In one of her mysteries (His Burial Too), writer Catherine Aird wrote, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” I have been both. The good news is, if as a parent you have been a terrible warning at one time or another, you can choose to be a good example starting immediately.
Parents do make mistakes and parents show rude behavior from time to time. But such behavior doesn’t have to be part of your permanent make-up.
I’m sure as a parent you have looked in the mirror and thought, That wasn’t my best moment. I have.
Not My Best Moment
Several years ago while on a family vacation, I had one such “not my best moment.” We were driving around a busy town I didn’t know very well. My driving ability has come under criticism from time to time while all of the family is in the vehicle. This was no exception.
I approached a green light in heavy traffic too quickly and passionately accelerated as it turned yellow and then slammed on the brakes when it turned red. I found myself partially in the intersection and completely in the crosswalk.
There were several people using the crosswalk. Most of them walked around the front of the car with no feedback for me. A few looked to get a glimpse of the driver, and some glared. One pedestrian used a hand signal to show his displeasure, but one used his foot––to kick the bumper.
The kick was loud enough for everyone to hear and hard enough to shake the car. I know what I should have done, because I did the opposite, and hindsight usually sees clearly.
I rolled down the window to ask a question. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, the gentleman told me who I was and what he thought of me. I rolled up the window and pushed down common sense. When the light turned green, I pulled out into the intersection and should have kept going, but I didn’t.
I turned at the next light, and guess who was walking down the street? A divine appointment, right? I caught up to the gentleman and his wife and got out of the car. I walked over to the gentleman and had a very brief, very direct conversation and then got back into the car.
I’m sure you can imagine the joyful atmosphere in the car once I got back in. Good example? No, Horrible warning? Yes. How do you take advantage of that mistake? How do you explain that exceptional piece of parental modeling to your spouse, to your kids? “Go and do likewise” won’t get it done. “Do as I say, not as I do” is dumb advice. “Sorry about that” doesn’t get it done either.
Turn The Horrible Warning Into A Good Example
It’s hard to swallow your pride as a parent, at least that’s been my experience. We teach our children that when they apologize, they need to say it all. “Sorry” doesn’t work. “Sorry about that” doesn’t work. In our home, we require three things of an apology.
1. You must own your behavior with that first word: “I.” “I am sorry for . . .”
2. You verbalize what you did wrong. “ . . . getting out of the car and yelling at those people. I made a poor choice with my actions . . .”
3. You ask forgiveness of those you have offended. “Will you please forgive me?”
And, we don't just require this type of an apology from our kids, we require it for both Mary and I as parents. Given the above "exceptional piece of parenting" I modeled to my children that one vacation day I had to pull the car over and walk through steps 1, 2 and 3. It wasn't easy.
There is a great verse in the book of Romans: “And do your best to live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18, CEV). Notice the verse doesn’t say, “Kids, do your best to live at peace with everyone.” Nor does it say “Parents, do your best to live at peace with everyone.” The instruction is for all of us to do our best––parents and children alike.
I like what Ephesians 6:4 says in The Message: “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.”
That’s it, isn’t it? We are to demonstrate a gentle spirit and admit when we have blown it. Leading your children in the way of the Master is a far cry from digging your heels in and trying to justify your unjustifiable behavior of, let’s say, trying to find a guy who kicked the bumper of your car so you could talk some sense into him. However, sitting down in a quiet moment and asking their forgiveness is.
Question: Have you ever had to apologize to your child for a “not so great parenting moment?” How did your child respond?