-year-old. It was a gut punch, too. And you’re dang right I climbed in that bed and loved on her.

“Because to be honest, MY heart had a bit of a tummy ache.”

“I was reminded by my toddler to never go to bed in anger. Because when you do, your heart will have a tummy ache.”

“And you know what? I’ve been alive for 35 years, and I’ve got to give it to her – She’s not wrong.”

The Struggles of Forgiveness 

As adults, the concept of forgiveness seems to be simple, but the act of it is not.

Sometimes saying “I forgive you” feels like a shift of power. It glosses over whatever harm the other person has committed. It lowers the seriousness of the offense. Now the forgiver has to pretend it never happened, and the relationship must return to its original state. The offender gets off scot-free, while the forgiver is left with nothing but the leftover simmering resentment.

This is all wrong.

Psychologists define forgiveness as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” [3]

Forgiveness is not about accepting excuses or forgetting the past. It’s about accepting the act and letting go of the anger. It’s more about the forgiver itself than the offender. The forgiver receives a sense of peace that is impossible in the face of negative emotions. The offender may still wallow in guilt or in denial, depending on the person, but that doesn’t matter. The forgiver is free.

Forgiveness acknowledges the pain of being hurt without letting it become an identity. It’s empowering, healing, and helps the forgiver move on to more happier things in life.

Experts debate whether true forgiveness requires a positive feeling toward the offender. They agree it involves letting go of resentment and fury. That in itself is a power that many adults struggle to achieve. The results are always worth it. [4]

The Viral Post

Holland summed up the psychology of forgiveness in just 25 simple words that resonated with thousands of people across the internet. 

My daughter and I just had a knock-down, drag-out bedtime hour. Finally, about ten minutes ago, I put her to bed and…

Posted by Mary Katherine Backstrom on Friday, July 12, 2019

The original Facebook post has been shared over 92,000 times, and Backstrom was pleasantly surprised.

“It makes me happy when heartwarming stories go viral,” she said, “because I think it’s a shared slice of humanity that everyone is finding in common. And in this case, the innocence and profound wisdom that at times comes from the mouths of children.

“I think children are able to speak profound truths because they address complex emotions in simple ways. As adults, we complicate our approach to conflict. We could learn a lot from toddlers who express their frustration, hug it out, forgive, and move on. 

It would certainly save us a few ‘heart tummy aches.’” [5]

  1. Mary-Kate Backstrom
  2. Mary-Kate Backstrom
  3. UC Berkeley’s GGSC. What Is Forgiveness?
  4. Rubin Khoddam Ph.D. The Psychology of Forgiveness September 16, 2014
  5. Annie Reneau. A 3-year-old gave her mom a 25-word master class on what forgiveness really means July 15, 2019

The post Three Year Old Teaches Mom a Thing or Two About Forgiveness appeared first on The Hearty Soul.


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