Recently I received a note letting me know My Child had made a Bad Decision. It took my breath away. Intellectually, we know our children are human, and will make Bad Decisions. We know we each made our fair share of Bad Decisions, and we still do to this day because we’re human. But when the note comes home and this Child’s Bad Decision leaps from your Intellectual Mind to your Real Life Soul, it takes your breath away.
The disappointment, anger, and sadness walk in and settles onto the couch and dares to put their feet up on the coffee table. I’m a yeller, I do it well when these friends come over. So the kids and I came to an agreement years ago. If they had something to tell me but were afraid of being yelled at, they were to warn me, “I have something to tell you, don’t yell.” And it works. I just need a warning and a moment to inhale deeply and steel myself.
We came up with this arrangement because I want my kids to come talk to me about hard things, when they’re having hard times, when they’re in a bind and need a safe place to land or a safe hand to pull them out of a situation.
So I waited for My Child to come tell me about the Bad Decision. I waited and waited, and I realized the Child was not going to tell me. So we went for a walk. Because forward movement helps process thoughts. Because not having to look each other in the eye makes talking about hard things not so hard. Because being in nature helps us to remember to breathe deeply. Because being in the world provides perspective. Because it’s harder to end or avoid a conversation when you’re far from home and still need to walk back. Mothers know how to create a captive audience.
My parents and my Asian culture operate in a world where shame is their currency. Disappointments and anger are thrust upon you dripped with shame. Shame is the belief you are bad, you are a mistake. Guilt is the belief that you did something bad, you made a mistake. So I grew up believing I was my mistakes, I was bad, broken, not good, not worthy. It took a long time to understand I’m broken, AND worthy. That I make mistakes, AND I’m good.
So I knew the Child and I had to keep walking so that Shame didn’t catch up to us, and so that we could talk about making mistakes. We sat by the lake with our friend Grace, and created a safe place to talk about our values and how pressures and stress and fears create opportunities for struggling to do the next right thing. We talked about how things don’t always end up the way we want, and it can be heartbreaking, and we survive. We talked about how it was important to have a safe space to circle back to when things don’t turn out as we hoped, when we didn’t do the next right thing, when we’re faced with the natural consequences of bad decisions.
We talked about self-care, and doing the best we can, with each decision. And some days are better than others. We talked about making amends, forgiveness, redemption. We talked about how this was just the beginning of the long journey of life, where the Child will be faced with so many more opportunities to make decisions, and some will be harder than others.
I don’t think the Child expected a Fairly Calm Mother, I think the Child expected the Yeller. I know I didn’t expect the Fairly Calm Mother. But I just remembered how it felt, so many times, to feel full of shame, to feel I was bad, to feel I was the mistake. And I knew perpetuating that family dynamic was not the next right thing. And I found that it wasn’t so difficult to offer grace and acceptance because I knew anger and admonishments would not create a learning opportunity, would not create a connecting opportunity, would not model to the Child who I want to be, who I want them to be. I knew that blaming language does not solve problems, talking about solving problems solves problems.
I think of all my Bad Decisions, and how truly fortunate I am that my life did not swerve off a cliff. I think of how much time and energy was wasted in thinking I was the mistake, instead of learning from the mistakes I made. I think of all the grace and love and redemption I was fortunate to receive from friends and loved ones in the face of my mistakes. I want my kids to act like the people they want to be. I want them to see me act like the person I want to be. I want to be the safe place for them to come to.
There are the natural consequences of the Bad Decision the Child must deal with. The judgment on the side is optional though. Today we chose to deal with the appropriateness of the Bad Decision, and leave it at that. Today we chose to remember you can be a good person and make bad decisions. Today we chose to walk with Grace instead of Shame. I hope these are the kinds of walks we will continue to have with Bad Decisions, because we’re human and it’s what we do. Some of our best stories come from Bad Decisions, after all.