Forgiving but not forgetting

I am a converting to Catholicism and have a question about forgiveness that has been bugging me for years. I have a stepmother-in-law who has said things every hurtful and mean about my special needs young son to me and periodically sends me nasty texts because we refuse to expose our child to her any longer. She has a serious drinking problem and her behavior can be unpredictable. She does not contact my husband at all. Our relationship with my father-in-law is fine, we do see him. Is it possible for me to forgive her behavior in my heart but still refuse to let my son be around her or anywhere she is? This really weighs on my heart during the Christmas season but I don’t want to expose my son to being hurt by her.

Forgiving and forgetting are two separate things. You can forgive a person and truly move on but you do not have to forget the behavior they are capable of. God knows your heart and knows you are choosing to protect your son.

You are not required to be in a relationship with someone you’ve forgiving. If the person is toxic to you, or your child in this case, you do not have to see her or be around her. Block her from texting you, block on social media if you are on it, and take steps to avoid her during the holidays.


Thanks I have done all that, except blocking the texts, my phone does not have the capability but I do not respond.

Think of forgiveness as giving up the desire for retribution, vengeance or the desire to harm them back. That does not prohibit you from. Taking steps to prevent them from harming you again are unrelated to forgiveness and may be prudent especially when you have responsibilities to others like children or a spouse.

And yes, I realize that view of forgiveness is a bit simplistic.


I struggled with something similar. I have a toxic SIL… she’s been very sneaky, manipulative and devious from day one. I knew something was off about her and she seemed plain evil like she enjoyed being that way. Well, I was finally able to put a name to it… she’s a covert narcissist. She’s been less than kind, and what makes it hard is my niece is close to me and I love her to pieces. I decided it was not good to have this hatred in my heart and would never want my niece to pick up on it. I’ve had to pray to let go of the way I feel about her and forgive her on my own (even though she never asked for it and may never ask) but I did it for myself. I forgave her but won’t/can’t forget. I’m cordial and have the minimum contact as possible with her, and I blocked her and contact my brother if I want to see my niece. It’s sad but unfortunately there’s unstable and nasty people in this world and honestly hurt people hurt people. I have to protect myself from her malice and sorry for the rant but you have to do what you have to do to protect your son and keep your sanity. God knows your heart and that you are looking out for your family. In the meantime, pray for her… as hard as it is really include her in your prayers that God please change her and give you the wisdom to know how to deal with her.

The best explanation I have heard of it is this: Forgiving is setting aside ill will. It is choosing mercy.
Reconciliation, however, is the building of relationship required to responsibly put a person in a position of trust. It only takes one party to forgive. It takes both parties to reconcile. That is why we have to come forward for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and why we have to ask for Baptism and Eucharist. Reconciliation can only take place between ourselves and God if we ourselves do what is necessary to make it happen.

You will find it far easier to forgive your mother–to let go of any ill will or the willingness to sit in judgment or a desire for vengeance or retribution from Heaven or anywhere else–if you do not see forgiveness as excusing unacceptable behavior or deeming an untrustworthy person worthy of a position of trust they have abused in the past.

Your mother’s exclusion from your son’s life is a natural consequence of her past record of doing hurtful things towards him and her refusal to repent and demonstrate her amendment in behavior in how she behaves towards you. You are right to protect your son from abuse. You are right to require demonstration of self-control before you believe that an offender is really worthy of a position of trust, even when the offender is your own mother.

Also remember that putting your mother in a position she cannot handle is putting her in a near occasion of sin. If she cannot keep herself from harming a child, it is both in the child’s self-interest and in hers to have others step in and stop her from offending again. She may not like it, but if she were your child and she were harming another child, I think you’d see that you have no choice but to put controls in that are beyond her capacity to apply to herself.

I’m very sorry that you have to be in a position of parent to your parent, but that is where you are. Hang in there, and get support for yourself. This has to be hard and a source of sorrow, even when you know what you have to do.

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Forgiving someone does NOT mean you have to let them continue to harm you. Don’t worry about it.


You can make a choice to forgive someone. You cannot choose if you can’t forget what they did or said. As angel12 said, that does not mean you have to reconcile with them. Be at peace.

Actually, it’s her step-mother-in-law, so she doesn’t have to parent her own parent. And that’s a good thing. :slightly_smiling_face:

As others have said, your forgiveness is separate from reconciliation. It is generally desirable to reconcile with a person but not always practical, and in some cases attempting to do so would be fruitless and potentially harmful to yourself and others around you.

It seems in this case the best thing for you to do now is let go of any feelings of spite towards her and offer your prayers instead.

Reconciliation is also separate from returning someone to a priveleged place of trust. You can reconcile with someone who embezzled from you and even give them a job. That doesn’t mean you’d make them a cashier.

Somehow this is easier to see when it is money being protected instead of things that are more precious but less tangible.

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