Yesterday we packed backpacks, ate a balanced breakfast, donned our face masks and welcomed the start of another school year. I expected the day would be full of interesting moments — come on, we are living in the middle of a global pandemic — but I had no way to predict the special moment that would occur during our early morning drop off.
As I gave my final big hugs and said my goodbye I was approached by a woman who asked to speak with me privately. I agreed but was really confused why a complete stranger would need a private conversation. We stepped outside and the other woman introduced herself. She said, “Hi, I’m Kyle’s* mom and I believe he was classmates with your son last year.” (* his name is changed)
I was immediately flooded with a wave of anxiety about what this conversation would hold. Kyle was consistently unkind to my son in Kindergarten, the year prior. Teachers worked to help the situation and I also provided support and coaching at home to help my kiddo navigate the challenges but Kyle was simply not nice. As the conversation began I felt my momma bear show up, readying for what was to come.
She went on to say, “I know he was a bully to your son and it will not be tolerated this year.” Then, she explained that she wanted me to feel comfortable coming to her with any issues or challenges. She said her expectations were that he would be kind and if not, he would be held accountable. I learned they had family difficulties the year prior but those issues were now resolved and things were much better. The context was not offered as an excuse for the behavior but rather assurance that she felt confident it could be different.
With her words my momma bear calmed and left me. I matched spirits with her and stepped into a humble place myself. My response was simple: Everyone deserves second chances.
Beginning the Road to Redemption
The road to redemption starts with vulnerability — standing unmasked and exposed as you bare your imperfections and mistakes. There is no guarantee that your audience will respond with grace or kindness. You could be ridiculed, rejected or maybe even mocked. When Kyle’s mom apologized and asked for a fresh start I could have questioned her parenting, said unkind things about her son or rejected her olive branch. She stood there, emotionally exposed before me, asking for a redemption journey on behalf of her son.
If you are a participant in someone else’s road to redemption you have to admit wrongs were levied and pain was left. Last year it was hard to know my kiddo was heading to school and dealing with a mean-spirited classmate. The challenges he faced were a painful but important lesson about the value in being kind to others. It can be a powerful prompt to practice kindness within your own relationships when you know how it feels to be mistreated by others.
Moving Forward with Boundaries
To be very clear, an apology and a request for a fresh start are not an invitation for bad behavior to return or to overlook future wrongs. A true path forward must have healthy boundaries that clearly define what is and is not acceptable behavior. As my sister-in-law, Hannah, shared with me over text, “We stand up for ourselves and our kids and expect better — in love.” Exactly! This is what we are doing this year — expecting better in love. For example, Kyle may not call my son names and he may not physically harm him. Accountability and consequences will be warranted if those boundaries are crossed.
As we continue to parent our kiddo I want to equip him to have strength of spirit and coping skills needed to contend with a world that is often not kind. In kindergarten it was Kyle. My hope is that it won’t be a new classmate in 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade — but it could be. Or maybe as a young adult it will be his first boss or perhaps a passive-aggressive colleague. Our work as his parents is to help him define boundaries that support healthy relationships and encourage self advocacy both now and well into the future.
A redemption journey is exactly that — a journey. It is not an immediate destination or a quick fix. It takes work and commitment. I expect we will have a few more bumps along the way with Kyle but we have new rules of engagement in place and are going to stand by them. We are also going to own our role. My kiddo needs to not instigate, stir the pot and kick the proverbial hornet’s nest. We are all in this together and each must own their role.
This is For Big Kids, Too!
Yes, this conversation was about two boys and a hope for a school year characterized by kindness. But to me, it is a bigger and more powerful narrative.
How often are we so quick to ostracize and alienate those who have wronged us? How easy is it to write someone off and reject their apology or admission of guilt. I can think of several examples from mainstream media where a public figure’s past is brought up and calls for resignation abound. I can think of my own instances in my life in which I was not generous with the grace I extended Kyle’s mom in this situation. The story doesn’t always have a happy ending — but it can.
May we all have the strength of character that Kyle’s mom displayed. Let’s get comfortable stepping into vulnerable and exposed places. The discomfort will break way to a more beautiful future than what can be experienced buried beneath our pride. Resolve to be open about mistakes, unmasked and without excuse. Make clear your intentions and how you will do better next time.
We will all be better as a society when we can find the courage to step forward and ask for a second chance. To navigate the road to redemption. And, if a little boy in a 1st grade class is willing to start fresh, why not you too?
Curious about my commitment to grace upon grace? Check out John 1:16 for more on what marks a true redemption journey.