(Shared with permission from our son who is an amazing kid and I will be buying him a large Blizzard from D.Q. for letting me pick on him in this post)
A few months back my husband, son and I stood in our family room in the midst of a tense discussion. Our fifteen year-old had just responded in a not-so-stellar way to the idea that he would have to be dropped off at work a half an hour early to accommodate our schedules.
Since we had been working on respectful responses with our son for a few months now, and it had cropped up again, my husband decided enough was enough. He proceeded to tell our son that instead of getting a ride to Chick-Fil-A that day for work, he would need to ride his bike the three miles to get there…and he better get a move on to make it in time.
Now a teenager riding his bike to work may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me. Our kids just haven’t ridden their bikes much outside of our neighborhood before. We live in a semi-remote neighborhood where it takes riding a distance to get anywhere other than a gas station.
So as my husband stood his ground and told our son to hurry up and make sure the tires were full of air, I sat a little stunned on the couch. Here’s what was going on inside my head:
“He’s never ridden his bike to work, can he do it?” (that sounds silly even as I write it but I really asked myself that question). “Is it too far? What about the busy roads? How will my directionally challenged son know how to get there?”
Even though my protective mom instinct was sounding off full volume, I kept my mouth shut. I needed to let my husband take the reigns on this one because this was a recurring issue lately and an important one. We clearly needed something tougher to use as a consequence than taking his phone away (which is what we had been doing).
Our son immediately went into sorry mode, which made staying quiet even harder. He pleaded and then realizing he was getting nowhere got mad, stormed into the garage and rode away.
I fought all sorts of urges to stop the whole scene. But why? Why was it so hard for me to accept that our son needed to have a hard consequence?
I’ve given this some thought…a lot of thought actually. And I have three main ideas about why it is so difficult for those of us who are parents to give hard consequences to our kids.
ONE: It Causes Us Pain
I feel pain when my kids are struggling and darn it, I don’t want to feel pain. And I don’t only feel pain, but I worry and stress and doubt about the decision. As loving parents, we carry a fierce instinct to protect our children, and I think we feel like we’re leaving them outside to weather the storm alone when we dole out the tough love.
I’ve noticed I am mostly unaffected when grounding our kids or taking their phones away or making them do chores for misbehavior. But the truth is while those things are challenging for our kids, they often do not produce long term-results.
Sometimes we need to be brave enough to raise the bar on the discipline. In our trying to “protect” them and soften the consequence, we ultimately fail at protecting them from turning into self-indulgent, self-centered, “me” focused children.
TWO: We Don’t Like Our Kids Being Upset With Us
I don’t know about your family, but when we set a boundary or say no to something, especially something that is a “big deal” to our kids, they aren’t all lovey dovey with us.
In fact, we may experience some anger or aloofness or distance from our kids. We feel disconnected with them. Doesn’t this go against everything we normally fight for as moms–feeling connected with our children?
We work so hard to create harmony and unity in our homes, between siblings, in our marriage, and with our relationship with our children, that the break in harmony really feels… yucky (that’s the most accurate word I can come up with). It makes me sad, and my day harder, and adds to the tension in every conversation I need to have with that child…so I avoid it, even if it’s unintentional.
THREE: We Are Little Picture Responders Instead of Big Picture Fighters
Ultimately, we are so close to and emotionally involved in the situation that it is often difficult for us to step back and see that the misbehavior is actually derailing our great intentions for our kids’ character.
I think we all can agree that we want to raise respectful, kind, considerate, grateful kids. It is often when our kids are disrespectful, unkind, inconsiderate and ungrateful that we are faced with the discipline decision. Yet at that crucial moment we often make excuses for them or soften the discipline because of the previous two reasons.
We need to circle back to the kind of little/big people we want to raise. The consequence, however painful for all involved, works toward that goal. It is for their own good, and we need to fight for what is best for them.
The story wraps up like this. Our son made it to work, and on the way there he was pulled over by a police officer who kindly told him that he couldn’t ride his bike across the bridge over the highway (no we didn’t bribe an officer to add a little extra shake up to the situation, but not bad timing).
After work our son texted me for a ride home since he would have to ride back over the highway to get home and didn’t want to have a second conversation with a police officer in one day.
I fully expected to pick up an angry child who didn’t want to speak to me. My husband had left out of town for work so I braced myself emotionally for the evening ahead.
Instead, a humble and respectful young man got in the car and thanked me for picking him up.
This was a lesson for our son, but it was a bigger lesson for me. I learned that the hard consequences work, and more importantly that I could handle the pain they caused my mom-heart. As our children continue to go through their teen years I often think about this day. I remember that it is okay for our kids to sweat it out (literally) in order to experience changed behavior.
The truth is, our kids can handle hard consequences. We are the ones that often can’t.
God is the perfect parent. He does not cushion our life-lessons. No, He let’s us fall hard, mess up, struggle and even suffer the consequences of our actions. But He never leaves us, always is there to love us and care for us in the midst of our pain. May I continue to look heavenward for the best parenting example ever.
Please love on another mom today and share this post with her–let’s encourage each other to be the best parents we can be.
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