I read the note from my son’s teacher and my heart sank. As the kids unpacked their backpacks and had a snack, I stood still in the kitchen feeling disappointed, sad and perplexed. My sweet seven-year-old boy, raised in a home where peacebuilding, non-violence and Jesus’ love for all are completely familiar and practised concepts, had been mean on the playground, encouraging a boy to kick another. Now I had to figure out how to handle it and how we would make things right.
When my kids walk off to school every morning, a piece of me goes too. They represent our family, our faith and our identity. They go out and are who they want to be, yet who they are is forever linked to where they come from and who their people are. So much of who I am walks down the street when my little people head to school and yet I have no control. They choose their way and make their own decisions, despite my teaching, my love and my best effort. There are so many moments when I beam from my kids’ efforts, gestures and sweetness. And there are times I cringe and feel so disappointed.
This particular incident made me feel pretty embarrassed. I had just seen this boy’s mom after school and had overheard her telling her son that it’s never okay to kick someone. It definitely never crossed my mind that my son had anything to do with it! And now here I was, trying to make sense of this incident, feeling super frustrated with my son, but knowing that I had to keep my cool and figure out a way to support him through it.
After much inquiry and my own failures at keeping calm, my son teared up and told me that an older boy had kicked him the day before. And I could see that he felt really, really bad about what he had done. He doesn’t want to be a mean kid—he’s sweet at heart, for sure—but kids are impulsive (especially ones with ADHD) and don’t always make good decisions.
I told my boy that he would need to apologize and make things right. We all make mistakes and hurt others, but what we do after has a huge impact. My son could be seen as a bully by this family, or he could be seen as a boy who made a mistake and was brave enough to apologize, reconcile and choose a better path in the future.
My son spent much of that evening writing an apology note. He went above and beyond the simple note we asked him to write; he made it into a card, drew a nice picture and wrote so carefully and neatly. He then made a special paper airplane for his friend and we put it all in an envelope. He was actually excited to give it to him.
I saw the boy’s mom a couple days later, and she told me her son was thrilled to get the note from my son. We had made things right and healed what could have been a downhill moment. I could see the confidence my son regained, and the shame that was lifted when he was able to mend the brokenness.
I know I have years ahead of watching my kids make bad choices—and many very good ones too, I’m sure—but I hope they know and feel the importance of making things right and they will always be brave enough to apologize and reconcile.
Christina Bartel Barkman, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.