Last evening, two of my boys had soccer practice. As usual, I loaded up the soccer balls, water bottles (boys brought their own), and folding lawn chairs. I instructed each boy to dress warmly since it was cold outside. I recommended long-sleeved shirts and jackets and even went so far as to find them both clothing items since we are still in the process of moving the seasonal clothing around in their drawers and closets.
My one son promptly dressed himself in the recommended clothing and was ready for practice without delay. The other son ignored both mine and my husband’s instructions to dress warmer and to wear or at least bring a jacket. He did neither. Knowing how important natural consequences are, I took him the way he was to soccer practice.
As I thought would be the case, he immediately began to complain that he was cold. I then gently reminded him that I had told him several times, as well as his father, to dress warmer but that he chose to disobey us and as a result was cold. I encouraged him to listen to his parents next time, knowing that Daddy and Mommy give instructions that are for his good and well-being.
The compassionate Mommy side of me wanted to relieve him of his discomfort. In fact, if his discomfort was a result of my negligence, then it would have been necessary and important for me to have immediately found a solution. I would have probably removed my jacket and offered it to him and suffered as a result of my poor choices.
In this case, I knew that if I tried to relieve him of the discomfort that came as a consequence of his wrong choices, then he would continue to never learn the lesson. As a Mom, this can be very tempting. What we must ask ourselves though is, “How is this preparing him for when he must get his homework done in college, get himself out of bed for work, manage his checkbook, wash his dirty clothes as a single, pay his bills,” etc…? In other words, if I always spare him from any discomfort, he will never be required to learn personal responsibility for his own actions.
I was grateful that I had just heard a radio program that morning, discussing something very similar to this situation. It was a great reminder to me, going into this situation.
The responses of other parents to me in this situation were interesting. One mom heard my son complaining he was cold and immediately offered her spare jacket to him. In this situation, I did allow him to wear the jacket because I thought this was an opportunity for him to experience grace, which God so often demonstrates to us. If God provided a solution, I wasn’t going to turn it down. The mom though later said, “I always carry a spare jacket for when things like this happen.” There wasn’t opportunity to properly respond to her comment so I let it go. I couldn’t help but think though that if I had brought a spare jacket, my son would again have not learned the lesson. In fact, I would have done him the injustice of teaching him that he doesn’t need to take responsibility for his wrong choices/actions because Mom will always “protect” him from the consequences of those very choices/actions.
A mom who is also a teacher was standing nearby so I asked for her input as to how to handle the situation. She encouraged me to let him face the natural consequences of his actions, which I had determined to do.
The situation had escalated though.
My son went from complaining he was cold to then refusing to wear the jacket because it was too big, and he would be embarrassed. I told him that he shouldn’t worry about what others thought but should do what is right for himself. I also suggested rolling up the slightly too-long sleeves. At this point, my son began to cry and refused to practice soccer.
Ugh! There I sat, trying to figure out what to do. I tried to firmly but reasonably talk to him but to no avail. I then led him back to our car. There, I more firmly warned him of the further consequences of his choices/actions. (We had paid a lot of money for the kids to be enrolled in soccer so his refusing to practice was a loss of our investment.) I told him that he would not be allowed to watch movies (his favorite activity) for the rest of the week and that I would have to speak to his daddy about further consequences should he refuse to practice soccer. I told him that we had invested a lot of money for him to play, and it was not okay for him to refuse when he was perfectly capable of practicing.
I then encouraged him to make the right choice and to practice with his friends. I reminded him that movie time would not be removed should he obey. My son refused. When I tried to lead him to the soccer field, he dug in his heels. Now, I was really in a predicament.
I didn’t want to leave my son, standing alone by the car and freezing without a jacket. I also knew that I couldn’t carry him to the soccer field. So, I firmly but calmly explained that I was not going to drag him kicking and screaming to the field, but that until he chose to do the right thing, he would be standing by himself in the cold. I encouraged him to join me, where he would be safer and warmer. I then walked away. What a tough place!
I sat down and watched my other son practice soccer, while at the same time, trying to keep an eye on my child, standing by our car. At one point, I saw another set of foot-prints near him and immediately walked over to check on him. Another mom was trying to persuade him to come. I watched patiently while feeling like the father of the Prodigal Son, wanting so desperately to swing him up into my arms and to wrap warmth around him. The other mom finally managed to get him to walk to me, which is when I mouthed, “Thank you!”. I have no idea what she thought of me, but sometimes it does take another person removed from the situation to help positive progress to occur. I was too close to the situation and had come to represent the person who wanted my son to do something he didn’t want to do so I was not as effective.
My poor son stood there shivering and blue with cold. We did persuade him to put on the jacket. He still refused though to practice soccer, complaining he was too cold. I tried to encourage him that he would get warmer if he played and to point out that all his friends were playing and no one looked cold. This was to no avail.
I didn’t yield to the temptation to coddle him or remove some of the consequences because other moms didn’t understand and thought I was “cruel” or something. I did rub his hands for him to warm them and then gently reminded him that because he had still refused to practice, movie time was still removed for the rest of the week.
I share this with humility. I know that there may be those who will pick apart what I did and think that they could have said or done something differently or better. Perhaps, they could have. What I am learning though is that God created me to be me and to be this child’s mother. I need to obey God alone in the way I conduct myself — not discipline or parent in a way that pleases all the other parents watching. I am also learning that being a good parent doesn’t prevent all problems from occurring. Disciplining correctly doesn’t mean my child won’t ever embarrass me or misbehave in public.
I also learned that being a good mom doesn’t mean that I “protect” my child from every discomfort, hardship, or pain in life. By trying to relieve my child from feeling the discomforts of his wrong choices, I may be actually putting him at greater risk/harm’s way because he will not understand how our choices do carry consequences with them. My son should make wiser choices that will protect him if he learns that consequences are a natural occurrence of our choices.
I want my son to develop into a mature, young man, who has learned how to make wise choices that result in positive results. I want to help my son develop personal self-control. I want my son to develop fortitude, courage, responsibility, and faithfulness.
Sometimes, the best choice — not the easiest — is to NOT “protect” your child but to give them the opportunity to develop their own strength of good and godly character.