“A few years ago at a birthday part with my children, another mother pulled me aside and told me that my child had talked back to her. She was embarrassed to tell me, but as my friend, she said that she would want to know if one of her children had behaved the same way.
As she recounted the situation, I began to realize that although my son had been wrong, my friend didn’t have the whole story. For one thing, she had given him different instructions from what I had told him a few minutes before. And even though he inappropriately asked “So what?” to get clarity from her, he had only repeated something I said often.
This could have been a wonderful teaching moment. It reminded me how my kids often imitate my behavior. It offered a chance to teach my children the right way and the wrong way to ask questions. It created an opportunity to show them that the words we choose are important, and that they can unintentionally cause offense.
Sadly, I didn’t handle the situation with such a gentle or wise approach. Rather than pulling my son aside and explaining what he had done, I publicly scolded him and made him immediately apologize. I didn’t teach or explain. I swooped in and acted out of shame, with no interest in the state of my child’s heart, but with great interest in the opinion of the other parents. In the end, everyone involved was embarrassed. I worried so much about appearances that I ended up making everybody miserable.
I don’t want to imply that my children are never at fault. Many aspects of this incident did require teaching and even admonishment. But in this case, my son had been guilty of mere carelessness– not the blatant disrespect for which I disciplined him. The scene I caused revealed much more about my own heart than his: clinging to my idol of perfect children, I became angry and defensive, not gentle or restorative. The gospel must go deeply into this mother’s heart so that I can let go my fear of what others think and parent my children with the gospel as well.”