I'll never forget my teacher's aide rushing into my classroom to tell me she saw my son Hayden in the principal's office his fourth grade year. I was a little slow in recognizing the significance of the situation.
He probably got hurt during recess, I offered, knowing that the nurse's office was next door. Her telling expression let me know...that wasn't the case. I was quickly summoned to the office where a dejected Hayden sat in a chair by the principal.
While Hayden sat silent (looking extremely nervous), I was given a brief summary of the account. I was told that Hayden had punched a kid because he had incorrectly surmised that the kid threw a rock at him when in fact (the principal told me), the rock assault could have been an accident.
I was swiftly given two options for Hayden's punishment; licks or three days of "In School Suspension". I chose BOTH (hoping spectators would know I discipline my kids) and then left the office and marched down the hall to my classroom trying to simmer down.
How could he?! This was the kid who'd been taught from toddlerhood to give up a toy rather fight over it. This was the kid who'd coach himself "Stop, breave (breathe) and fink (think)" when he'd get angry as a three year old. And really? Now he was throwing the first punch?
Hadn't everyone that knew me witnessed my countless talks with my kids (both my own children and my students) about being a peacekeeper and telling an adult when someone wouldn't leave you alone....and now I'd failed at ensuring my son played by those rules?... Would I become a laughingstock? What would the church members think? Would this hurt the reputation of my (pastor) husband who teaches peace, patience and kindness from the pulpit?
That afternoon, when I finally gave Hayden a chance to speak, I found there was more to the story. The friction between Hayden and the other boy had grown over the course of a couple of weeks with Hayden trying to be passive; a trait I'd so carefully ingrained in him. But the torment had finally accumulated to a point where Hayden broke.
I learned that teachers knew that the boy had made numerous attempts to escalate the situation (by use of insulting language and other means such as slight shoves before he decided to throw rocks at my kid), but nothing had been done about it.
Being that the news had already spread that evening by the time Wednesday church rolled around, I was asked a question by a male church friend who had detected my frustration toward Hayden.
Are you mad at Hayden because you're embarrassed about the situation or because you truly think he did the wrong thing?
Initially I thought he had done wrong. I'm still not sure what I expected from my son, but one thing was clear. After talking to those who witnessed the interaction, it was confirmed that Hayden had been severely provoked. My church friend posed an interesting question. The answer was that I was more worried about what everybody would think, and the possibility of my son becoming a public vigilante, than whether or not he made a reasonable decision considering the circumstances.
The next day I talked with the principal who agreed that 'pops' and a day in ISS were enough punishment. I apologized to Hayden for making my reputation (and his) more important than his emotional and physical well-being. I apologized for all the times I coached him when he was younger to give away a toy he was rightfully playing with just to keep the peace. I cringe today and have apologized again as I think about the damage I may have caused. I'd repeatedly failed in looking out for my kid's best interest.
I've failed since with the girls too, on various occasions, even recently.
When it comes to instructing and disciplining our children there's a simple equation we'd all do well to follow.
Your kid does something wrong (in the eyes of God)?...You discipline them.
I think as parents, too many times we allow the following unnecessary forces to influence our instruction and discipline:
- Our fear of embarrassment. I've coached the kids on how not to be weird. I can become too involved in their clothing choices (Do NOT wear those sandals with your athletic shorts). Is that really a moral problem? I'm afraid people think one of my kids talks too much. The other, I worry, doesn't talk enough to people she encounters. Will people think she's rude? He's sick, but will people wonder why he's not at church this morning? And so I guide them (badger them) to be children who are pleasing, that is, to people. Don't we as adults know, that's IMPOSSIBLE?
- We worry that others will find our kid annoying. Closely kin to my fear of my kids embarrassing me (or themselves) is the worry that others will find my kids annoying. I muddle down the definition of wrongdoing by getting on to my kids for behavior that may annoy the company they're with even though there may be nothing sinful about their behavior. Don't fake laugh. Don't raise your hand too much in class. Don't hug too long or sit too close. Don't tell lame jokes or that story that no one wants to hear. Rather than considering whether or not their behavior is wrong, I use wide brushed strokes in my guidance; prohibiting any behavior that may not be easily likable.
- We 're too concerned that someone might misunderstand. Too many times the appearance of the matter overrides the heart of the matter. Not long ago I forced one of my kids to go out of her way to be overly friendly to someone who had treated her poorly over a course of several months (a simple "Hi" and a smile wasn't enough, I thought). Why? Because the girl's mom wasn't aware of the situation and I didn't want the mom to think my daughter was unkind. The fact of the matter is that my daughter could have been kind without the unnecessary display just to avoid a misunderstanding.
- We give too much thought to what other parents deem appropriate for our own kids. Will they think she shouldn't be allowed to walk to school by herself/ have a cellphone/ take selfies/ eat at McDonalds/ drink a soda/ watch that movie... The question should always be, What does scripture have to say about this? Not, What will the Jones's think?
Paranoid parenting is unhealthy. Parenting strictly by what we believe scripture says may lead to our children experiencing rejection for what is thought unlikeable or popular. There will be those who disapprove of things we allow our children to do. That's unavoidable. But through allowing their true self to seep through, they'll find those who love them for their quirks and through their immature and sometimes awkward life stages. Those who patiently and lovingly stick around are the ones they need to be around anyway.
When we seek to teach our children what is pleasing to God, and stop worrying about pleasing the hoards, life will be less confusing and less disappointing for our children, and for us too.
Train a child in the way he should go...Proverbs 22:6
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