Paying for Your Mistake

What happens in your house when any of your electronics stops working?

In our house, when a valued electronic stops working we go through several phases: denial (I can dry it out, there’s no way that cracked the screen, etc.), fear (okay, this isn’t working, it’s broken, how am I going to fix this?), and stress (how long will it take, how much will it cost?….agh!). Then reality sets in…we will get this fixed, it will cause some inconvenience, and cost us money we weren’t planning to spend.

My boys have longed for a computer that would allow them to play video games on. We hang onto our electronics for a long time, trying to squeeze every penny out of them, and that doesn’t bode well for teen boys dying to play games that require computers with high processing speeds, and loads of memory. We didn’t budge on their ask for many years until COVID hit, with all the social distancing and at-home time we figured it was time.

The boys were overjoyed when we got the computer, and have enjoyed it and used it almost everyday, until it broke. Or more specifically the screen broke. It didn’t get cracked but would only display 3/4 of the screen, the remaining screen was mainly white. What exactly happened? I thought. My boys went through the motions: denial – no it can’t be broken (reboot, still broken); fear – what are we going to do (this will cost money, how quickly can we get this fixed?), and stress – how long will I have to live without my computer??? 😬

I know it must have felt like a lifetime to my kids, waiting almost three weeks for the replacement screen to arrive and the repair shop to fix it. During this time our oldest mentioned a handful of times he’d cover the cost of the repairs. I appreciated that he wanted to cover but wanted to understand why. Neither he nor his brother had been forthcoming regarding what might have caused the screen to become damaged.

After picking up the repaired computer I asked my son why he wanted to pay for the repair, if he felt he had any responsibility in what happened. Without any further prompting on my part he said, “Mom, what happened is totally my fault. I didn’t handle the computer as carefully as I should have.” “How so?,” I asked. “I know I dropped it at least once or twice, and grabbed it when I was moving it.” While I wasn’t crazy about his carelessness with the machine, I was impressed with his honesty and willingness (dare I say desire?) to be held accountable. “Okay,” I said, “You can contribute to the cost of the repairs. The expectation is you will be more careful from now on, and should this happen in the future you will cover the full expense.” “That’s fair,” he said, and that concluded the conversation.

Holding my son accountable financially (even partially) was hard. As a parent, holding my child accountable for behavior or mistakes has gotten easier with time, but adding the financial component felt like we are reaching another more adult-like milestone with our son, and was new ground for me. But it was a good lesson for my son to learn — sometimes you have to literally pay for your mistakes. But owning them, and getting them corrected does pay off (pun intended) 😊 — my sons got to play their games again. They were both ecstatic!

How do you hold your child accountable when they do something wrong? How do you help them learn or do better following their mistake?

Assume Accountability

Have you assumed your child was thinking or feeling a certain way, and learned later you were wrong?

My oldest is a challenging person to read. He is a young man of few words. You have to work on him to drag out what he’s thinking. It can be easy to assume I know what he’s thinking or how he feels if I don’t spend the time to find out.

We had decided to go walk after dinner as a family. I was busy trying to get some remaining emails out for work while getting my shoes on to walk. I was half-listening to the conversation my husband was having with my oldest son. My husband and son were talking about how something was annoying. My oldest said, “Mom, you know what else is annoying?” My knee jerk reaction was that he was going to say “me” I’m not exactly why — I’d been holding him more accountable and knew he wasn’t super happy about that (who ever is?) and thought he might voice his disdain by taking a shot at me (to test me holding him accountable again?). I assumed wrong. I said, “I really don’t want to know.” “Why?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to hear it’s me.” “Why would I say it’s you?” he asked. “Well, you tell Mom how boring, or uncool, or whatever I am sometimes. I just figured you were just adding to the list.” He looked hurt, wounded almost, that I would think this of him. It was one of those moments as a parent where you pause and question your logic and thinking — realizing you’ve made a mistake (misunderstood, misjudged the situation, etc.). “Well, I was going to say Gator fans,” he concluded with a diminishing smile. He was trying to engage me in something he thought would make me smile (he knows I am no fan of my rival school’s mascot), maybe even laugh, and I hadn’t allowed him to do it. I hated that I hadn’t just said “what?” when he first asked the question.

I reflected on the exchange following our walk. By assuming what my son was thinking and how he would respond, I had indeed made an error. I reminded myself that he’s a teen and I’m the adult. His full frontal cortex is still forming, and mine is mature. I need to be the adult and not assume my child is out to push buttons or minimize my role, or challenge my love for him. I need him to know I am the adult, he is loved regard of what he says, and I should never put words in his mouth (or decide in my mind what he’s going to say before he’s said it). If I need to hold him accountable for saying something insensitive or hurtful I will. As the adult, it’s my job. At the same time, I need to hold myself accountable and hear him out first, and let him speak. And remember the downsides of assuming.

Have you ever assumed wrong about what your child has said or done, or about their intentions? How do you hold your child and yourself accountable?

I will be off next week, but back following. Happy Labor Day!

Delivery!

Do you have the same policy that I do — don’t open the door to strangers?

Like many of us, most of my holiday shopping has been done online. The convenience is great. All the delivers — not so much. I’m particularly not a big fan of deliveries that require an in-person signature. I can appreciate the need for security and to protect against theft. Still, it’s a challenge — especially when the delivery schedule rarely fits your work schedule.

I came home from an appointment to see a deliver notification tag on my door. I hadn’t noticed it there earlier, so when I got inside I asked my son, who had gotten home before I did, if the delivery person came while he was there. I expected a ‘no’, and was surprised when he said, “yes” as he hadn’t gotten home much sooner than I did. “You did?,” I asked. “You didn’t answer the door, did you?” I have no idea why I asked him, he knows the rules – you never answer the door if mom and dad aren’t there. “Yes,” he said knowing that was the wrong answer. “I know I shouldn’t,” he continued, “I’m not sure why I did. I reflected on it after I did it and decided that probably wasn’t the best choice. I won’t do it again.” He actually used the word reflected, and shared how he’d come to the realization he should do something different in the future — I was impressed. I did not have this level of awareness when I was his age. We talked about the danger of strangers, even when they seem innocent enough (like the postal carrier or UPS person). We talked about being safe and the need to be smart(er) when alone in the house. We all learn by doing — making mistakes helps us grow. I’m just grateful this one had no consequences other than my son being reminded that while he is growing up there are still risks, and he needs to make decisions that help, not hurt, him.

How do you help your child be safe? How do you help them understand the consequences when they make a mistake?

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me.  When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in, waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane chose to pull in front of me and partially block the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse. The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go, not allowing me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more what my upset self felt — MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me made it through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak, and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?