I was fuming. I had already asked the boys to put their shoes away – not a difficult task. They only had to shove them onto the shelf in the corner. I had asked them twice actually, and three times, if you count my sing-song reminder in the van as we pulled into the driveway. I have been trying to practice “gentle parenting” (basically, you treat kids like human beings and not little soldiers, or animals, or robots), but I lost it when I tripped over one of their scuffed-up Crocs.
“I HAVE HAD IT!” I roared. And I probably added some other unkind words, accusing them of not being responsible for their things and not listening. All those things that are relatively typical for kids but mind-blowingly frustrating for their parents.
My older son was quick to apologize and my younger son’s lower lip shook as he refused to meet my angry glare. Instantly, the rage started to cool and guilt swept in. I took a deep breath. Then another. The fire was just ashes now. With just one more deep breath, I could blow them away.
I was raised by “yellers”. I know that most of my generation was also raised by “yellers”. That kind of habit seeps into parenting, despite not being a Biblical truth. Proverbs 18:2 slyly notes, “A rebel doesn’t care about the facts. All he wants to do is yell.”
My mother passed away in 2013. Since her death, I have learned so much more about our family, about her generation and my own. I learned that her childhood had been far more abusive than she had let on. That anxiety and depression very likely run in our family and a generational curse of violence was my inheritance (if I chose to accept it). Yelling, hollering, shouting – whatever you call it – was ultimately a coping mechanism when things felt out of control for her. It was a learned response and the only one she truly understood how to use.
Apologizing is also a learned response. I’m learning it now. It’s definitely a process.
Those two tiny words are actually a door into a huge world of hope, forgiveness and growth. That simple phrase, often uttered meaninglessly between siblings after a squabble, becomes heavy with significance when it’s said as a parent kneels down, their eyes meeting their child’s and speaks it with sincerity. Ecclesiastes 9:17 includes the admonition that, “The quiet words of a wise man are better than the shout of a king of fools.”
I didn’t hear that phrase a lot when I was growing up. I understand that my mother loved me the best way she knew how, trying to defy the decades of shame and anger that had shaped much of her identity. But I owe it to her to learn from her choices – and determine which are right for myself and my sons, of which just aren’t part of my identity anymore. I feel like we are in a place as a culture – as a religion, as a people – where we need to realize that sometimes the “old ways” aren’t the best ways. Even God himself changed his way of reaching mankind when Jesus was born. Centuries of rigid law and just but fierce punishment gave way to the Great Exchange and in Christ we have found mercy, grace and abundant forgiveness. It’s the least we can do to show our kids that everyone makes bad choices sometimes and humility is always the first step towards making amends. Ephesians 4:2 reminds us to, “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that this advice should apply only to adults! Children need to be given the opportunity to forgive just as often as they are given the stern parental commandment to apologize.
Unlike the words of cartoon fairy godmothers, the words “I’m sorry” are not magic. Often, the real work is just starting as you help your child understand why you made the choices you made and why they were not helpful or correct given the situation. Then, you can consider asking how you can help fix what you did wrong. Maybe you spoke too harshly and your kid just wants a reassuring hug that you still love them. Maybe you accused them of something that you later learned was someone else’s fault. They might need some time alone to gather their thoughts before they’re ready to talk to you.
All of that is ok.
Remember, your actions are directly influencing the next generation of world leaders, inside and outside of the church. Perfection isn’t necessary (nor, of course, is it attainable). But raising up leaders (and raising up kids to be leaders!) can never happen without honesty, humility and grace.
Those two little words teach your family that it’s ok to be wrong and it’s okay to be a part of helping to create and enact a solution that begins the healing process for everyone.