I think one of the best lessons I ever gave my kids: telling them when I’m wrong.
For example, a few years ago, I picked my son up from his high school cross country practice and was driving him home. The sun had started to set and a cold wind blew making it feel later than it really was. We were both tired from a long day, but I was worried about my son. He seemed depressed to me. He was hanging out with a new group of kids that I didn’t know real well and I worried about his grades.
While I drove, I tried to start up a conversation. He rolled his eyes and, in my gut, I groaned with dread but I still pushed forward. I asked about his classes. I got a couple of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses. He seemed to sulk lower in the seat. I asked about what he had planned for the weekend. A few more one-word answers.
Finally, I tried a new tack. I asked about a couple of kids in the neighborhood. I asked what they were up to and if he saw them in school. When we passed one kid’s house that I knew used to ride the bus with my son, I asked why he didn’t hang with the kid anymore.
My son gave me a strange look like I had lost my mind. I tried again. I told him that the kid seemed like a good kid, someone who would be fun to hang out with at school. This time my son broke out into a sarcastic laugh. He was turned now so I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but his laugh had a dark edge to it and caught me off-guard. Finally, he said, “Dad, he’s one of the kids that other kids go to when they want to feel good, when they’re looking for drugs.”
I felt horrible. I had bad information and he had held firm. And he was right.
I told my son that I didn’t know that about the kid and that I would have never taken that position if I had known that info. I’m not sure why, but my son started laughing and then I started laughing at the strange situation we found ourselves. We didn’t stop laughing until we pulled into our driveway. When we got out of the car, I gave my son a hug and he gave me one too.
A few days later, I checked in with a few other parents and they corroborated my son’s suspicions. I felt proud of my son for knowing right from wrong and that I could trust him to do the right thing.
The years have passed, but my son and I will still sometimes joke about the story. In the end, I learned the best thing that you can have is trust. I found out that saying you’re sorry comes in handy too.