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Watching Teens Navigate Devastating Mistakes: The Hardest Part of Parenting

It was a Thursday afternoon when I realized my teen son was about to learn the biggest life lesson of his life. As I finished a phone call with my husband, he asked me what our plans were for the evening. I mentioned the kids were finishing up homework and suggested we go out to dinner as a family.

My husband got quiet. “Wait,” he said. “Isn’t Joe supposed to be at his audition right now?”

My stomach dropped as I mentally went through our calendar and headed toward my son’s bedroom.

My husband was right. Our son, a junior in high school, was an hour and a half late for an audition for his high school theater troupe, an activity he dearly loves. In what felt like a scene where we were both shouting underwater, my son realized with horror that he’d screwed up the callback times with the dance auditions. He began to shake as he realized his mistake. And, as he raced to grab his keys, hoping to dash up to school, I grabbed my coat and followed him out the door. He was in no state to drive.

On the tense ride up to the school, I tried to give him a pep talk.

“Kids make mistakes. It’s going to be okay.”

“Maybe he’ll have mercy on you. You’ve never missed a rehearsal or audition before, the director knows that, son.”

“Own your mistake and apologize.”

As I watched my 16-year-old son unfold his lanky frame from the car and bolt into the high school, I felt the remnants of my lunch rumble in my stomach. His embarrassment and distress were palpable and I felt every bit of his stress. Part of me was angry at myself, too, for not being his safety net and reminding him of his audition. I had completely forgotten amidst the chaos of family life.

Though my son was commended for owning up to his mistake and for handling his screw up with maturity, the director handed down a devastating blow. Our son would not have a role, in any capacity, in the spring musical. Months of voice lessons, acting preparation, and excitement about a new role now seemed pointless.

My son’s world crumbled.

Theater has long been our son’s church. He’s often told us that he feels most comfortable in his skin when he’s on stage. His entire social circle has been built around the quirky, talented kids I’ve come to love having in my home over the years. Though the long hours of learning choreography and rehearsing have sometimes pushed him to his limits, theater is where he shines. It’s where he feels accepted and welcomed.

Some kids are dedicated to sports, but our son is a theater geek, through and through.

And now, for the foreseeable future, it was gone. All thanks to a 16-year old’s tendency to be scattered while juggling AP classes, learning to drive, and applying to colleges.

When my son came out of the school, his hands were shoved into his hoodie. His dejection was evident. His rounded shoulders hid the fact that he was shivering because he’d forgotten his coat in his haste. And, when he raised his head to look at me as he shuffled into the car, he had tears silently streaming down his face.

In that moment, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

I wanted desperately to make it better for him.

I wanted to go inside and beg the director for another chance. Surely, a scheduling error shouldn’t result in such harsh consequences?

I wanted to take the blame and tell the director that it was my fault my son missed the audition.

I wanted to offer whatever it took to make the director see that our son’s screw up was going to have long term consequences on his social life and his mental well-being.

In the darkened car, I quietly asked my son what he wanted me to do. “How can I make this better for you?”

With tears still in his eyes, he looked at me and said, “Please just let me accept the consequences. I screwed up and now I have to pay for my mistake. Rules are rules, Mom.”

In that horrible moment on that stressful afternoon, it was all I could do to drive him home and watch him accept his fate. In the days that followed, we had many conversations about time management and exploring new challenges. But, no matter how much we tried to put a positive spin on the situation, it didn’t change the fact that my son’s happiness was dimmed.

A week later, the cast list was released and his name wasn’t on it. My son took it in stride. He accepted the director’s offer to participate in stage crew. It wasn’t a role in the bright lights of the big stage, but there are no small roles in the theater. And our son learned it the hard way.

Christine Burke

Christine Burke started the popular parenting blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops six years ago on a whim. Since then, her work has been featured on the Today Show, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown and other parenting websites. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job.

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