The thing about parenting is that while you are prepared for it to be hard, and expect to face a few challenges along the way, you are always surprised to discover exactly what the nature of the hard part is.
Take this morning for example. The kids have developed a habit, formed over the course of a few lazy summer weeks perhaps, and maybe longer, of waking and playing around for a few hours, and waiting for me to remind them to do things like; eat their breakfast, put their clothes on, brush their teeth, make their beds, etc. This is all fine and good when lounging around at home and playing all day is the only thing on the agenda. But school started yesterday. And at 9am, when I told them to get their books out I was met with refrains of “but I didn’t eat breakfast yet, I’m hungry.” Yesterday we didn’t start school until almost 10am. Even by my very lax home school standards that’s pushing it. Kindergarten kids in this town start at 7:45am.
Which leads to today. Yesterday, as I was faced with this debacle, I announced the new law. School starts at 9am. Anyone who hasn’t gotten themselves up, dressed, bed made, and breakfast eaten before school starts will wait until lunch time to eat. No one is allowed to eat breakfast unless first their beds are made, clothes are on, and pajamas neatly disposed of.
They woke up this morning at 7am. At 8:45, they had not done any of the above mentioned things. I headed for a quick shower and reminded them one last time. I even took a little bit of extra time in the bathroom getting dressed, because I really did not want to deal with hungry kids all morning.
I emerged to utter chaos. Everything was pulled out on the bedroom floor. Pajamas were still on. The only person who had eaten was the Baby, because I got her a bowl of muesli before I jumped in the shower.
For the first time in their entire lives, my children went hungry this morning. They cried, and cried, and cried, and cried some more. I felt like I was right up there with Cinderella’s step mother, and Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother, and the Wicked Witch of the West. I’ve handed out consequences before, it’s never easy. But I was surprised by how hard it was to see my children, genuinely hungry, and honor their freedom to choose by denying them food.
Ask me how school was. Ask me how easy it is to teach children with rumbly bellies their lessons. Ask how well they absorb the information and can do the work on their own. Ask me how long it takes to get them to pick up the mess they chose to make instead of eating. It was miserable.
And I had a really fun day planned. We had friends coming for lunch. We had a play date planned for after quiet time, and yet, if the Boy didn’t finish his work…would I let him play?
The stress of this had me getting really frustrated with him as he lay doodling over his last half of a page instead of doing it. I started losing it. He started crumbling. And then I finally stepped back.
I explained that my concern was for him, because I really wanted him to have fun today. I had worked really hard to do my part to give him a fun day. I was now trying to force him to do what he needed to do in order to have fun later. But I couldn’t. And with that I handed the outcome back to him again. Where it belonged. Hungry morning? your choice. Still working on school in the afternoon instead of playing? your choice. How much you enjoy the rest of this day? your choice.
And with that I went off to do what I needed to get done, satisfied that the power in this moment was squarely where it needed to be, in the hands of my children.
I had no idea when I started this parenting thing how difficult it would be to respect my children’s choices by letting them experience the consequences that come with it. Especially when those consequences are negative and all I want to do is protect them. I had no idea that the single greatest source of frustration would be when they resist me as I put great effort into orchestrating things that will bring them greater happiness.
I wonder if God feels the same way as he looks at us. When all he wants to do is lead us to a place of joyous maturity, and we fight and kick and scream at Him to rescue us from the mess of our own making, instead of learning from it and moving on, does he have to fight the loving impulse to rescue us when the best thing for us is to experience and learn from the consequences?