Redemption trumps perfection… it’s a parenting idea that has bumped around my head for a little while now. I guess it has come about because I’m so aware of how much advice is available to parents about how to always stay cool, calm and consistent, always holding firmly to realistic and appropriate boundaries. Unfortunately, the authors always seem a long way away in the heat of the moment when the young lad has pushed my button one too many times. Honestly, I don’t get it right nearly as often as I should. I routinely fall short of perfection.

However, without giving myself any approval for failure, I am increasingly pushing into the idea that actively redeeming the relationship with my children each time I fail, is better than striving for the unachievable goal of perfect parenting.

Here’s an example of how it played out recently…

Many parents will be shocked to hear that our 10 year old son repeatedly displays behaviour, while on the iPad, that doesn’t match with the lofty ideals that we have so effectively laid out for him. Over quite some time we have cycled through the same issues – him nagging us for more time, failing to respond to alarms, failing to respond to our interjections and (my personal favourite) sneaking onto the device in a hidden corner at 6am on Saturday mornings for some ‘dawn patrol’ tank battles! Ban, after second chance, after ban, followed by discussions and frustration… and so the cycle continued.

The final straw was one school morning, finding the offender in a place that should have given him fair warning of my approach… but I was quiet this day and he was sprung… and I went off…tap.
History will record that I reacted, I didn’t respond. I advised him that I would be deleting all games from the iPad because I could not trust him and I was sick of the cycle, and delete them I did.

Talking with my wife later in the day she conveyed how he was upset with himself for disappointing me and I knew I needed to redeem our relationship. As soon as I got home from work that night I advised him that we would be heading out briefly before dinner. In times such as these, it is important to debrief and talk about what had happened earlier, now that we had both cooled off. And talk we did. Over a packet of shaker fries at the local McDonald’s, I expressed why I was so upset – the issues of trust and the prioritising of values. He reflected on why he finds it so difficult to resist the lure of the game(s). I apologised for my anger, and he forgave me. We discussed some strategies to try and get things back on track, agreed about what it would take for him to regain my trust, and what the right priority of values should be when the iPad is competing with family, friends, school work and other things in life.

I re-downloaded a few of the games, and he is working to regain my trust through little wins. Each win builds more trust. When I tell him that an instance of good self-discipline has increased my trust, he stands a little taller. We are working at it together.

Maybe if I could have just managed to hold a perfect temperament all those times before, only ever responded in the right way, and always held firmly to the most appropriate set of boundaries, I wouldn’t have had any of this trouble. The reality is that I continue to fall short of perfection. However, redemption has enabled me to win back our relationship and join with my son as we work to overcome these challenges together.

Written in 2018

Gavin Osbourne

Australian father of two children

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