(This is Part II of teaching children responsibility through consequences. This post will make more sense if you first read Part I entitled, “Dogs Can’t Talk”)
At the end of our last episode, we left our hero standing on his suburban front lawn, waiting for “the shoe to drop”.
Actually, there was no hero — just a young and foolish me, and a marginally smarter dog who’d witnessed the whole thing.
After accidentally setting fire to my parents’ house, being yanked out of school and driven home to the ugly aftermath of a fire, I’d never felt more alone or scared.
Let him stew in his juices for a while.”Grandma
What would I tell my parents? And, here was my father, arriving home just as the fire trucks were leaving.
In our family, we eat a lot of meals together, but we don’t always have dessert. So, when the sweet stuff comes out, it’s special. In the midst of our suppertime insanity, Melissa and I still expect reasonably good manners. So when one of our offspring burps out loud (with pride), repeatedly interrupts, or eats like Tolkien’s Gollum, the offender knows he’ll lose a dessert.
Trouble is, young kids don’t own their own mistakes, because developmentally the entire universe revolves around them.
As our youngest daughter, Leah, put it: “Yes Dad, but I wouldn’t be losing my dessert if you hadn’t made the rule!”
For a moment, she almost had me.
It’s never too early to begin teaching sons and daughters that there are age-appropriate consequences to their choices.
When those consequences are applied with sensitivity by a loving father or mother, a powerful character-building learning process kicks in right away. Our bibles call it “sowing and reaping.” Grandma calls it “stewing in his own juice”.
Stewing requires two things: a child or teen’s choice must trigger an appropriate consequence. Secondly, he must be so loved by a parent that mum and dad resist any temptation to rescue him. Both things are essential for the process to work.
For decades now, some within the so-called “helping” professions, have been trying to sell savvy parents on eradicating behavioural guilt and all other negative emotions, with the goal of protecting a child from feeling bad about himself. Any success stories out there using that approach?
Poor choices are high definition, wide screen opportunities for a child or teen to learn from real-world mistakes, which in turn help to shape better future decisions. Often that means experiencing negative feelings like guilt and remorse. Guilt might be the healthiest nutritional ingredient in Grandma’s recommended juice!
Parents who struggle with poor boundaries in their own lives seem to have a tough time with this concept of sowing and reaping. Unable to see their daughter even temporarily unhappy, they feel a compelling urge to rescue her before she can experience the natural consequences of her choice.
A daughter who really enjoys spending money may never learn financial responsibility if her dad bails her out whenever her money runs out.
A son who cheats on line calls or smashes his tennis racquet in frustration may never learn self-control or integrity if his father allows him to remain on the court no matter what he does.
A daughter who leaves her lunch at home as a habit may never learn responsibility if mum brings it to school every time she forgets.
In the second that the hammer hits …”Elton John, from “The One”
The second that a rescue happens, all hope of using a poor choice as a character-building opportunity evaporates. We all miss opportunities in the day-to-day busyness of life. We can’t catch them all.
But, when mums and dads chronically “rescue” because of their own unresolved issues, they obliterate opportunities for sons and daughters to take giant leaps forward in becoming responsible young citizens.
Speaking of responsible young citizens, I was not one of them.
My dear father was called home mid-morning from his office twenty-five miles away. After parking his car, and taking in what was left of the post-fire scene, he walked up, surprising me with the one question I wasn’t expecting …
“Son, are you okay?”
Mothers and fathers of my parents’ generation didn’t need to be as intentional about some aspects of child rearing as we do. It may not have been as necessary, since most institutions supported (rather than attacked) the home in those days.
While we certainly don’t have it all figured out at our house, Melissa and I believe that intentional parenting means reinforcing biblically-rooted values everyday regardless of what the culture is doing — releasing kids in age-appropriate ways to succeed or fail on their own, and learning from their mistakes. It’s not easy, but it is essential.
Whatever the reason, at eleven or twelve, I did not possess the moral foundation that Melissa and I are striving to instill in our children. Yet — I did have a choice on how I responded to my father’s second question that morning — the one question I was dreading:
“Son, do you know how this might have happened?”
“Uh … no, I don’t.”
With those words and the fabrications that followed, I made a sinful, cowardly and short-sighted choice to avoid punishment by lying.
What I didn’t realise until decades later, is that I’d missed out on an entire chapter of character growth by avoiding the consequences of my foolishness that day.
Regretfully, with the passing of my parents about thirty years later, I also missed the opportunity to confess the truth to them. Can’t get that back. But, God never leaves us stranded.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Romans 6:23
The rod of Proverbs 13, the sowing and reaping of Galatians 6, and Grandma’s juice are compatible metaphors for lovingly discipling a child toward responsibility in adulthood.
Fast forward to today. When Melissa and I go out on a date, at least one of our kids is sure to say: “Have fun! Don’t worry about us. We’ll try not to burn the house down.”
Would love for you to share (in the comments below) your challenges, joys, frustrations and successes with this important parenting topic.
Blessings on your home,
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