Lessons from a 10 year old

There is nothing that gets under my skin more than when people don’t take responsibility and accountability for their actions.

My kids will all attest to this.

Make all the mistakes you want. Do things wrong. Speak out of turn, or unkindly. Hurt someone’s feelings, overreact, be disrespectful, forget a special occasion, never call, ignore, yell, scream, blow your top or call someone a name. Cheat, lie, steal, covet, gossip, backstab, insult, deny, or be fake.

Those are bad things.

But not unforgiveable.

We are human and will make all these mistakes somewhere along the way. I’m good with all that. Because, we have been given a very very powerful gift: the power of repentance and forgiveness (the gift of the atonement).

To have the humility to stand accountable and responsible for our actions, words, deeds, and thoughts, is perhaps one of the values that I value most; along side the value of forgiveness.

Earlier this year we encountered some situations with our kids where there were some serious wrongdoings. So, we decided we would dedicate several family nights to teaching some very important life lessons that we all needed to learn/review (for us adults too!).

We sat down and talked about the steps of repentance and forgiveness: including admitting your wrongdoing, taking accountability and responsibility and admitting your mistakes, trying to rectify your mistakes, expressing your apology (sometimes words alone are good enough sometimes actions are required), asking with a genuine heart for forgiveness, giving forgiveness,and then moving on trying hard to not repeat the same mistake. Sometimes we may think no wrong has been done, or that we are “innocent” or “falsely accused”, but unless both parties feel that way – there is repair work to be done.

Somehow some of our kids had learned: ignore the situation and move on. It should make everything ok.

Or, if we are ok with it – who cares how the other person feels. The other person just overreacted and will have to get over it.

That just doesn’t sit well with me. I’m really not the kind of person who can sit in a room with a big white elephant in it, or “sweep dead bodies under a rug” pretending like everything is fine. I’m a “repentance and forgiveness with humility” kinda gal.

So, we spent a lot of time on this with the kids, and I have to say, it worked. And I say this with a heart full of pride (yes, humility is important, but sometimes it’s pride’s turn to take the front seat). My kids are learning (along with Rob and me!) these very important values and the power repentance and forgiveness have to bring you closer together. They continue to mess up (as we do too), but they are learning how to fix things the right way (yup – I think there is a right way).

Zach has been taking violin at school and quite enjoying it. Last week he arrived home without his violin. Rob asked, “Why” and Zach responded, “The violin teacher kicked me out”. Of course he quickly added, “Don’t tell Mom”.

Like that was going to happen.

Zach told me (after first asking if I was in a good mood) and explained he had been talking too much and the teacher kicked him out. He told me it had not been the first time he had gotten in trouble for talking either – so I suspect the teacher was fed up.

We had a long talk about “talking”, about being disruptive in class, about respect, about getting under the teacher’s skin. Zach knew what he did was wrong. I think it’s also important to note he knew I would be upset and mad too. But that was part of taking responsibility too – you have to learn to deal with other people’s emotions and the consequences. Ignoring or trying to hide a situation usually just makes it worse, so he knew he had to come clean and face the music.

Personally, I thought the consequence from the teacher was too severe, and I was upset that the teacher had not let me know there was a problem (especially since I had just had the interviews with Zach’s home room teacher), but I told Zach sometimes we can not predict what consequences would be, and we just have to deal with them. (I sent an email to the teacher asking to discuss – not because I thought he should reinstate Zach, just because I wanted to discuss). I simply told Zach he needed to take responsibility for his actions.

The other day, without my prodding, Zach arrived home and informed me he had gone to the teacher and apologized for talking, being disruptive, and being disrespectful the week earlier. He apologized to the teacher in front of the whole class. The teacher’s reaction was to say “What’s next”? Zach had no idea what this meant, and so simply responded “I go back to my class? (they go to another class for violin). The teacher, said “Ok” and Zach left. As he was walking down the hall, two boys came running after him and yelled, “And don’t come back”. Zach was confused by this – and so was I (and you can be sure I have a call into the teacher and the principal’s office now…but that is not my point of this story:)

I was so proud of Zach. Yes, his talking was wrong. And disruptive. And disrespectful. I know it, and most importantly, he knows it.

But he, a 10 year old boy, took responsibility and accountability for his actions, had the courage to apologize to an adult in front of a class full of kids, while still accepting the consequence he had initially been given.

I think we also learn an important lesson about the teacher’s reaction. The teacher may have been wronged, but the way he handled Zach’s apology now puts him (the teacher) in the wrong – ten fold. He might have been justified to be upset initially, or justified to be upset had Zach never apologized, but once an apology has been expressed, the onus now lies on the affected to forgive. It’s just part of the repentance forgiveness circle.

However, you can’t control someone’s ability to forgive. What you can only do is make sure you have done your part in the repentance forgiveness circle. I am so proud of Zach for doing that. I’m so proud that my kids are learning and practicing this with us and with each other. Humility, repentance and forgivess all go hand in hand. We are all better people when we exercise them on a daily basis. Mistakes happen. We just need to do the right thing after the fact.

Way to go Zach.

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