“The aim…is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
Discerning and Responding to the Heart Motive
What is your goal in parenting? Really think about it. Is it having successful children? Maybe getting through the child-raising years with the least stress possible? Is your prime goal to make sure your children obey you?
That last one seems like a noble goal. Obedient children…who doesn’t like the sound of that? But I have another question that just might make us rethink that goal. How did Jesus feel about the Pharisees? They were all about obedience, right? Did he applaud them for focusing primarily on making sure people obeyed the law, and for putting obedience above relationships? Hmmm…if we’re reading the same Bible, I’m pretty sure He did not.
What was important to Jesus? He said, “I desire MERCY more than sacrifice”. Whoa…wait a minute! God Himself created the Law. Wasn’t it good enough in the Old Testament times to sacrifice the clean animals to pay for the unclean sin? Why did Jesus decide to get in the middle of that smoothly functioning system and mess it all up, focusing instead on people’s hearts?
Relationship is More Important Than Rules
I’ll tell you why. It’s because Jesus considered Relationship more important than Rules. How many parents would be thrilled if their children washed the dishes every night with a bitter scowl on their faces? Well, what’s the problem…they’re obeying, right? Isn’t their obedience our prime goal?
Of course not! We want to know what’s going on in the heart of our child, and why they are so upset while doing the dishes. We want to help them figure out what they’re feeling so we can help them get a positive Heart Attitude.
Heart Attitude: Playing Out Two Scenarios
Let’s play a scenario in two different ways. In the first, you’ve told little Jimmy a hundred times if you’d told him once that he is NOT to play ball in the house! While you’re downstairs folding laundry you hear a loud crash as your great-grandmother’s heirloom ceramic vase comes crashing to the ground, smashing into pieces. You run into the room to see him standing there with the ball in his hand and a sheepish look on his face.
Now for the second scenario. Little Jimmy notices how hard you’ve been working around the house in the past few days. Seeing that you still have some dusting to do, Jimmy grabs a rag and begins to dust. He is hurrying while you’re out of the room so that he’ll have a surprise to show you. As he moves about the room, he accidentally trips over his shoelace and knocks into your great-grandmother’s heirloom ceramic vase, which falls to the ground, smashing into pieces.
Different Motive, Same Result
In both scenarios your valuable heirloom vase has come crashing to the ground, getting destroyed. In both cases, Jimmy is responsible for the damage. If he wouldn’t have been there, it wouldn’t have come crashing down, right?
Would you treat Jimmy differently depending on the scenario? If your answer is ‘Yes’, it would be due to the difference in his Heart Motive. Let’s look at this idea a bit more closely.
Scenario 1: Negative Heart Motive
In the first scenario, it was obvious defiance to your rules that caused the vase to break. A natural consequence might be to have him clean it up. Then he might call the oldest living relative you can think of and confess his deed. Jimmy could further lose ball privileges for a month because it seems he just can’t be trusted with balls these days.
What to do with all of that free time while little Jimmy’s not playing ball? Well, that basement sure needs some cleaning. And how about the garage? Definitely needing some attention. As a matter of fact, you are so creative that you’re able to find a whole month’s worth of work that Jimmie can do to help you out.
By the end of the month, your life is a little bit easier because of all the help. Jimmie has learned an important lesson, and you and Jimmie have been able to spend some valuable time together. Were you upset in this scenario? Of course! Did you show anger and yell at Jimmie? You did not. The CONSEQUENCES themselves did the punishing. You and Jimmie stayed friends. What rapture, what bliss, what sheer brilliance on your part!
Scenario 2: Positive Heart Motive
In the second scenario, little Jimmy really was desperately trying to please and help you when he accidentally knocked the vase down. His little heart suffered as much as yours did when it fell. However, the damage was done and there was nothing he could do to fix the situation.
How do you deal with Jimmy? You are a Wise Parent who understands that his Heart Motives were good and pure. You hold him close, dry his tears, and thank him for trying to help. Then you direct him to the broom and pan. After all, even though he didn’t mean to break it, he is still responsible for the mess. It’s only logical that he should be the one to clean it up.
Were you upset in this scenario? Not really. You were actually more pleased than anything at the fact that little Jimmy noticed that you were tired and that he cared enough to want to dust the house for you.
An Example of Natural Consequences at Work
Here’s another example. We have homeschooled our three biological children during all of their educational lives, except for three months when they attended school in Colombia to learn Spanish. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it typically produces motivated, creative children. One of the detractions of creative children is that they can tend to daydream and not get their work finished on time.
