Our son came home before midnight. He kissed his mom and dad, chatted a while, and then snuck back out the laundry-room door after he knew we were both asleep.
“I think you should tell THAT part of the story” he said recently during a phone call home from college, “It might be helpful for people to hear the not-so-great parts.”
You mean the part where the wheels come off the family bus? Where we careen down the parenting highway sideways? Those parts, son?
“It’s OK, mom. Maybe it will help someone who’s struggling” he said.
And so with our son’s permission and prodding, here’s another chapter of our parenting story. I offer it as a tiny kernel of hope and encouragement to those of you who might be skidding down the parenting highway (wondering what the heck just happened) this week.
Our son left our house well after midnight for a post-dance soiree with five other friends and their dates. The party (and co-ed sleepover) had been sanctioned by parents who could absolutely be counted on not to treat mature high-schoolers like five-year-olds.
These are the kind of parents who know better than to freak out and blow their lids over typical teenage fun. These inner-circle adults are perennially cool and casual. They know when to welcome everyone warmly at the door, and they know when it’s time to wink and walk away.
Knowing this set-up would never fly with his parents, our son took matters in his own hands. His game plan? To enjoy the approval and pleasure of both his worlds: He’d have some fun with his friends and then slip home undetected and wake up in his own bed.
No harm. No foul.
Did you know that the brains of young men aren’t fully formed until they are twenty-five?
Our teenage son, primarily using the section of his brain that had yet to develop, left the shin-dig in the early morning hours and drove silently up his own driveway at 3:30AM. By the light of the moon he tiptoed back through the laundry room and into the kitchen. It was there that he encountered his dad who was up pouring himself a glass of water at the sink.
And then the wheels officially came off. Because his dad is really not casual and cool like that, especially when he’s startled in the wee hours of the morning. And his mom has NEVER ONCE IN HER LIFE known how, or when, to just wink and walk away.
What would you have done? My own people can attest that however you might have responded (short of homicide) would have been miles better than how I did.
I FREAKED OUT AND TOTALLY BLEW MY LID. I said things I still very much regret and heaped condemnation over everyone even remotely involved. I could have cared less about grace. Who’s really thinking about grace when you’re wanting to kill so many people?
Please don’t be like me. Being a parent who winks and looks away is pretty bad. But being a Christian parent that doesn’t understand grace is especially, notably, ironically, terribly sad.
David and I called the casually cool parents the next morning. They were appropriately concerned with our son’s lack of good sense. “Thank God he’s SAFE! He could have been KILLED!” they said. They were not conflicted with their part in our family’s little parenting drama. All was perfectly well and good on their end.
No harm. No foul.
What does grace look like when you’re working it out with other parents who see things much differently than you do? What does it sound like? Act like? Feel like?
In theory, I think it’s supposed to sound like truth spoken in love. But reality is so much different than theory, isn’t it? Especially when your blood is boiling and you’re raining down curses on every living thing.
And to make things worse, our son was not nearly as repentant as we would have liked. The only foul in his mind was that he got caught. And the only harm? That his parents would definitely not wink and walk away. His life was effectively over. Starting now.
What does grace look like when your angry and disappointed with your child? When you’re worried about them physically, relationally, and spiritually? What does it sound like? Act like? Feel like?
On my very best days, I hope grace sounds and feels like love, spoken with words that ring true. I hope grace sees and appreciates the holy and beautiful drama playing out in this world. I hope grace leads to life, peace, and restoration, even while the wheels are coming off.
Man that’s a tall order. Because I can count my best parenting days on one hand! When I’m strained, stressed, tired, or unpleasantly surprised, which, let’s be honest, is most days, I know how to zero in on the truth like a champion bloodhound. But with a kindness that leads to repentance and life? Notsomuch.
Being grace to our children, to other struggling parents, or to ourselves, never means we ignore harm or dismiss fouls. And it certainly doesn’t imply that everything is permissible and good as long as no one’s has been hurt. Gah! But it does insist that our words and actions remain life-giving and love-giving to all the various parties involved in our daily dramas.
Our growing kids can’t launch out into this world without some wheels coming off. May they hear our words of grace – truth, hope, and unconditional love – when they do
Grace and peace to you and yours,