"I'm just a bad person!" my daughter sobbed over the phone.
She was calling from her high school cafeteria. As she blurted out her story, I had to think pretty fast - she'd committed a real no-no. A big project that had been due before winter break had somehow not gotten turned in, so she'd agreed to mail it to her teacher. Then the holidays drove it out of her mind.
When faced with her annoyed teacher on the first day back at school, some sort of flight instinct kicked in. Rather than admit she'd blown it, my daughter made up a story about the mailed item being returned to us. The teacher, suspicious of this story (I wonder why!), said she'd be calling me to confirm.
My daughter then spent the next couple of hours quietly freaking out. Eventually she couldn't take it anymore, so she went to her teacher and confessed. Now on the phone with me during lunch, she was totally disgusted with herself. "I'm just plain bad!" was her anguished conclusion.
When moments like these come, you realize as a parent there's no guidebook that's going to tell you just what to say. Sure, she needed to learn from this so she wouldn't do anything like it again, but at the same time I wanted her to feel better about herself. So, as she sobbed, I prayed for an answer.
Turning to prayer for parental advice had worked many times before. In fact, ever since my daughter was born, I had tried to see her as not just my daughter, but as the child of the divine Parent who created us both. This is a Parent who doesn't need a master's degree in child development to recommend the right course of action. This is a Parent who knows both of us so well that perfect and complete guidance is instantly available.
And this Parent is divine. A passage from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (the textbook of Christian Science) has often reassured me of my relationship to the Divine: "Father-Mother is the name for Deity, which indicates His tender relationship to His spiritual creation" (page 332). This concept of Deity being there for both of us, on either end of the phone line, got me thinking in the right direction. And I was able to help my daughter.
I took a breath and started with, "Oh, honey." Those words serve as my entrée whenever I need to remember how much I love this young woman, how precious she is to me, how much good I know about her. The "Oh, honey" moment reorients us both. It's a little promise we're going to solve this together. But the next words surprised me.
"Honey," I said, "you can't be bad. When doing something bad makes you miserable, that means you're good. God made you good, and your feeling crummy about this is actually a good sign."
Even as I said those words, I saw the truth in them. It's our innate goodness that protests when we find ourselves doing something out of character with that goodness. That same divine Parent who was loving her and guiding me created everyone in His/Her image and likeness, entirely good and perfect.
My daughter could feel the truth of this idea, too. Her voice calmed down, and she began to give herself a little more credit. She still had the project to turn in, and she probably wouldn't get a good grade on it, but she'd learned something from the process. She learned, at a time in her life when the stakes were low, exactly why lying was a bad idea - it was out of sync with her true being, so it made her feel bad about herself. She now had a stronger reason to adhere to honesty, and I knew this lesson had sunk in. The punishment was appropriate for the crime.
And what did I learn? I learned that as a parent it's not always our job to prevent or punish mistakes, but it is our privilege to encourage mistakes to become blessings.
Train up a child
in the way he should go:
and when he is old,
he will not depart from it.