As soon as he got off the bus yesterday, I knew that something was off. On the 100-foot walk home, I could already sense there was something my son wasn’t telling me. I started asking about the bully at school…it wasn’t that. I asked about lunchtime drama…that wasn’t it either. I asked if he made a bad choice…he said no, but I saw him hiding something in his hand. Two Pokemon cards.
I know nothing about Pokemon. We don’t have anything Pokemon at our house. I have no idea if these cards had an actual or fictional value. But I did know that he was acting weird about them.
Two weeks ago, a first grader on the bus had given my kindergartener two Pokemon cards. He was so excited and immediately shared his excitement with me. He gave the rainbow one to his sister and used the other as his beloved bookmark. Today though, he hid them. Something wasn’t right.
Cue the Great Inquisition.
For 10 minutes, he didn’t look me in the eye while I asked him about his day. He tried to say that the same boy gave these to him but could barely get it out as he sucked in his bottom lip. And then the floodgates opened. He didn’t tell me what happened but he did tell me he made a bad choice. He raced to his room sobbing.
I reached out to a friend to get the other child’s number. I held my breath, and I contacted his mom. I didn’t know exactly what happened, but I know my kid had done something wrong and I wasn’t just going to let it slide.
Over the next hour while waiting to hear back from the other mom I got the whole story – he lost the cards that were given to him two weeks ago so he took two more from the kid’s backpack while they were waiting for their afternoon bus.
I was sad. I was embarrassed. And I knew that this was a pivotal parenting moment.
While I didn’t think that this was the gateway to the straight and narrow or a life of kleptomania, I knew that this was an important moment about telling me the truth even when he knows I’m not going to like it; about taking responsibility for his actions; and for respecting the property of others.
When I reached out, I had no idea what kind of mom I was going to encounter on the other side. I didn’t know if she was going to be understanding or furious. But I took a big breath and checked my pride at the door. This motherhood thing is not about me.
I made intentional choices about how to navigate this painful conversation:
When I first texted the other mom, I didn’t have all the facts but I knew something went awry and that my child was at fault. I didn’t know if these were the other child’s prized possession or if he even knew they were missing, but I didn’t want him spending the afternoon/evening fretting where they were. I knew exactly where they were. It was my job to speak up.
Sure, I might have been able to fly under the radar and he may have never known where they went. The other mom would never have pinned me as “the mom with the child who stole my kid’s stuff.” But I also know that’s not how I want to parent and that’s not the level of integrity that I’m teaching my children.
Offering to make it right.
I offered to pack the kids in the car and drive over to deliver the cards personally and immediately. Was that going to be the walk of shame up the driveway? Definitely. Would every step be remembered by my son as he processed his choice? Certainly.
She said it wasn’t necessary to come over immediately, so we didn’t. Frankly, I don’t even know where they live or I would have just shown up and gotten it over with.
But the idea was that I wanted to communicate to her that I am sorry and I realize it’s a big deal. I will go out of my way for my son to make it right.
Not being defensive.
I didn’t have anything to defend here. My child had made a bad choice. He was the only one in the wrong. Once I knew the whole story, I did offer an explanation for his behavior but it was not intended to be an excuse.
Insisting that my child take responsibility and apologize.
You better believe those cards are in his hand getting on the bus today, ready to be stretched out and promptly returned – and accompanied by a thorough apology. We spent the afternoon practicing said apology until he could get through it without sobbing and running to his room. In our house, an apology must include eye contact and at least these three parts:
- “I am sorry for _______ [insert transgression here].”
- An explanation for why that bad choice was made ending with “and I was wrong.”
- “Will you forgive me?”
You aren’t getting through those without a big slice of humble pie.
Communicating consequence and offering grace.
I fully embrace my role as “mean mom.” I have all sorts of ridiculous consequences in my house. No lie, my kids lose furniture privileges for the rest of the day if they stand on the sofa.
However, I didn’t punish him for stealing the cards. I made it very clear that this is a big deal and not tolerated. We talked at length about respecting people’s property and that this can never, ever happen again. He has to take responsibility and apologize to the other child. And he knows that if this ever happens again, all of hell’s fury will rain down on him.
I did punish him for not telling me the truth the first time I asked him about it. He will feel the long, slow burn of that consequence for the rest of the week with no screen time.
I want him to tell me the truth, even when he knows I’m not going to like what he has to say. I want him to know that the choices he makes don’t affect how much I love him. I want him to know that I am here to keep him safe and do what is best for him and in order for me to do that job, he has to tell me the whole truth.
And it was OK.
I’ll be real that as this was all unfolding, I felt like a failure of a mom and that I’m raising a hoodlum. But then the friend who gave me the other mom’s number offered me the gift of honesty and humility. She told me that her son did the same thing. This amazing mom who is raising four kind, respectful, thoughtful kids had the same thing happen in her house. It gave me hope that this misstep isn’t a product of my parenting, but rather a part of motherhood.
The other mom was nothing but understanding.
I wanted to hug this woman through the phone. I wanted to cry into her arms and say “thank you.” I imagine it’s a little bit like my son felt when I didn’t tear into him about his choice that he already regretted.
If you are on the other end, offer grace.
This woman was so kind and understanding. As the mom of three, I suspect that it’s possible that she has been on my side of the equation at some point. She offered no judgment. She gave no criticism.
I hope this is the last cold call/text I have to make to help right my kids’ wrongs but it probably won’t be. And chances are I’ll probably be on the other end of that cold call sometime in the next 15 years. I hope those encounters will also be filled with honesty and grace, and that when the time comes my kids will also offer honesty and grace. They are learning from us, mamas, from how we show them accountability and how we ourselves act. Let’s do it right.