What My Teen Taught Me About Forgiveness


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love …” 1 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)

I stepped out onto the porch, the snow had stopped falling, and I grasped a quick measure of the brisk and quiet air. That feeling of peace after the winter sky has had its tantrum enveloped me. Nature respects no perimeters. Even the wooden planks of our cozy porch were snow covered; dainty piles held on between the cracks.

As I surveyed the blinding white, my eyes ached with a light brighter than the truth. There in the snow below me, large boot-steps led out of the driveway and down the road. I didn’t know where he went this morning wearing his big work boots with the red laces that don’t tie and a shovel dangling over his back.

I didn’t know he had left the house with forgiveness on his heart.

I remember when I first learned I would be a parent, I said to my husband, “You’ll have to take over during the teenage years.” After all, what is a teenager but a young person with acne and attitude to whom I couldn’t relate? To me, teenagers looked at older people as ancient and boring and so totally uncool. Just being around them made me feel suspicious, like they were sizing me up for ridicule.

I was surprised years later when my children crossed that threshold and didn’t transform into unearthly beings who hid in their rooms and spewed curse words. They were kind and well meaning. Their dreams and ambitions intricately entwined with bouts of annoyance, arguments and nail-biting nights.

Years later, I have only one such being left, as my older two have moved into their adult years. I am holding on to this, my last teen, for dear life. I will miss the camaraderie. I fear that missing.

That’s why last night when my teen showed the initiative to wander the neighborhood seeking signatures for a Presidential candidate, I was so discouraged by some of the adults who disregarded him. Our small state has a deadline for collecting the 600 signatures necessary to put a name on the local ballot for our primary. My son and I decided we’d work together, but since I was not feeling well last night, he went out alone.

An hour or so later he returned home red-eared and discouraged to report that he had collected only five. “Most people were either not home or unwilling to sign,” he said. “One neighbor actually wouldn’t even answer the door. He called to me through the window and then waved me away with the back of his hand once he figured out why I was there.”

My son wasn’t hurt or angry, but I found this behavior from a neighbor disappointing. A teenager out in the cold, walking the streets because he cares about an election. Society has come to expect very little out of our young people. The teenage years can drag hard. There are hormones, peer pressures and all sorts of temptations working to crush any semblance of enthusiasm in the teenage heart.

And so, when a neighbor dismisses the good intentions of a teen so quickly, I feel let down.

Part of me wanted to rush over and give that neighbor a finger-wagging piece of my unforgiving side. Forgiveness is not my strong suit. I don’t completely understand how it’s done. Sure, I can forgive the little things, especially things affecting me — a child breaking something I love, a hurtful comment, a lie. But, how does a mother truly forgive someone who has hurt her child? The soccer coach who abused your child so badly that he rooted out the very passion that made your child tick? The parent who badmouthed your child so that his own could get ahead? The teacher who uses your child as an example because there’s just something about his face …

And if forgiving means you forget it all and let it go, is it then wrong to stand up and stop that someone from hurting others? Here’s where the concept of forgiveness begins to unravel for me. I understand neither its depths nor its limits. I search for the wellspring of its driving force.

I wonder if my neighbor thought about the fact that teenagers of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. That someday they will make the decisions affecting his welfare. When a teenager is actually engaged enough in the real world to know who is running for office and to take a stand, perhaps the best response is something other than a brush of one’s hand. These are the ruminations of a protective mom, one who knows the tender hearts of her children and takes offense to their being stomped by careless passers-by. I went to bed last night with anger in my heart.

It snowed again overnight. The kind of snow that brings us to a peaceful halt before the circuit is flipped, and we are recharged for the great un-digging. So this morning, my son put on his winter coat and boots and threw a shovel over his shoulder, while I absorbed the mechanics of the day. He enjoys going into the neighborhood and shoveling walkways — no charge. He likes the concept of the old town neighborhood where people help each other in a storm and share conversation.

I didn’t know it then, but the first house he went to, the house to which those big boot steps led, belonged to the neighbor who had brushed him away last night. He shoveled their walkway. Our neighbor kindly opened his door this time.

From the warmth of my kitchen over shared cups of hot cocoa, I learned a bit more about what it means to love today. It’s bound up in the forgiving. And the forgiving — it has no limits.

I learned that we might get from our youth more than we expect. We might even get more than we deserve.

My teen taught me about forgiveness. Because in parenting it's often the lessons we want to teach our children that end up getting schooled in.


Julianne PalumboJulianne Palumbo has published her poems, short stories and essays. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), andAnnouncing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She is the Founder/Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.

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