Friday, January 29, 2010

Teaching Consequences is No Fun

I love the scene in the television show The Office where a woman asks Dwight Schrute to hold her place behind him in a long line because she has to use the restroom.

"No!" he snaps. "Did you grow up in a household without consequences?"

His response is in keeping with his character, an intense, silly man, and that's why it is funny. He brings up a good point, however. It's not easy for parents to teach responsibility and consequences. It is a simpler short-term choice to fix a child's problems for him. In the long term, this type of parental behavior can stunt a child's growth. As a parent I'm starting to face situations that require me to watch my kids struggle with a problem on their own, even though my instinct is to fix it myself so they avoid stress. I don't want to be a "Dwight" with my kids, and yet I know that it is necessary for me to step back and let them solve their own problems to a degree, because they need to become durable, successful adults.

Yesterday I made a mistake that caused me some embarrassment. I got caught up with something and forgot to get my son off of the school bus. The neighbors called me, and the bus driver came back around the block one more time as I ran outside. Big Brother looked shocked. After we walked into the house his eyes welled up.

"Mommy, where were you? How could you forget me?"

I had no excuse for myself. I bent down to his level and hugged him.

"I made a mistake. I'm sorry I frightened you. Forgive me?"

His little face turned red. "I was not scared. You did something naughty!" He snapped.

"Hey." I said sternly. "I know you are angry, but I'm your mommy and check how you speak to me. I made a mistake and did not mean to upset you, but you being upset with me is my consequence."

He shook his head in unenthusiastic agreement and then went inside to play. I reminded him to finish his homework. He kept playing and forgot.

This morning Big Brother was in a frenzy trying to finish his packet.

"Mommy, please can you write a note, or can I just stay home today?"

Big Brother's eyes were welling up again and he was wiping them frantically. I felt bad for him, but I said no.

"You have to hand in what you've done and take the consequences for not being finished." I said. "Now eat your breakfast."

Big Brother was not happy. It was hard to watch him upset. I know he was afraid of facing his first grade teacher.

"Listen," I said, handing him his coat. "Just be honest with her like I was with Mr. Bus driver yesterday. Tell her you forgot to finish and ask her if you can somehow make it up. Then comes the hard part of facing whatever she says. In the long run it's good to be honest and manage your time better next week. We all make mistakes sometimes. No one is perfect."

Big Brother shook his head in agreement, stuffed his partially completed homework into his school bag and we walked outside to meet the bus. As I watched his worried little face pass me in the bus window I could feel his stress in the pit of my own stomach. This boy will always be my baby. The curse of motherhood is watching him face consequences, feeling his stresses with him, and letting him handle them himself. In the long run, that is the best thing to do for him.

Here's some more of Dwight from The Office.


Koala Bear Writer said...

They say it's easiest to teach by actions than words... so good for you for admitting your own mistakes. :) We're not into big consequences yet with a 2-year-old, but it is tough.

Loren Christie said...

Hi Koala! Yes, Two is very tough.

Daniel said...

this is the putz....sometimes we get so serious about our child upbringing ,this coming from someione who has done that, been there, that our actions seem silly to our kids, all they want is non serious solutions..simple answers like not accept consequences or be responsibile, but just let me play, or give me a good treat wether i deserve it or not, just this once please, my son tony, and maybe i didn't do such a goood job on him although he is a hard worker and goes to church every sunday is very outspoken is not what i wanted for him

Loren Christie said...

I understand what you are saying Mr. Putz. Thank you for the comment.

Lori said...

Great post, Loren--been there, done that. It takes a GREAT mother to admit her mistakes to her child and set herself up as an example as you did--fabulous job. It's all too easy to make excuses and rationalizations, and to be the helicopter parent that does the same for our kids. Good for you for rising above that.


Loren Christie said...

Thank you Lori and welcome!

April W Gardner said...

You sound like a mom after my own heart!

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

I thought you would think I was mean when my daughter called and said she left her basketball clothes at home and I said I wouldn't bring them. My husband wound up bringing them because he is a softy but I thought it would teach her a lesson to have to sit through practice on the side because she forgot her clothes. I guess you and I think the same on this too!

Loren Christie said...

Elizabeth, I honestly didn't think anything. I would have brought the clothes over to her on my way home if K couldn't do it. You bring up a good point though, as children age, expectations change. For example, you expect more of a sense of responsibility from your teenager than you would from your preschooler. It's important to be fair and caring, and not too hard. There has to be a balance. Parenting is difficult, isn't it?

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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