I remember my dad coming home from work on hot, summer days, sunburned, dirt smeared on his face, sweat still clinging to his clothes. Those were hard work days, and the last thing he needed was to come home and find his wife upset, with hurt emotions pouring from every muscle in her face because their pre-teen daughter said something hurtful again. He would deal with me immediately, usually in a way that made me very unhappy and more angry at my mother for whatever infraction she had committed against me. Usually, I would be grounded and threatened with some other harsher, long-term punishment that never took place.
Now I live on the other side of the battle. I watch as my pre-teen tries to discover where he fits in the world, and I desperately want to help him figure it out. Most of us muddle through this season, not having any idea if we're doing or saying the right things to help our young people to become men and women who reflect Jesus. Since our goal is to share eternity with this son of ours and to raise a confident, strong, capable man of God, we must choose to discover God's way to disciple and discipline this child. Muddling is not an option. We don't get a second chance, so we have to believe that God has fully equipped us for this.
So how do we do that? How do I look at this budding man I adore with all my mama heart and train him to become like Christ? How do I stand face to face, eyes blazing at me, tongue lashing at me, anger flames scorching me without lashing back?
What I realized when I was thinking through things the other day was that what my parents usually chose for me didn't work. I was grounded. Frequently. I was given extra chores. It didn't help. So is there a purpose in us using these same consequences? Does grounding have a place in our parenting plan?
I think, yes; it does. Yesterday, in a conversation concerning how aggravated his current consequences were making him, I expressed to my young man that grounding will serve two purposes for him (and probably more). He will be reminded that he needs to find a better way to handle his emotions every time he hears the neighbors playing outside without him and every time he notices his sister getting some time on the computer or television, or when I borrow his Ipod because, why not? He isn't going to be using it. He will have so much more time on his hands to think about finding that better way.
But here is the deeper answer to the question. Standard consequences can't stand alone. They must be accompanied with more. How can we do this His way?
Discipleship. Character training. This problem with my pre-teen is a heart issue. Sure, a lot of kids go through it, but Christian parents have to stop overlooking heart conditions in our children just because "everyone else is doing it." It makes me cringe when I hear other parents blow it off. The Bible does not say, "Be kind except for when you're learning to deal with raging new hormones," so unacceptable behaviors should not be tolerated in the name of teen angst. Neither does the Bible say, "Train up a child in the way he should go until he is 11 and he isn't always nice anymore because all kids go through that."
I am a realist. I know there will be moments when I want to lash back, when I want to throw in the towel even. We will probably re-play Monday's scene, when my husband came home from work knowing very little of what happened but keenly aware that I was hurting. I had that same look my mother used to give my own daddy. I will tell him what transpired, from both sides of the battlefield, the good and the bad because my human nature sometimes escapes from my lips.
My husband will walk up the stairs, sit with our son, talk with him, share scripture, put his arm around him, and pray with him. He will follow this up with accountability, making sure he has spent time in the Word daily.
That's pretty incredible, isn't it?
On Monday evening when my son finally descended the stairs with humility, I saw him coming, and I waited for him to speak first this time. He sat across from me on the couch and with a tone of total regret said, "Mom, I'm really sorry."
And I believed him.
This too is pretty incredible.
I won't say that I handled things perfectly because I certainly did not, but I believe I gained some momentum. Am I exhausted with this process at times? You betcha. There will be days when I will need my husband or a dear friend to remind me that I'm getting some of this right because...
He's only 11. We have a long way to go, and his sister is trailing right behind him!