Expressing Love, Gratitude and Forgiveness

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)

Grateful Heart

What four things matter the most in parenting? Might they be the same as the four things that matter most in life? It’s likely since your relationships with your children are among the most significant ones in your life.

The Four Things That Matter Most

Dr. Ira Byock, an international leader in palliative care, has witnessed many people’s final days. He’s captured the valuable things he’s learned from the dying in his book, The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living.

Byock noticed many who are dying have a strong desire to repair relationship rifts with their loved ones. Repairing their relationships allows them to die in a more peaceful state. He learned that these four statements were the crucial ones to communicate:

  • Please forgive me.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • I love you.
Byock explains "Comprising just eleven words, these four short sentences carry the core wisdom of what people who are dying have taught me about what matters most in life." The book contains emotional stories of people who healed relationships when they were able to say these things to each other. However, there’s no reason to wait until you are dying to say these things to those you love.

Showing Your Appreciation and Love

Let’s start with the last two statements – thank you and I love you. How often do you tell your kids that you love them? If you are not in the habit of saying “I love you”, it can feel awkward at first. The more you say it, the more comfortable it will feel.

Some parents say “I love you” before their kids go to bed or as they leave for school. Making it part of a daily ritual makes it easier to do. Frequently hearing “I love you” is something your kids will remember in their hearts.

What ways are you thankful for your children? Your kids will benefit from knowing what you appreciate about them. One way to do this is to print out this 30-day “What I Appreciate About You” chart.

Each day fill in one thing you appreciated about your child that day. Pay attention each day to what you might want to write down. How does looking for the positive traits in your child change your perception of your child? Look for something unique to write down each day.

When the chart is complete, find a special moment to give it to your child. It is likely to be the highlight of your child’s day! Being able to reread this list will give your child an emotional boost whenever they need it.

Benefits of Forgiving

Forgiveness is challenging. Byock tells Avi’s painful story. Avi was rejected by his father when he was a boy. He harbored a deep resentment against his father for his cruel behavior. When he found out his father was dying, he realized how much his hatred of his father was still controlling his own life. It was even interfering with the relationships he had with his own young sons.

Avi did not feel his father deserved forgiveness. Byock writes "It is wrong to think that people need to feel forgiveness in order to give forgiveness. Forgiveness is actually about emotional economics. It's about a one-time cost that you pay to clear up years of compounded emotional pain. ... Even if his father didn't deserve forgiveness, Avi did. His father was going to die. Avi was the one who would carry the animosity and resentment in the years to come. He had carried them long enough."

After Avi forgave his father, he also found that he was more forgiving towards his wife and children. "Without knowing it, Avi had been perpetuating many of the traits - such as being quick to judge, overly critical and rigid in his ways - that he despised in Simon." It's easy to repeat your parents' behavior with your own children, even when you've sworn you'd never treat your children that way.

Byock points out "Righteous indignation can be seductive, and even addictive, but unresolved anger is toxic to your happiness and your relationships." Anything toxic to both your happiness and your relationships is worth the effort to remove.

Your relationship with your parents influences the relationship you have with your children. Even after your parents have died, they continue to strongly affect your life. Mending these relationships while your parents are still alive is a gift to yourself. Forgiveness freely given is key. I forgive you. Please forgive me.

Forgiveness has been recognized throughout time as essential for maintaining relationships. The Hawaiian culture has an ancient tradition for making things right between people called Ho'oponopono. Aman Ryusuke Seto captures the essence of this practice through his song, Ho'oponopono. The song’s lyrics include the essential elements of "I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I thank you and I love you."

Expressing love, gratitude and forgiveness is best when woven into your daily life. You do not have to wait until a loved one is dying. Saying these four things to your loved ones will strengthen your relationships with them. Whether you say these things to your children, partner, spouse or parents, try starting today!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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