When The Wheels Come Off

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,


5 responses to When The Wheels Come Off

  1. Shawn says:

    Thank you so much for this transparent post. I am right in the middle of learning to live with the tension of grace and not being a Pharisee expecting my teenagers to never mess up. Thank your son for letting you share when the wheels came off. I am right there with you in the trenches. I know that your prayer is similar to mine–that Jesus Christ, who loves our kids more than we do–will woo each one in His own unique way. I don’t want to stand in the way of the story He is writing in their lives–including using the times when the wheels come off to profoundly bring them to Himself. He has begun a good work in each of them and HE (and only He) will be faithful to complete it.

  2. donna says:

    I realize now that when the wheels came off in our house, that I was ill prepared to handle it. Having spent waaaaay too much time in fear and worry that the said wheels might come off, I was a self fulfilling prophesy waiting to happen. I also know that my own pride of wanting to be the perfect parent was to blame for so often losing all perspective when those wheels went wheeling down the street. Ugh.
    So now I’m the parent of grown and married kids. Practice perspective and grace now, moms with kids still at home. It does not magically appear when your kids are independent adults. Disciplining myself in prayer and faith..and remembering that my God loves and cares infinitely more for my kids than I do is key..and reading posts like these, Kim! When I’m around my “fabulous but flawed like me” kids this summer I’m going to pray for myself! (and hope your might pray for me, too!)

  3. Irma says:

    Thank you for making me realize that our children need grace when the wheels seems like they are coming off, after us giving a Christian guidance. Make me feel better I am not the only one, that I need to act instead of react to what our young adult children really need. I was going to react to the situation, now I will act with grace for what my son needs.

  4. Nancy Winslow says:

    Thank you for bearing your heart and displaying God’s love and grace.

  5. Gail says:

    So, if you were granted a complete do over, what would you choose to do instead?

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