Forgiving Your Teens When They Royally Screw Up

Does anyone reading this love to be reminded of mistakes you’ve made in the past? I will go out on a limb and say no one likes that. Having something you did wrong thrown in your face constantly only makes you miserable, and it makes you want to escape the situation as fast as possible.

About four years ago, we were on a wonderful family vacation at Myrtle Beach. My son, Graham, was nearly 17 years old, and very interested in driving anywhere and as often as he could. He asked numerous times to drive us to restaurants while we were down there, and we allowed him to so he could have more driving practice time.

When the last morning came, and it was time to hit the road, Graham asked his dad if he could drive on the interstate to get home. I was a little nervous about that, because I am a mom and mom’s job is to be nervous about 16 year olds driving on the interstate. But, Graham was very responsible with his own car, had close to a year of driving experience already, and had driven on the interstate before. Dad and I agreed it would be okay, and Graham took the driver’s seat.

I’m sure you can anticipate what happened next.

At a busy interstate interchange, a couple people in front of us hit their brakes really hard, and Graham came up on the whole thing a little fast. A chain reaction of crashes happened in front of us, and we slid into them. Someone else hit us in the rear and promptly drove away.

There we were on the side of the road in South Carolina, three states away from home with a wrecked van. It was a bit of a nightmare.

After a herculean effort, we made it home very late that night in a rented van. We all fell into bed and thanked God we were home at last.

The next morning, I was unpacking things and putting them away. Graham approached me with a look on his face I will never forget. He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry I wrecked your van.”

I stopped what I was doing and looked up at him (he is 6 feet 4 inches tall). He looked miserable, like someone had punched him hard in the stomach. I knew he was sincere in his apology.

With tears I replied, “Honey, you and Jacquelyn and Andrea and Dad are more important to me than anything else in the whole world. We can replace a van, but I can never replace any of you. I thank God we are all okay.”

We hugged each other for a long time. I looked up and, again, I will never forget the look on his face. It was a mix of love, relief, and gratitude that I was not going to be angry at him or blame him for the whole thing. None of that would have done any good or solved any problems at that point.

Here’s the irony.  I believe this experience made Graham a much better driver. It made him more aware of potential problems on the road, and he never follows too close to the car in front of him ever. I’ve noticed it when I have ridden with him since the accident. Unfortunately, we have to go through tough situations sometimes in order to improve.

What’s a parent to do sometimes? Accidents happen. Our kids do things wrong. They make mistakes. But here’s the kicker – so do we. I wrecked my mother’s car on the night before the first day of my senior year in high school. I screwed up. I ran a stop sign. Thank God no one was hurt, and thank God my parents were surprisingly calm about the whole thing. They did not yell or fuss, nor did they throw it in my face forever more.

Having teenagers has taught me a few lessons:

  • You never know what you will do until you are faced with the situation yourself.

  • Loving them through crises is far better than judging and lecturing them. Those lectures tend to fall on deaf ears, and only serve to push them away.

  • Most important of all is to forgive them when they make mistakes, remembering that I have made so many myself. I have no room to cast any stones.

I thanked God over and over that no one was hurt in that accident in South Carolina. I also continue to thank him for my sweet family and the blessings that come from having them with me. Most of all, I am thankful for God’s forgiveness of me when I don’t deserve it. His examples of love and grace are the best we as parents can follow.

Wow. This is a really serious post. Part of our 7 year adventure with our teens includes a few unpleasant detours from time to time, but how we handle those detours determines our enjoyment of the overall parenting experience. I hope you are loving your 7 year adventure, and making the most of every experience. It will be over before you can blink.

If you have tips on how you dealt with a similar situation, please scroll down and share them. I would love to hear about your experiences.

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3 thoughts on “Forgiving Your Teens When They Royally Screw Up

  1. When I was a new driver, in high school, my family lived on Lane Allen Road, in Lexington. It was a highly-traveled road – always busy – and with a rather high speed limit. My dad had just bought his dream car, and let me drive it one morning. After getting behind the wheel, I realized I’d left my purse in the house; so, I jumped out to get it and could’ve sworn that I put the car into park. But no, it took off driving itself around in circles, right there in the front yard. My adrenalin kicked in, as I was bodily pushing the car to keep it from going into the road. After side-swiping two trees, scraping and denting both sides of the vehicle, it smashed to a stop head-on into one of the oldest trees. Dad’s shiny new vehicle was totaled. What still amazes me most was that he never fussed at me. It was as if the event had never happened, even though I know that it broke his heart.

    • Oh, Brenda! I feel your pain. How wonderful that your dad was so patient and forgiving of you. Experiences like that stay with us forever, and how we as parents handle them can make a huge difference in our kids’ lives. Thanks for sharing your story.