Modeling Messing Up
The new year brought yet another viral story involving parenting. Alex, a 5-year-old in the UK, missed his friend's birthday party, which took place on a ski slope. Alex's parents previously had said he would attend, but after Alex was a no-show, the mother of the birthday boy invoiced Alex's parents for about $25.
You probably saw the story going around social media. People were astonished and/or outraged that a parent would invoice another parent for missing a birthday party. News outlets even printed the Facebook exchange between the two warring moms. The BBC did an on-camera interview with Alex and his dad.
I was thinking about this story again recently while reading a column by The New York Times' David Brooks titled "The Act of Rigorous Forgiving." The Brian Williams scandal sparked the piece, but the topic applies to more than coiffed news anchors with embellished memories. "The civic fabric would be stronger if," Brooks writes, "instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we tried to repair them - if we tried forgiveness instead of exiling."
In a similar vein, a recent Times story by Jon Ronson delved into our culture's tendency toward loud, brash, immediate and merciless mockery of anyone who messes up - not just public figures. "(I) began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment," Ronson writes.
Invoicing parents for a birthday party absence is obviously a bad idea. Frustration? Maybe a little anger at the inconvenience and loss of money? Sure. An official invoice, followed by the threat of small-claims court? That's a reaction way harsher than the original offense.
But what about shaming the mom by taking your story to the BBC? Maybe that mom was having a rough week. I certainly wouldn't want to plan a birthday party that involves strapping pairs of skis onto a pack of squirrelly 5-year-olds. Maybe she was short on cash (lift tickets aren't cheap!). A little grace - some rigorous forgiving - would have gone a long way.
Even sadder is the BBC video with little Alex on his dad's lap, listening to his father tell the world that his friend's mom isn't going to get a penny out of him. How will Alex handle conflict in the future? His friendship with his schoolmate probably could have been salvaged if his parents had decided to deal with the matter quietly and graciously. A playdate is hard to imagine now.
Parenting is hard. Some weeks, it's hair-pullingly hard. Just the other day, after my daughter spilled some milk, she reminded me of the time I flipped out when she knocked over a full glass of milk. Her mention of it jogged my memory. It had been a particularly difficult day, and that spill, piled on top of everything else, sent me over the edge. Not unlike the birthday party parents, my outsized reaction did not match the offense.
It killed me that she recalled my immature outburst so easily and so vividly. I asked her if I had apologized afterward, and fortunately she remembered an apology. And she forgave me.
-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who would probably like skiing if it weren't for all the snow.