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To Err Is Human

by Tammy Zumbusch
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Teen Talk

To err is human Alexander Pope

The stress of life has been heavy for me these last couple of weeks. Nothing noteworthy, just a lot of un-noteworthy things. Have you ever noticed bad things come in threes? I have no scientific proof of this, just life experience. Last Tuesday was a perfect example of this;

  1. I went to the wrong place for my long-awaited appointment and therefore was just late enough that we had to re-schedule.
  2. I found out that something for my daughter’s wedding is going to cost 3x as much as we budgeted for.
  3. I made myself a mid-day life-saving coffee that spilled all over my lap on my way to work so I had to go back home to change.

When I walked in the door I saw my kid was home from school. I peeked in with the intention to say hello and ask how he has been doing, as between studying for final exams, school, work, and end-of-year events we hadn’t been connecting much. When I tried to push the door open it was met with resistance. I pushed harder and looked behind to see what the problem was. It was a huge pile of dirty clothes. As I scanned the room I also saw 2 plates, 4 water bottles, trash everywhere but the garbage, and three pairs of shoes haphazardly thrown off of his size 13 foot and left there to die. I swung my head around to look at him. He had his head in his phone oblivious to the mess around him. I said, “Eli!” He raised his voice an octave higher than his now natural baritone.., “Hi mom! It’s so good to see you!” What a gift. My teenage son was excited to see me AND wanted me to know.

Did I treat that situation like the gift it was? Did I treat him like the gift he was? No, I did not. I let him have it. He had just sat down on his bed and was decompressing from the day, and I came into his safe space and made it unsafe. I was in a terrible mood and seeing his room like that was the straw that broke this middle-aged mama’s back. I started screaming. Things like, he was too old for me to have to constantly remind him to keep his room clean (forgetting that I have given many presentations explaining to parents the exact opposite is true.) I told him that he has zero respect for me or this house. I let him know he’s a slob and I even went so far as to tell him the person he ends up marrying will be disgusted with him if he doesn’t learn to keep his space clean. It pains me to admit and to remember.

Not surprisingly he shut down. His excited voice turned to soft and defeated. “Okay, mom. I hear you. You don’t have to keep yelling.” I slammed the door and walked away. In the moment I had felt so vindicated. Screaming felt like the release I so desperately needed after the day I had. But now, as I walked away from his room, I felt nothing but guilt and sadness for how our first interaction in days had gone. Now, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t still pretty upset about how his room looked. I wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t true. (Although I have no idea if the person he may marry someday will be a clean freak or not) The point was, I took out all of my frustrations on him at that moment. I was a tea kettle and walking into his room made my blood boil just enough to blow my steam. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Poor kid.

“To err is to human,”

A quote by the great English poet Alexander Pope. We often miss the second half of that quote;

“… to forgive, divine.”

Learning to ask for forgiveness is not just important for the relationship between you and your teen, it’s crucial.

When your teen messes up, and they will, they could really use the advice and encouragement from a trusted adult to help them navigate their way off the rumble strip and back into the correct lane. Many mistakes teens make can be marked with shame, insecurity, and embarrassment. But we can turn those mistakes into an exercise that can help build character and develop accountability and empathy.

But how? Do as I say, not as I do-hasn’t and will never work. With children, especially teens, much more is caught, than it is taught. My little faux pas with Eli, was a perfect opportunity to have Eli ‘catch me’, being accountable for my actions. I wasn’t excited about the next interaction, but I knew it was necessary for our relationship that I mend what I had just broken. I needed to walk the walk. If I am to expect my teen to apologize and change their behavior when they are wrong, so then, shall I.

I sheepishly walked into an Eli who was already on the defense, angrily picking up his room. When I started to talk, he cut me off as if to say, “No more! My young fragile psyche can’t handle anymore of your criticism.” But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said, “YES, MOM, I’M DOING IT, SEE!” I instantly realized I had single-handedly made my 16-year-old go from excited and happy to see me, to defensive and angry. My heart sank. “Eli, I’m here in your space to apologize to you. I am so sorry. When I came in and noticed you were home, I was so happy I got to see you because I’ve been really missing you. Instead, I inserted myself in your safe space and unloaded my entire day’s frustration on you. You didn’t deserve that and I’m sorry.” Still wounded and not quite ready to grant me grace he said nothing. I asked if I could come in and help him. He said quietly, “You don’t have to, it’s my responsibility” There’s that contagious accountability bubbling to the surface. I said, “You’re right, it is. But I want to help. I have to go to work so I only have a little time, and I’d like to spend it with you.”

I picked up a few things in silence before he started talking. In this quiet space working alongside each other is where the magic happened. His heart softened, he saw me as a flawed human who was willing to take accountability, and in-turn he did the same.

Then … he forgave me and probably himself in the process. He stood tall, looked at me, and said, “Oh yeah mom, I forgot to tell you! That test I was so worried about, I aced it!” I said with excitement “Eli! I’m so proud of you!” And I didn’t just mean about his test.

Forgiveness, divine.

That night before I fell asleep, I thanked God for allowing me to raise His precious child, Eli. I also asked Him for forgivenss for the times I don’t do right by that role He trusted me with. And lastly, I thanked Him for the awesome gift of forgiveness.

Jesus taught us through the cross that the person with the most power in any given relationship is responsible for starting the reconciliation process. If our goal is to raise teenagers who can take ownership for their actions and apologize in a way that is emotionally authentic and will improve the chance of future healthy relationships in their lives, we need to model exactly what that looks like.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32


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