Several years ago when the kids were in the fourth through sixth grades, I had a great schedule set up for us. We did school in the mornings, and then by 1 p.m., the kids were free to practice their instruments, do art, read books, play outside, etc. The other benefit is that I was free to do things that mattered to me during the afternoons.
Well, it turned out that one of our children seemed to be a professional day-dreamer. Every few minutes I would feel the need to remind this child to focus, and school seemed to be taking FOREVER. I certainly didn’t want this child to fall behind. I assumed his responsibility onto my own shoulders and school dragged on…sometimes until 5 p.m. By that time I was exhausted, fed up, and wanting a long break from the kids!
Finding a Natural Consequence
As I was complaining to Tom one night during Couch Time, he came to my rescue once again. “Jen, what would be a natural consequence for this situation?” Thinking for a moment, I came up with a brilliant natural consequence. I was their teacher. I was ‘in school’ for a certain number of hours per day – 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. to be exact. It was more than possible to get everything accomplished during this time frame. So if anybody didn’t get their schoolwork done, I would make myself available as a paid tutor in the afternoons!
This was a solution that would meet my children’s needs, as they would get their schoolwork done. I would still be happy since I would be making money.
The problem was that as happy as I was with this situation, my child wasn’t quite so happy to have to keep paying me for my time. So do you know what the genius decided to do? It was amazing, really…hard to believe. The genius got all of his school work done before 1 p.m. from that time onward! Honestly, who’d have thought it was possible? Sometimes we parents have to learn to respect our children and value their potential!
Helping Others Apply Natural Consequences in Their Homes
A family we were ministering to in one of our parenting classes was having a problem with their adult daughter. This daughter was living at home but refusing to help out even the slightest bit around the house. In Latino culture, and specifically in Colombia, it’s not uncommon for children to continue living with their parents until they are married.
Due to the unhealthy economy, extended family members will often live together in a small home. One person might sleep on a couch, another on a chair in the corner, another on a blanket on the floor, and so on. Due to this crowded living situation, older family members will typically take care of all cooking and cleaning needs. The children go to school, play, and act like kids. The women typically take great pride in serving their children and the men in the home.
Those in more affluent households who can afford it hire a daily or live-in maid. She does all of the cooking, cleans the house, often care for the children and picks up after them, etc.
Fighting Against a Culture of Laziness
Thus the culture is often created in which the children aren’t expected to pull their own weight or clean up after themselves. This can also be seen in the amount of litter thrown about in the streets. Every day we see people throwing plastic bottles or food wrappers out of car windows, on the sidewalks, even off the side of a boat into a beautiful local lake!
Anyway, going back to our friend in the parenting class, her biggest frustration was that her daughter refused to clean her own bathroom. This also happened to be the guest bathroom in the house. The mom was exhausted from running around all day cleaning up the messes her adult daughter left. She was desperate for help.
We asked what would happen if she just stopped picking up her daughter’s messes. A look of pure horror crossed her face. She was imagining people coming in and seeing her house in disarray. “I couldn´t do it….that would be so embarrassing to have people see my house a mess!”
Putting Natural Consequences in Practice
She was almost there. However, she needed a bit more prodding before she would be convinced enough to try it. We then asked her which was more important to her. Did she want her daughter to learn responsibility? Or did she want to have a clean house yet remain perpetually frustrated and worn out because of taking on responsibilities that were not hers?
After a brief moment, light dawned on her face. She nodded, agreeing that it was more important for her daughter to learn responsibility. However, she shared that she had tried to do this for short periods before. It hadn’t worked because her daughter had just ignored the mess.
We asked the group what a ‘natural consequence’ in this situation could be. They suggested that when guests came over and noticed the mess in the house, the mom should answer matter-of-factly. “Oh yes. That was my daughter’s responsibility. She’s chosen not to do it.¨
The Moment of Truth
That was the moment of truth. The mom was realizing that this consequence could actually affect her daughter. The girl would be mortified by her mom’s public disclosure. I added that the mom actually might become a hero to other moms in the neighborhood as well. This might give them the courage to do the same things in their own homes!
When this mother arrived at our next meeting the following week, I was more than a bit curious to find out what happened. She was smiling from ear to ear, beaming with pleasure and excitement. “It WORKED!” she shared enthusiastically with the group. “My daughter couldn’t believe it. Not only was I not cleaning up her messes anymore. I actually even told others that it was her choice not to clean the bathroom! It only took a day or two, and she suddenly began taking responsibility for her part in the house!”
See? It really works! It just requires Parent Effort and Courage. However, your children CAN be trained. They can easily become wonderful, helpful, responsible individuals who are a blessing to those with whom they come into contact!