Recently I attended a family reunion. We did lots of catching up, including reminiscing over family memories. A conversation that continued to pop up over the weekend was prompted by the question, “What is the maddest you ever saw your mom/dad?” Some people shared memorable stories of pure rage, like one relative who, after saying “Shut up!” to his mom as a teenager, had his father’s hands gripped around his neck with the understanding that he had a choice to pack his bags or show his mom the respect she deserved.
Some people shared touching, heartfelt stories of undeserved grace, like another relative who hid in the closet for what seemed like hours after she broke a lamp while building a fort in her living room. She was terrified of what her parents’ reaction would be — but felt so relieved when her parents responded to her clear remorse with gracious kindness.
Some stories had rage AND grace, like when my cousin, then 14, wanted to see how fast he could drive his grandpa’s truck in reverse. After running the truck into a ditch, his dad (my uncle) was understandably livid and exploded with unsavory, colorful, and uncharacteristic language. My cousin slunk away to bed… only to be awakened in the middle of the night by my uncle humbly asking forgiveness for his tirade.
The thing is, everyone from 9 to 90 had a story.
These interactions that happened between parent and child, when the child was clearly in the wrong, were some of the strongest memories that people had of their childhoods. And the emotions that were felt years ago were still vivid in their memories when retelling the story.
As you are choosing how to handle your kids’ misbehavior, remember — these are the memories that will be cemented in your kids’ brains by the strong emotions involved. These will be the stories that your kids will be processing with siblings and cousins 30 years from now! Without a doubt, your kids will mess up. (And so will you!) Your choice is how you respond, both in the daily grind of life and in the big “truck in a ditch” moments.
Try asking yourself these questions:
- What stories might your kids tell about you in 30 years? Is there anything you want to resolve about any of those incidents? (Humility a little late is better than pretending it wasn’t a problem.)
- Next time one of your kids misbehaves, ask yourself – “What do I want my child to remember in 30 years?”
- If your response is full of grace and purpose, savor the moment! (Your internal joy will prompt more responses like that.)