(Originally published on June 5, 2014)
As a mom, I’ve come to understand that one of the most painful things I’ll ever have to endure is watching my child hurt.
Simply the thought of them being in some sort of situation that causes them pain makes me want to turn the world upside down to seek justice for them.
It’s quite a natural phenomenon. It’s in us.
Yet I’ve also come to understand that there are times when I must let them hurt. Times when I need to step back and allow natural consequences take over so they can learn a lesson. Sometimes the very best justice I can facilitate is the kind which causes growth. An incident occurred Monday morning that caused this to be at the forefront of my heart.
At 5:30, I was awakened by Jyllian (9) who, in a panic, rattled this off to me:
“Mom! I need you to get up right now! I have a field trip today and I meant to tell you about it but we got busy over the weekend and I forgot and I need to find my permission slip and you’re gonna need to pack me a lunch and I need my S.M.A.R.T. shirt and I’m sorry I forgot to tell you but I need you to get up now okay?!
Did you hear me?!”
I struggled to open my eyes and mumbled the only thing I could think to say at the moment:
She repeated a slightly different version of her speech, and as she finished I knew my day was already off to that kind of Monday morning start. You know the kind.
So I dragged myself out of bed, and by the time I was done preparing my coffee I had already been through a whole crazy spectrum of emotions.
At first I was angry with the school. Another field trip four days before the end of the year? Good grief, just let summer vacation start already.
Then I was frustrated with her because being organized and remembering things are not her strongest qualities. I pictured her at school on Friday at the end of the day, busy talking and laughing. Pretty much worried about everything BUT bringing home her important paperwork. I shook my head as I wondered if she’ll ever get it together.
Dramatic, I know. It was early.
Then – in true mama fashion – I switched into problem-solving mode.
Okay…where’s the S.M.A.R.T. shirt? Crap, it’s dirty. Alright, that’s okay, give it the sniff. Good, it doesn’t stink. I’ll throw it in the dryer to get rid of the wrinkles. Now…let’s check the book bag. Maybe she overlooked the paper. No, not in there. Crap. What if I write a note? Yeah, I’ll write a note. Or should I shoot her teacher an email? No…a note. That’ll give them written permission. Yep, no biggie. We’ll figure this out. I’ll fix this for her.
And that was my intent. I couldn’t stand the sight of her little eyes brimming with tears. I couldn’t bear to think that she would have to watch her friends and the rest of the entire third grade leave, while she stays behind, like some sort of heel, with the office ladies…nice ladies that they are, of course.
But. Something happened as I stood there next to the running dryer praying through it and waiting for her shirt to fluff.
I realized that while it may be easy (and satisfying!) to save the day, it might not be the right answer here.
Because what would I be teaching her if I fixed this?
Jyllian, it’s okay for you to be irresponsible with your important school papers and wait until the last minute to tell me things. Although I’m trying to teach you responsibility and organization, I’m here to bail you out when you’re irresponsible and unorganized–even if it means totally stressing myself out and bending over backwards to do so.
Organization and remembering the important stuff are biggies on her list of things we’re working on. It matters.
So…I turned the dryer off.
I walked upstairs empty-handed and sat down next to her on the couch. And prepared to break her heart.
I told her I was sorry she wouldn’t be able to go on the field trip, but I had no control over it at this point. (A half-truth.) I reminded her that this is why it’s so important that she bring home her papers. I explained that I would not be doing my job very well if I didn’t allow her to face the consequences in this situation.
Her tears flowed easier now and her face was red, and I felt like I might as well have been taking away her birthday. And Christmas, and Easter, and summer vacation.
And it hurt. Really bad.
But I found myself clinging to these three truths as I watched her finish getting ready for her day, with her world so obviously crumbling beneath her feet.
This is the time to equip and prepare.
Scott and I have come to a conclusion that has drastically changed the way we parent: We are not raising children, we are raising adults. We’ve learned that our role as parents is not to make sure our children have the best of everything and never have to face challenges or experience heartache. Our job is to give them a realistic view of the world we live in and then equip them with what they’ll need to navigate the rough waters, while showering them with love and support. Things aren’t fair. Life is hard. And we want them to become individuals who are responsible, well-adjusted, and know how to hear the word, “No.” It’s okay for them to be upset. It’s okay for them to be angry. And while it may be painful for me to watch sometimes, the sooner they learn that the world is going to keep on spinning anyway? The better. Because it will.
Actions have consequences.
And so does lack of action. I’m constantly trying to get them to understand the cause and effect principle. What parent isn’t? If you don’t put your bike away, it will get stolen or damaged. If you do not feed and water the hamsters, they will die. If you are unkind to others, they will not want to be around you. And if you neglect to bring home your field trip permission slip for Mom to sign, you will not be able to participate. It’s really very simple. We adults face natural consequences every day based on the decisions we make. I’d rather that not be a shock to my kids when they venture out on their own.
My goal is to replace myself.
It was hard to take my cape off that morning. I could’ve easily become the hero of the day. Admittedly, at first I fantasized about presenting her with her shirt and a handwritten note that gave permission for her to go and watching her beam lovingly at me while I packed her a sack lunch. But. My emotional stance should never be that I need my children to need me. I never want them to think that I am the do-all end-all, and that whatever it is they’re going through, I ALONE have the power to take care of it. I’ve realized that I should be pointing them away from myself, and toward a God who can handle it all.
The desired fruit of everything I’m doing right now in this season of life comes down to this: I want my children to be responsible, independent people who live their lives for the glory of God. I need to be willing to do what it takes to make that happen. Even the hard stuff.
I feel like that’s rare. I feel sometimes like we’re the hardest parents on the block because we hold the line on our kids. But when we heard that parenting was going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done, we took that to heart and decided that we’re going to give it everything we’ve got even when it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, and just plain doesn’t feel good. We’re talking about the next generation here. To us…it’s totally worth it.
Now, the cool thing is…she went on that field trip. I had sent her off to school minus her special shirt and brown bag lunch, add plenty of tears. But as I sat here stressing and wondering where she was and what she was doing and shedding a few tears of my own, the phone rang.
It was her counselor. While she agreed with what I was doing, she was unable to have her stay behind because there would be no one there to be with her. And after I gave my verbal permission and hung up the phone, my heart leaped a little. I recognized it as a gift.
Because I feel like I passed a test that morning. Like us, God is a loving parent willing to shower His children with blessings and gifts and love. It’s in Him. (Where do you think we get it?) But, He’s also willing to do the hard stuff in order to teach us the lessons we need to learn. Can I get an Amen?
I pray that you are willing and able to do what it takes to give your children all of those gifts today…the love and the hard stuff. I believe they’re often one in the same.
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.” Psalm 127:3-5