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I Forgave My Sons to Teach Them to Forgive Themselves

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I warned my sons not to do it. I reminded them time and time again. So when they did it, I was angry and disappointed in myself and them. I had a choice to make: I could really teach them a lesson and punish them harshly so they will know not to disobey me again or I could forgive them.

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I chose to forgive them because the bigger lesson I wanted them to learn was they need to learn to forgive themselves and not dwell on mistakes they make.

“I’m going to do this for you but I need you to be responsible,” I reminded my sons, even though I could hear my mother’s voice in my head warning me not to do it.

I did it anyway. Even though my sons are 12 and 13, I figured if they can be responsible enough to walk home from school by themselves and make dinner, they can handle the gift I was about to give them.

They called me a week later to tell me that they received my package. It was a brand new Paypal debit card that I ordered so they could have access to my account whenever they asked me for something since I didn’t trust the post office to deliver cash to them. I activated it for them and asked them to choose a pin number.

“OK guys. This is attached to my bank account,” I told them. “Be careful. Don’t take it to school with you. Only use it when I tell you to. Go ahead and get the money you need for the end of the year school party and then don’t take it out again.”

I didn’t want them to grow up thinking that every mistake they make is life-threatening. I didn’t want them to become self-condemning like I used to be.

Things went fine for about a month. They would call and ask if they could get ice cream or bottles of Gatorade before camp. I had no problem with that. Then one day they called to ask if they could order a pizza, and I reminded them that we were limiting our junk food until their trip to visit me in California this summer. I heard them grumble, but they relented and found something else to eat for lunch.

The next week I heard from a friend that there was a pizza special going on for half off so I decided to call my boys and suggest they order a pizza as a treat. They were happy to hear that it was time for a treat, and I asked them to get out their PayPal card so that they could pay for it themselves.

Guess what? They couldn’t find it.

I was so disappointed in them and sternly reminded them that this was important and connected to all of the money I have in the world — that anyone could find it and access my money. They searched and searched from one day to the next but still couldn’t find it. After three days I asked them if they had located the debit card, and my younger son, Solomon told me they hadn’t.

My instinct was to punish them and really make it sting so they will know how important it was to me, but before I could even open my mouth to chastise them, I felt a little tug on my heart, and my own words spoken just a week before to them came rushing back into my mind.

“If you make a mistake and you’re truly sorry, don’t punish yourself, just remember not to do it again,” I told them.

I forgot what prompted me say that to them at the time, but I remembered why I said it. I said it because I didn’t want them to grow up thinking that every mistake they make is life-threatening. I did’t want them to become self-condemning like I used to be. I wanted them to be able to make a mistake and bounce back, understanding that they can recover from everything. I didn’t want them to expect perfection from themselves all of the time.

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So instead of chewing them out and offering a punishment like going to bed early or canceling plans we were looking forward to when they arrive here in California, when my son Solomon said to me, “I’m sorry, mama. I’m sorry I lost your card.” I gulped, paused and then replied, “Accidents happen. I’m going to cancel it and I won’t order another one, but it’s okay.”

Maybe I didn’t do the right thing by handing such a big responsibility to young teens in the first place, but once again, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. And it's okay.

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