Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Shame. And forgiveness.

I spent an afternoon this summer crying with a mom who is struggling to re-gain some confidence in her parenting ability.
A few years back, when her son was 17, he lost control of the car he was driving and his friends, who were in the backseat, died in the crash.
“It’s the shame” she shares “that is always with me.”

A few weeks ago I noticed an article in the local paper regarding the sentencing of a 22 year old man for his crime of sexually assaulting two young girls. The last sentence of the article said that the acts were not violent and likely took place in the man’s front yard. He was sentenced to something like 24 months of house arrest, in his parent’s home in Walnut Grove. Three pages later, in the Letters to the Editor section, there was a letter with the headline, “A Parent’s Worst Nightmare”. It was written by the 22 year old’s parents. They were apologizing. And sharing the pain of what its like to be the parent of a child who breaks the law. They mentioned that his crime was ‘inappropriate touching’ as a way of letting the rest of us know he wasn’t a sadistic sexual predator, I guess. The letter ended with them commenting about the humiliation;
the shame of being the parent of a child who crossed the line.

I’m afraid of that kind of disgrace.

I’ve lived with other kinds… like that of being not woman enough to keep my man.
“It takes two to make (or break) a marriage…” I’ve been told often enough from non-judgemental acquaintances who feel the need to comment of my marital status. It’s a challenge to hold my head high when, regardless of the circumstances surrounding our divorce, I’m still single and he’s happily not. Obviously there’s something wrong with me.

Similar, but not quite the same indignity, is the shame of not choosing wisely in the first place. “What did you expect? Your backgrounds were so different…”
Uh huh. My fault. I took a risk.

But somehow, marital shame is not even close on the ricter scale of embarassment to parental shame. Especially when “Mom” is the only title on your business card.
Oh my. All misdeeds are discussed, analyzed and judged. By everyone and anyone. Eventually I’ll be advised of someone’s opinion regarding my child’s action. Or inaction. And know that the whole incident is a reflection of my parenting (in)ability.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m pretty much mothering by the seat of my pants. I’m way outa my league with three boys who, thus far, have exhibited no Klassen-like tendencies. They are a trio of aliens with hormones from Mars. I’m doing my best to train them to be acceptable earthlings, but my training facility is not an isolated chamber. Bart Simpson, Bender, Brittney Spears and Eno keep slipping into our home, messing with my boys’ minds. They are going to fail. Mess up. Do a few unacceptable things. Hurt someone. Look retarded. Need forgiveness.

That’s the crux of the matter. The shame of having your kids do something that needs to be forgiven. Forgiven by someone else.

How hard is that? To know that your child blew it; by saying something unkind, doing something unwise or reacting to something inappropriately… and knowing that forgiveness is the only way to repair the damage. A sliver of my child’s future depends on the size of someone else’s heart.

Maybe it’s because I am so aware of the imperfections in my children that I anticipate every conversation that begins, “Jane. I’m not sure how to say this but… there’s been an incident…” to be about one of my boys. I breathe a huge sigh of relief when it turns out to be just the break up of a friend’s marriage and not Clint being a moron, or Max not making a big enough effort on a group project.

My hope (nay dependence) on others forgiving my kids assumes that I too will forgive their kids when they screw up. Easy to do with some. Trickier with others. That’s the nature of the beast. If it were simple I wouldn’t be writing about it.

“I need to forgive her,” I said to my friend.
“Out of obedience to God.” I piously added.
“If I want Him to forgive me, I have to forgive her.” I preached.
“So, daily, I think and say to myself; “I forgive her.” Eventually my heart will catch up with my brain, and I’ll actually feel forgiveness.” I predicted.

She listened to me blather on. Then sent me an e-mail later that evening. I hated it. But have never deleted it. It’s still sitting in the bottom of my inbox, three and half years later.

Hi Girl,
In order to help humble you I'm revising that statement to say that given the right circumstances, you too, could steal another woman’s husband. and so could I. And we could also justify it so we could live with ourselves. Jane, our hearts are evil and it's only by God's grace that we have the right to be called his children.

Live in humility,

I am to forgive because I have been forgiven. Plain and simple.
How scary is this thought: ahem… three and a half years ago, I didn’t think I’d done all that many things that needed all that much forgiveness…The world was a very definite black and white place, and I was living in the Antarctica. Nothing but white. Frosty snow as far as the eye could see.
And yet, gasp. She called my heart evil.

It only took a few years, but OK. I can see she has a point. And that point is the Truth. I’m not perfect. I blow it. I need to be forgiven. Hourly. If I were Catholic, I’d have to spend my whole PMS week in a confessional.
And my kids are dumb sinners as well. They are bound to need forgiveness from a variety of people in their life time, just like me.

Clint screwed up earlier this Spring. Naturally a number of families were involved. These things can never be private. Part of the clean up was for him to go to each home and apologize. Take full responsibility for his actions.
As we stood in the entry of the first house, him saying sorry, me crying in shame, we were received with love. And told, “We’ve been in this exact same place with our oldest son. He was the one saying sorry. I was the one crying. We were given grace. And we extend that to you. Clint, this is part of growing up. This is when mistakes are made. Know that you have a community of adults who are here to catch you when you fall and set you on your feet again.”

Ah. The wisdom that comes from experience.

Thank God her kids weren’t perfect.
I guess thank God that mine aren’t either.

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