Developing a Mindset of Self-Forgiveness

It’s the Jewish New Year again.


Time to reflect on the past 12 months.


Time to say “I’m sorry.”


And time to grant forgiveness.


Usually when we think about forgiveness, we think about forgiving others for mistreating or harming us in some way. We rarely think about forgiving ourselves.


But in my work as a parent educator and mentor, I come across many parents who are constantly beating themselves up about past mistakes and carrying around a lot of guilt.


Whether or not you celebrate the Jewish New Year, it’s time to forgive yourself, let go of that guilt, and move on.


We all make mistakes and regrettable parenting choices. Some people internalize their experience and believe it reflects a flaw in their character. Others see parenting as a never-ending path to personal growth. When something isn’t working, they look for ways to create better outcomes instead of getting stuck in negativity.


It is the Jewish tradition to acknowledge that we have all behaved selfishly over the past year, then to think hard and ask forgiveness for ten days, and finally, to release that pain and vow to do better next year.


Carol Dweck is a professor and psychologist who has researched the topics of success, motivation, and achievement. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she explores the idea that there are two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.


A “mindset” is a belief system. Dweck says that people with fixed mindsets believe that their basic qualities, such as intelligence and talent, are fixed traits that can’t be changed. People with growth mindsets, however, believe that those qualities can be developed through hard work, dedication, and experience.


Parents with a fixed mindset tend to view things in black-and-white: there are “good” parents and “bad” ones. Every situation is evaluated as a success or a failure. They have very high expectations for themselves and constantly strive for perfection. They feel a strong need to prove their competence, and believe that if they’re naturally skilled or talented at something, it shouldn’t require effort.


Parents with a growth mindset view themselves (and their children) as works in progress. They see challenges as learning opportunities instead of failures. They believe that effort itself contributes to their intelligence, creativity, and success.


Fortunately, the growth mindset is a choice, and something that can be cultivated. The next time you start to criticize your actions or punish yourself with guilt and remorse, ask: “What is this experience trying to teach me? How can I grow through this? What will I do differently next time?”


Becoming is better than being


In the comments below, let me know — Is there something you need to forgive yourself for? What’s something you’ve judged about your parenting that you could re-frame as an opportunity for growth?


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  • Kristy

    Pam, such great advice (as always) about the importance of self-forgiveness and the importance of growth mindsets.

    For me, I often feel pressure to make sure EVERY experience my little one has with technology is purposeful and educational (as a children’s technology researcher I feel pressure to always get this right). But I don’t. Some days he watches TV for longer than I’d like and other days he spends more time on the iPad than he should. But I know that rather than focusing on always trying to get it right and perfect, I need to use this as a learning experience for myself. How can I better manage the situation next time? What would I do differently.

    Thanks for a great reminder about how important it is to re-frame things and not worry about “always getting it right”.

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