“Son, shut up!”
The words flew like a knife out of my mouth, cutting my 14 year old son before I could sheath them. He had pushed the issue one too many times. I had firmly told him he couldn’t do something, but rather than accept my answer he chose to be creative in his approach and ask from a different angle, hoping I wouldn’t notice. Hoping I’d change my mind.
But I caught on. I said no again and warned him to stop pushing and accept my answer. Obviously he wasn’t finished because a few minutes later, he asked me one more time. And I lost it.
I’d never told him to shut up before. He stood, stunned at my words, then tucked his tail like a whipped puppy and left the room.
I could tell my words stung as they cut. He looked wounded. He’d never seen me come at him like that before. It wasn’t just the words, but the fire behind them as well.
But didn’t he deserve to be yelled at when he didn’t accept my answer? What did he expect when he kept pushing? And I promise this wasn’t the first time.
I sat for a few minutes, thinking the whole thing over. On one hand I felt justified in my response, but on the other hand I wondered if I took it too far. I tried to look at the scenario objectively. I imagined how I would respond if I heard a similar conversation between him and his younger brother. Would I want him to respond like I did to his brother’s repeated questions?
Definitely not! I would not want either one of my boys to end the conversation with shut up!
I’d sit them both down and say that’s not how we talk to each other and encourage the one who said shut up to apologize.
So I knew I had to do the same.
For years I’ve tried to instill in my boys what it means to be a real man. Inspired by the book Raising a Modern Day Night, I often ask them, “What does a real man do? And they’ll reply, “A real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously and expects God’s greater reward.”
Well I had the opportunity to show him what that looked like, even though I still struggled with feeling justified in my reaction. As it stood, the message I was sending him was it’s OK to come unglued as long as you’re justified. And that is not the case. There’s no accepting responsibility in that mindset.
With my decision now made, I walked up to my son and apologized for responding how I did and telling him to shut up. It was not an appropriate response and one I hoped he would not emulate. The relief on his face confirmed I had made the right decision. My apology took the sting out of my words and restored us back on the right relational level.
It’s so important to be real with our kids. We’re going to lose it, we’re going to lash out, we’re going to “fail” in some way. So when it happens (not if!), be real and ask for forgiveness. As parents we have the ability to model how to handle situations. And our kids will parrot us.
It’s not so much trying to prevent “failures” as it’s modeling how to respond when we do fall short. A simple apology can heal a wounded relationship.
One day our kids will have a family of their own. And one day they will lose it too! I hope my son remembers this situation and desires to restore the relationship above feeling justified in his response.
There is power in an apology.