Parenting is tough. Nobody gets through it mistake free, including me. I tried to warn my kids of this fact when they were growing up, and let them know that whatever poor decisions and miscues I made, I would always be acting from a place of love.
Does that make dealing with parental screw-ups any easier on the kids? I don’t know. You’d have to ask them, I’m thinking not.
In one of my daughter’s most infamous high school incidents (there weren’t many), she was involved in some sort of fooling around in which she ended up pushing her friend off an 8 foot high stage as said friend was sitting in a child-sized play wagon. Friend ended up with a concussion.
I was angry and disappointed that my daughter’s carelessness caused someone to get injured. I made her call the friends parents, explain the situation and apologize. My daughter already felt terrible, and sobbed her way through the apology.
The friend’s mom and I worked together at the same school, and I was relieved that she never seemed too concerned about the incident. She wasn’t mad at my daughter, and actually made jokes about the whole situation. I always had the feeling that she didn’t hold my daughter responsible.
Turns out there was a good reason for that.
Last week at dinner with my daughter, we got to telling stories. The case of the concussion came up, and as she recounted the whole thing, my ear caught something it hadn’t before. Apparently, there were more people involved in the “wagon-off-the-stage” mishap than I knew.
As the story unfolded, I heard for the first time that my daughter had only a small part in this, and that she was not in a position to significantly push or steer the wagon, and that it was others who were ultimately responsible for the friend going over the edge and smacking her head on the concrete.
I looked to my wife for confirmation of this news and she let me know that it wasn’t news to her. That’s what my daughter had said from Day 1, although, in the emotion of those original moments, the first descriptions of the incident were unclear.
As I found out at dinner, others on the scene were the lead perpetrators in the story. They were the ones largely responsible for causing the concussion, and even declined to stop the wagon from going over the ledge when others, including my daughter, tried to stop it.
As I hear the incident now, it sounds more like a case of my daughter being at the wrong place at the wrong time. A lawyer would be hard pressed to prove negligence or criminal intent.
But in my zest to make my daughter take responsibility for her actions, I had made her take responsibility for other people’s actions. What a dangerous and unhealthy difference there is between those two lessons!
Just send the therapy bills to my address please.
At this point, the incident is approaching 10 years old, and my daughter and the victim are still close friends. I moved on to another job and no longer see the victim’s mom at school everyday. Everybody involved recalls the whole thing with humor.
Everybody except me.
I feel bad about the misunderstanding, wondering how I got the details wrong and why nobody insisted I listen again until I heard it right. I wonder how (and if) the inadvertent messages of my disciplinary action plays into any issues my daughter may currently be dealing with.
All I can do is apologize, which I have many times. It doesn’t seem enough.
As I look back over my career as a parent, there are definitely identifiable mistakes I can pinpoint. Those are bad enough. It’s retrospective surprises like this that are harder to deal with.
Sue Atkins said “There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one.”
Hopefully that’s good enough.