Maybe I wrote this blog for my future self? I stumbled on it looking for something else today, and I have no recollection of writing it at all. It appears I wrote it over a year ago, and then I forgot about it somehow. So bizarre. However, it was really just what I needed today, so I decided to go ahead and post it. Maybe it will do something for somebody else.
Being a mother is without a doubt the single most rewarding thing I have ever done. It is a sacred gift, a blessing beyond any I can imagine. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I never daydream about life without my children. Add to that that I have 4 strong, healthy, talented, loving, respected, children with incredible potential if they chose to harness it, and I’m probably the most blessed human being alive.
On the other hand, nearly 11 years into parenthood and I’m still looking for the cruise control or the easy button on these little creatures. I do so much for them, and, if I’m completely honest with myself, I therefore want them to be the walking embodiment of a gratitude that makes them jump to obedience and respect for me and for others. When they don’t, I still struggle endlessly with how to best handle each situation as it arises. I can be plagued by guilt and self-doubt and insecurity. I’ve said it before, but I can think of parenthood as a crazy, high stakes game of Russian roulette. I put my whole life on the line and then it’s anyone’s guess as to how it will all turn out. . . And then I shoulder the entire responsibility for all possible outcomes. . .
My Harrison. He’s crazy brilliant, good natured, sensible, well-behaved, obedient and easy going as can be. Raising him has been pure joy. He was a content baby who rarely cried and played by himself without demanding much of anything. He is healthy as can be and can play peacefully with nearly any child. He doesn’t complain much and keeps the drama low. When you picture what your child will be like before you have them, Harrison is what you picture. He’s a dream.
Until he’s not. I can almost put parenting on cruise control with him and pour my energies into the challenges that come with the other kids. It’s easy to let Harrison fly under the radar, and I’m learning that’s just the way he likes things. He can be painfully honest and wise, confessing his mistakes in order to relieve the stress that comes from concealing a lie, but there are times I see in him the ugliness I want to believe isn’t there. I turn my back and he shoves his little brother to the ground or hides a prized toy from his sister and then retreats to a dark corner to smirk while the family searches. He’s human: precious and mysterious and selfish.
And I battle how to juggle it all. How do I reign in Eli’s energy, then calm Evan’s temper while curbing Julia’s baby talk and making sure Harrison’s infractions don’t slide under the radar.
I don’t think I give myself the benefit of the doubt that in a suppressed place, deep, deep down inside of me, I know what’s best for my children. I complicate it by considering the hurricane Katrina sized storm of parenting advice and opinions that rob my peace and strip the joy I should have from parenthood. Do I spank or no? Do I show mercy or do I punish? Which bad behaviors and attitudes do I allow my children to suffer the natural consequences of and which ones do I actively address.
Plus, it’s hard not to be lazy, and I’m so very busy. It’s often easier to ignore an issue time and time again, until it just goes too far and I erupt with frustration and indignation. My head is so full of noise and information from so many conflicting sources that it can make me indecisive and impotent to choose what I believe and act decisively upon it.
Moreover, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I think millions of parents in our culture live with debilitating amounts of guilt and stress that come from so much conflicting, self-righteous, societal, noise. We try to construct a perfect bubble around our children of just the right influences and activities, and hopefully take some pressure off of ourselves from all that we have idealized parenting to be. However, those influences and activities also have flaws that give us more insecurity and then we may find ourselves wallowing around in a pool of anxiety, self-pity and despair.
However, back to my introduction, I think that in a suppressed place, deep, deep down inside of me, I know what’s best for my children. I know that flying off the handle for every infraction isn’t right, and I know that total mercy isn’t right either. It’s this much more balanced lifestyle of decisive and predictable action and repercussions for misbehavior, followed by merciful instruction, reconciliation, forgiveness and grace. Aaahhhh. I mean, no problem, right?
I consider the Bible Story Adam and Eve. They lived in perfect world until one day they take a little bite from a juicy fruit and in an instant, screw it all up for everyone. Of course, any of us would have done the same thing. God didn’t create us to be mindless drones. He created us with a choice to trust him or not to trust him, and despite being given all good things, Adam and Eve blazed the trail of our perpetual mistrust. You see, to me, sin is not the presence of evil, though evil certainly exists. The presence of evil can only serve to cunningly foster a depraved absence of trust.
So this morning when I catch my easy-going, laid back, sensible child doing something downright devious, (like stealing a sneak peek at a stack of new trading cards I told no one to look at until after they had a good day of school) I want to listen to the voices that say, “Don’t punish him. He’s so sweat and ordinarily so good. Let’s not rock that boat today. Let’s just take it easy.” But then this voice reminds me of all of the examples of godly people, who suffer the sanctifying (cleansing/purifying) consequences of their foolish lapses in trust and faith in the only one worth our total trust, the creator of all things, the standard by which all creation is measured, the God of the Bible.
So I do the unthinkable in the mind of my ordinarily compliant 8 year old, I withhold <GASP> the precious trading cards, and the tears of grief and self-pity flow. A whole day of school and hard work with no reward. OH, it truly hurt me more than it did him, and I almost caved and let him have it a thousand times in order to sooth my hurting heart and his. However, even though he doesn’t ordinarily defy me, he did today, and for the sake of future Harrison Stephen Tynes, I did not let it go unpunished. Just because it is easier for him to comply than to misbehave 99 times out of 100, doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t have to endure the sanctifying (cleansing, purifying) consequences of his infraction. He’ll be better for it.
Pure and simply put, when someone does not suffer clear and decisive consequences each and every time, they become desensitized to their actions and they never mature and grow. We all know that. And yet we let our kids pitch fits and manipulate us into caving, or we let conflicting news reports and parenting books steal our internal compasses and sense of authority. We see our kids pitch a fit or try to manipulate their circumstances with emotional outbursts and we try to rationalize and excuse them, rather than refine those ugly, even hideous tendencies into something self-controlled and honorable.
However, there is this biblical model of repentance. In this example of the trading card, Harrison and I have a heart-to-heart about his behavior, and I grant him the gift of repentance and total forgiveness. (For anyone who has been denied the opportunity to apologize and be forgiven, you know why I call that a gift.) He spent the day and the next school day stretching and growing in the patience and wisdom it takes to be granted the rewards of achieving what is expected of him, and is then given mercy as he sifts through the stack of trading card possibilities for his daily reward. He is learning to trust me and my system and my boundaries and exercise self-control. Then he can learn to set his own systems and healthy boundaries while offering mercy, grace and forgiveness when they are disrespected.
In this light, consistent, decisive punishment is a gift, and I think we all know that. It takes time and energy and self-discipline, but it’s, like, what really matters. Trips to Disney with fast passes and soccer leagues, music lessons, academic overachieving, and keeping up with the all the current trends and fashions can be fun, but often times end up robbing us of the time it takes to cultivate children with good character and strong foundations for healthy relationships and decision making. I mean, we all know that, right? But we let the noise of it all rob us of our ability to make mature and responsible decisions that we know, in our heart-of-hearts we should clearly be making.