Monday, April 7, 2014

Mothering Mistakes

On the way home from school, Spencer and I had one of THOSE arguments about age appropriate privileges and the reasons parents make the decisions they do.

“What! Why does he get to?” Spencer objected.

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“Because he’s in fifth grade.”

“Well, I’m in fourth.”

“Well, Zach didn’t get to do that when he was in fourth grade.”  I crossed my fingers on the steering wheel, knowing Zach has had this privilege before, but NOT in fourth grade.

I feigned confidence in my statement and he sniffed out my half-truth like a blood hound.

“Yeah but he did when he was in 3rd.”


“Yes and it was a mistake.” Then I asked one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve ever uttered. Ridiculous because the obvious answer is ‘NO’ and ridiculous because I was reasoning with an impassioned fourth grader. But apparently I was comfortable with that degree of ridiculous so I asked, “Do you want me to make the same mistakes on you that I made on Zach?”

He practically yelled, “Yes!”

Sometimes when you don’t know what to say, it’s best to say nothing. Kurt’s mantra is “less is more,” and I am always telling the boys “The best way to stop an argument is to stop talking. Stop fueling the argument.”

So I didn’t even respond. Humph.

But from the back seat Levi took over my side of the argument, “You want her to make mistakes on you?”

Sometimes Levi surprises me. He’s funny and random, but he pays attention, and sometimes I think he’s wise beyond his years. Part of me wanted to reach into the back seat and hi-five him in an act of mother/son solidarity.

Spencer picked up right where he left off. “Well if she makes the same mistakes on me, at least I would get to ‘do that.’”

I was rolling my eyes and laughing on the inside over his flawed reasoning. And with the “eyes in the back of my head” I thought I saw Levi rolling his too.

Stay strong, Levi. We’re in this together.

But Levi wasn’t rolling his eyes, he was still engaged in full-on verbal combat. “But Spencer, that’s only one mistake. What about the 70 million others you’d have to go through?!”

Yeah, what about the …wait…what?

Suddenly I realize I’ve mistaken solidarity for incredulity.

It was as if he was trying to coax Spencer out of his dark and illogical argument. Pleading with him to see the dire implications: Can you bear the thought of her making more mistakes than she already has?

It’s true. I’ve made mistakes. A lot of them. Mistakes I don’t want to repeat even if Spencer wants to suffer them.

Mothering mistakes are inevitable. But I’m also beginning to see they’re necessary.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not conjuring up parental screw-ups in my free time. My mistakes don’t require planning—I’m what you might call “a natural.”

But if it weren’t for my mistakes, I’d have no reason to demonstrate a humble (even embarrassing) apology.

If not for my mistakes, how would I show what repentance looks like?

And without mistakes, my boys would have fewer opportunities to demonstrate grace.

What if our parenting mistakes are the classroom where we teach the language of apology and the posture of humility? What if our embarrassed admissions are an opportunity for our kids to extend grace—to us. 

And someday, when they realize their own mistakes, they will neither be surprised nor completely devastated. By God’s grace, they will have learned to acknowledge, apologize, turn from it and receive grace and forgiveness.

And that is the crux of the gospel: We receive grace in exchange for mistakes.

Even when there are 70 million of them.

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