“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8, ESV)
The Power of Natural Consequences
As usual, we were running late for the kids’ zoo class one Saturday morning. Needing to leave at 7:30 a.m., I’d given the kids a fifteen-minute warning at 7:15 a.m. By now it was 7:40 a.m. and four of us were waiting in the car. I’d called Alex on the phone at least twice already, and he’d assured us he was on his way out the door. I looked nervously at the clock. “Come ON, Alex!” I muttered to myself, “we’ve got to go, or you’ll all be late!” Alex has a lot of wonderful qualities, but at that time promptness was not one of them.
Tom could stand no more. “Jen,” he began, “what would be a natural consequence that would teach Alex once-and-for-all that when you say it’s time to go, he needs to come downstairs immediately?” Of course, Tom already knew the answer to that question. He also knew that I had to come up with it myself if I were going to be willing to actually carry it out.
“Ummm,” I stalled, hoping that Alex would come running down the stairs quickly so I wouldn’t have to exercise such tough love. “Ummm….maybe…leaving him here?”
“Right on, Jen!” Tom encouraged me. He got out of the car and shut the door behind himself. “See you later! Have a great class, kids!” he called to Abby and Gabe.
Enacting the Consequence Is Hardest On the Parent
I hesitated for a moment and then drove slowly out of the driveway and down the street. I repeatedly searched in my rearview mirror, hoping to see Alex come running. He loved the zoo class, and I hated to see him miss it. Plus, I knew he’d have to work around the house to pay us back for missing it. I dreaded having to supervise that.
After dropping off the other two kids at the class half an hour later, I called Tom on his cell phone. Bursting with curiosity, I asked, “Tom, what did Alex do when he realized I’d left him at home?”
“It was GREAT! He couldn’t believe you actually left, Jen!” Tom laughed. “It was beautiful! He just stood there, staring down the street in disbelief.” My heart was aching for my first-born, who loved science so much and really was a good kid, but I knew Tom had chosen the right thing for us to do.
“In fact,” Tom continued, “Alex is so smart that he even figured out a way to get himself to class! We’re in a taxi right now, and he’s paying for it out of his allowance money! He really is a genius, Jen. He can actually solve his own problems without you there holding his hand and cleaning up his messes!”
A Lesson Well Learned
OUCH…as they say, the truth hurts! Well, this story ended happily and also a bit sadly. Just a few minutes after I hung up the phone, Abby and Gabe came running to the car. They told me that the class had been canceled. Alex was already in a taxi headed to the class. He was upset that he’d paid all of that allowance money for nothing. However, the learning experience had been relatively painless and extremely worthwhile.
So, let’s take a moment to analyze this experience. My child had created a situation which had created unnecessary stress for me. It was HIS situation, although it influenced others in the family. My error had been to take it from him and make it MY responsibility.
What were the long-term results of exercising this consequence? When we handed the responsibility for getting to class on time back to Alex that morning, he began to realize that he needed to start taking charge of being downstairs on time. Since that day, and that painful but valuable lesson, he’s almost always been the first one at the car when it’s time for us to leave!
Another Opportunity to Exercise Consequences
Gabriel provided us with another opportunity to exercise consequences. When he was about eight years old we caught him in a lie. We were surprised and a bit shocked, but over the next few days as we paid closer attention we noticed more lies. It became clear that he had been doing it for quite some time. It seems that I, the Busy Parent, had missed catching him in his first few lies. This allowed him to continue to get away with them until lying had become a habit.
We had a little ‘pow-wow’ with Gabe. We explained how his actions had broken our trust in him. As a result, he was going to lose some of the freedom he’d been allowed. He would have to work hard to earn back our trust! We also shared with him what God thinks about lying.
Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” We asked him to apologize to us, to anyone else he’d lied to, and to God.
Whether at that point he felt bad about the lying or about getting caught is still to be determined. However, we were happy to see his obvious remorse as Gabe tearfully apologize to those he’d lied to, also asking God for forgiveness.
Monitor Your Child Closely
During the next few weeks, we monitored Gabe closely, questioning almost everything he did and said. When we caught him in a lie, he had to find a way to restitute the damage. Once he said he’d finished all of his Spanish homework. I let him go out to play with the neighborhood kids.
However, that night before bed I asked to see his homework. He admitted that he hadn’t finished it. Tom said, “Gabe, it seems you can’t be trusted right now with free time. We’re going to help you avoid getting into more trouble. For the rest of this week, instead of doing one packet of Spanish daily, you’ll be doing three packets daily.”
Gabe’s eyes turned as big as saucers. I could see the thoughts playing out across his face. Those Spanish packets were already daunting. They took up at least an hour or more each. Now three packets per day? When would he have time to play?
Doing Homework Every Night
Well, that was just the consequence he needed. Every evening that week, the other kids went outside to play. Gabe, however, sat on his bed and did his Spanish homework.
Most nights I’d come into his room to find him asleep with a pencil and his homework in hand. My mother’s heart ached for him. However, I knew it was important that he learn the importance of telling the truth. All of the skills in the world are no good if one’s word can’t be trusted!
We’re happy to report that Gabe is once again an honest, trustworthy child. This is due to God’s mercy and grace, our vigilance, and our son’s conscientiousness. However, it required some effort and attention on our part. Also, we had to be willing to be inconvenienced. We needed to follow through with the consequences in order to allow him to learn.
That’s what we call Tough Love. I’m pretty sure it’s tougher on us parents than it is on our kids! However, I’ll encourage you that you’ll probably only have to do something like that once or twice. Soon, your child will figure out that you’re serious and take the responsibility back on his own shoulders again.