We all have those “Oh no!” moments as parents. Sometimes they’re funny and give us a story that gets repeated at family reunions. Other times they’re serious. This month our writers share their parenting mistakes—and how they’ve used those mistakes to learn valuable parenting lessons.
How do we recover from the mistakes we make as parents?
I remember telling my dad, “My prayer is never to have to say, ‘If only . . .’ when it comes to parenting.” I’ve been parenting my children for a little over 13 years now. I’ve had to say, “If only,” more times than I’d like to admit.
One such time was last summer when I backed into my 10-year-old son with our van. “If only I had checked.” “If only I wasn’t in a hurry.” “If only . . . ”
By the grace of God, my son was fine. He had known I was leaving, but that didn’t get in the way of his desire to play with his Legos, in the sunshine, in the driveway, behind the van. When I backed up, I felt the resistance and stopped. It was like a slow motion movie scene as I rushed to the back of the van to first see scattered Legos and then my son.
When I saw him, I screamed, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I am so, so sorry!” He was crying too. His legs were scraped up pretty badly, but he could stand and nothing looked broken. He then began apologizing to me. He knew he responsible. I was the mom. I had just hit my son with the van! What mom hits her son with a van?!?!
This mom. This mom had to call the doctor and explain that she needed to bring her son in because she hit him with the van. This mom had to call her husband and tell him that she hit his son with the van. This mom had to explain that she hit her son with the van when friends, family, and curious/nosey people saw the bad scrapes, scratches, and bruises.
That day I had made an obvious mistake in my parenting. But I had made a not-so-obvious mistake as well. Up until that day, I had put much of my value in my own parenting. I had felt like I was a pretty good parent—until I did something characteristic of a bad parent. I was crushed. In my mind I had lost a big part of my self-worth. But what if I had put my value in being a beloved daughter of the almighty God?
Being a dearly loved daughter who had made a horrible mistake—who could crawl in the lap of her Creator and ask for comfort and forgiveness—changes everything. When I keep this perspective, it is a lot easier for me to have grace in my parenting. It is easier to have grace when mistakes are made—by me, by my husband, by my children. The same is true for every Christian parent. If we find value in who we are as dearly loved and forgiven children of God, we never have to be good enough. We are enough because God made us so.
Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have four children.
Recently I was talking to a new mom. It had happened. Her normally stationary infant had gotten just enough strength to roll. And roll she did. Right off the bed.
Tears streamed down the young mom’s face as she lamented, “I just turned my back for a second.” Thankfully, infants are tougher than you think, and her daughter was fine about 60 seconds later.
We have those moments as parents. Those times when we make a decision and our child is negatively impacted. But I have a theory about parenting mistakes that I’m still working out. I think the biggest parenting mistakes are the ones that affect the soul and of which we are ignorant except in moments of rare clarity.
I had one of those moments recently. I was sitting on the couch with my daughter. I reached over to grab my coffee and noticed something. My daughter had grabbed our iPad. And there she sat, swiping and tapping, squeezing and pressing, right through about three different apps. Did I mention she was not yet two?
Now you might suppose that I’m about to talk about her developing young mind or her language acquisition, but I’m not. Not right now. What I was concerned about in that moment is something that I think is even more profound. What I’m writing about right now is a dad who has at least on occasion absented himself from his daughter with an iPhone. What I’m concerned about is the power of the ding of a text message or the pull of an e-mail that had required me (so I thought) to hand her a replacement parent. What I’m writing about is a young soul who had been taught a lesson about the value of her presence vs. a glowing screen—a lesson that was all too personal for her.
I need grace from Jesus for that. And I know I have it. There was no temptation that would or could pull Jesus from his higher calling of loving children. Not even when he was exhausted and tired from a long day of dealing with people. That righteousness is mine through faith. I’ve worn it since my baptism. I believe that so deeply as a parent.
And that righteousness not only covers me, it calls me. It calls me to be better, to work harder, and sometimes even to set family policy. Now when we go out to eat, I leave my phone in the car. When we eat family dinner, my iPhone is set to vibrate in the other room. And when my daughter gets up in the morning and needs a minute to wake up, she sits in my lap with her blankie, and I use the time for prayer.
Jonathan Bourman is pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina. He and his wife, Melanie, have a two-year-old daughter.
If you were to ask my now grown children, they would tell you that my husband and I held them responsible any time they were caught in gross disobedience. They might even tell you that we held them responsible for small and imagined infractions.
What they don’t know is that there were times when one of us wanted to believe our child’s version of events rather than that of the accuser. Against all reason, common sense, and sometimes our conscience, we wanted to diminish or dismiss a major offense.
One incident in particular haunts me. My son was reported to have been extremely unkind to a child, “Jack,” in my care. Jack was challenging in terms of behavior and had bullied other children. When I questioned my child, he assured me that he had done nothing wrong. I accepted my son’s version of events, even though I had nagging doubts.
As the day wore on, I noticed that my son became quiet and had no appetite. He then told me he had a tummy ache. My son was not a very accomplished liar. Guilt was written all over his little face and had even started to manifest itself in his body.
Reality hit me. I asked my son if something was bothering him. He tearfully confessed that he was, indeed, guilty of the unkindness. The words rushed out of his mouth as though he’d been holding them in. He wanted to apologize immediately to Jack. I too wanted to apologize. I felt terrible that I had not believed Jack.
Later, when I paused to reflect on this incident, I realized the great disservice I had done to my son. By not holding him accountable, I had denied him the chance to repent and then feel the healing balm of forgiveness. For without acknowledging his trespass, my son carried it as a burden of guilt. I was complicit in strapping that burden on him. Only when he laid it down did he feel the relief that repentance and forgiveness can bring.
In the following years, I would have occasion to remember this incident. The remembrance was not of my son’s misdeed but mine. It helped me to be firm in my resolve to hold my children accountable.
When a friend told me she didn’t think I was an “advocate” for my children, I shared this story with her. When we as parent’s advocate for the truth, it may sometimes mean we are faced with our child’s transgression. When that happens, we have the greatest answer to any sin—forgiveness.
Mary Clemons lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.
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Volume 102, Number 2
Issue: February 2015
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