Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cleaning up the messes

“…forgetting what lies behind…” - Phil. 3:13

We all make mistakes. Sometimes the hardest part of a “mistake episode” is the moving past the mistake. As parents, letting go of our kid’s mistakes is so important. We often forget that when our child messes up, they are usually bothered more than we are. They have all the guilt they need. What they really need from us is the encouragement to do better the next time. But we have to make the right post-mistake choices to be that encourager.

I had spent the night with one of my best buds, Donny, in Amarillo on my way to Colorado. It was my senior in college and my dad loaned me his car to drive to the post-Christmas ski trip. As I drove out of Amarillo that Friday, the snow began. The snow picked up, so I decided to spend the night in Raton, New Mexico. Just a few miles from town, I came over a hill to a stopped 18-wheeler. As I put on the brakes, my vehicle slid into the back of the truck. I was fine, but the front of the car was damaged. I had it towed into Raton and had to spend the weekend there to have the car repaired on Monday. As I fell on the hotel bed, I felt terrible. I had damaged my dad’s car and was missing most of the ski trip.

I took a deep breath and called my dad (collect on the hotel phone- remember those days?) He was ticked and angry. Looking back as a dad, I would have been angry too, about the situation. What I needed was encouragement, but all he had to give was anger. My dad and I worked it all out later, but at the time, I needed my dad to just be there for me. No more guilt was necessary.

We have expectations as parents, and when our kids fall short, we basically have three choices. One is to be angry at our child. Of course, we’re always disappointed when our kids struggle. But, hopefully, we take a deep breath and realize that most of the time they’re doing the best they can with what they have.

A second option is to be angry with someone else about them. That usually is a coach or a teacher. We blame the mess on someone who could have prevented it. We forget that it’s not the teacher’s fault that our child made the C on the test. My child made the C because he did a “fair” amount of studying for the test.

And our third choice is to let it go. Hopefully, we realize that the consequence of the mistake falls on our child alone, not us.

I remember reading research in Graduate school about “latch key kids” and their emotional stability. Research shows that most kids that come home to an empty house after school are actually more responsible than kids coming home to a parent. I’m not advocating empty homes because I believe it is great when moms are there. But I am cheering for parents who teach their kids to clean up their own messes.

So, when our kids mess up, try to control the anger and be there to be their encourager. Don't own the mess for them but be there to guide them through with love and encouragement. And be there to point them back to the loving God that wants to walk beside them through the journey.

Remind them that we all make messes. Remind them that whether at home or in Raton, we all make mistakes.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

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