I was dead asleep one night when I heard my 11-year-old daughter creep in my room.
She was shaking and crying, and even in the dark I could tell she was troubled. Since she had a friend staying over, I was extra worried. In choking sobs she told me they’d done something terrible.
I dreaded what I’d hear.
“We w-anted to p-lay a j-oke on my sisters,” she cried. “So we p-ainted their faces with m-arkers while they were sl-eeping. And now there’s marker all over the sh-eets…”
It took me a minute to confirm everyone was all right, that no eyes had been poked out or worse. The way my daughter was acting, this sounded tragic.
I hugged her and told her it was okay, that she owed her sisters a big apology and I hope she’d learned a lesson. Together we went upstairs, and using a soapy washcloth we cleaned her sisters’ faces. Thank heaven for washable markers.
Afterward my daughter told me she’d cried in bed for an hour before getting me because she felt so guilty. Again, I hugged her and told her it was okay because I knew she wouldn’t do it again.
“Did you have a feeling it was wrong beforehand?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“You need to listen to that feeling,” I told her. “It’s there for a reason.”
The next morning, her sisters accepted their apologies and laughed about the incident. To them this was a memory. To me it was an opportunity to show my child grace when self-torment was getting the best of her.
I tell my kids they can come to me with anything. I tell them they’ll get in more trouble lying than if they come clean. But waking me up in the middle of the night to admit a mistake was a first. My daughter had no idea how I’d react, nor did I. After confirming everyone was okay, I considered a quick lecture. I knew I had my daughter’s ear and how anything I said would be remembered.
But in my daughter’s trembling form, I saw two things: myself and the future. I saw myself because I beat myself up over mistakes. I know how painful these beatings can be, and how nine times out of ten, external punishment isn’t necessary.
I saw the future because I knew I was setting a precedent. Whether I reacted with anger or took a moment to calmly listen might make a difference in whether my daughter ever wakes me up again with a confession. Even in my groggy state, I could imagine her as a teenager, creeping into my bedroom with a heavier issue she’s desperate to unload.
I want her to come to me. I want all my kids to, and though I won’t always help clean up their messes or let them off the hook, I will help them think through any situation to decide on the best course of action. Yes, it’s disappointing to see our child slip when they know better, but that’s part of parenting. Our children are going to make mistakes. Whether or not we’re part of the solution is the choice we make as parents.
Good things came from this incident, as I told my daughter the next day. One, I learned how her moral compass works. She has the ability to self-monitor and doesn’t need me hovering over her to point out every right from wrong.
Two, she knows the sting of guilt and regret, which will hopefully enable a better choice next time.
Three, I got a chance to earn her trust. I got to prove that even mommas who fly off the handle sometimes can be allies when needed.
I felt closer to my daughter after this incident. I respected her more for owning up to a poor choice and showing the maturity to come to me. I like to think I earned her trust, but maybe the bigger truth is, she earned mine. Knowing her conscience is in working order relieves me; it makes me a little less anxious of the independence-seeking years ahead, when the company of friends slowly replaces me.
I can’t always stop my child’s foolish behavior, but I can be an oasis when she’s ready to right her wrong. I can offer words of encouragement when self-torment kicks in. Most of all, I can remind her how a mother’s love never sleeps. Day or night my door is open, and should she need help or guidance, she knows exactly where to find me.
Thanks for reading this article today. If you found the message helpful, please share it through social media.
Also, I’ve written two books for teen & tween girls designed to empower them through faith. Both Liked, and 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know have been used widely across the U.S. for small group studies.
Finally, I have an upcoming mother-daughter event in Baton Rouge that’s open to the public. If you live nearby, we’d love to see you! On February 6 I’ll be at First United Methodist Church speaking about what it means to live fearlessly for Christ. So bring your daughter or a group of girls and buy your tickets here.
Have a great day, and thanks again for stopping by!
Posted by Kari on May 31, 2013