These are the events of yesterday…
- Around 9am I asked Ruthie to get dressed. She came down from her room twice wearing clothes she knows are for church or school, NOT for playing in the yard or at the playground. I sternly asked her a third time to go back up and put on play clothes. She threw a major fit, screamed that she will NOT be changing her clothes, and thbthbthb’d me on her way up the stairs when I gave her a time out.
Around 9:30am I found Thomas on the front porch destroying the styrofoam lining of the delivery box from our milk man.
- Around 10:15 I explained in great detail to Ruthie that she is not go out the back door because the exterminator had just sprayed POISON on the threshold, and we had to wait for it to dry. I went out the front door to check on Thomas in the yard, and I heard the exterminator calling at me to get my daughter because she just walked out the back door through the poison.
- Around 11:00 the chatty exterminator informed me of all the tricks available for potty training Thomas (code for why the hell is this 3 1/2 year old not potty trained yet?!) and which football program to get him into because boy is he a big kid.
- Around noon, Ruthie pulled the entire garden hose out of the hose bib. Not a big deal in and of itself, except that I asked her to stop twice, and she totally ignored me.
- Around 12:05 Thomas proudly showed me the styrofoam rocket Bryan bought him – he had ripped it to pieces.
- Around 12:06 Ruthie came crying to me because she had shoved a rock up her nose and couldn’t get it out. She’s five. Neither of my kids have ever put an object in their nose or ears (though both have swallowed coins) – but because I gave Ruthie I time out I suppose she was bored enough to stick a rock up her nose.
I was so fed up with the day I ushered the kids up to their rooms for nap time a whole hour early, JUST BECAUSE I NEEDED A BREAK FROM THE DRAMA. Ruthie walking through the sprayed door thirty seconds afer I told her not to was the last straw for me, though she loaded many straws on me after that. My friend chuckled when I told her this, and she said, “Ruthie would cut her own nose off to spite her face!”
It made me laugh, which I needed desperately in that moment.
I have to admit, I was pretty pissy as the events dragged on. I was all, seriously? SERIOUSLY! It was beautiful, sunny, and in the 80’s – perfect circumstances for being happy and having fun, but I spent the entire day cleaning up one disaster after another, disciplining one kid after another.
Because both kids were continually obstinate throughout the day and without a repentant heart, Bryan and I decided to cancel our family plans that night – we were going to meet him downtown after work and play in the fountain at Seattle Center. It was disappointing, particularly when Ruthie scowled and said, “Fine. I didn’t want to go anyway.” I know that wasn’t true, but I wanted her to be devastated, not hardened. I wanted her to understand the natural consequences of her actions, but she played like it didn’t matter.
My first instinct when Ruthie gets this stubborn is to make her life as miserable as possible until she cries UNCLE and repents. In my imagination we play a game of chicken to see who lasts longer – me or her. Forcing behavior seems to be what I am most comfortable with, though I know intellectually it’s the worst way to parent.
I had a revelation awhile ago. I realized that Ruthie is a person, not merely an object I own or control. She is a person with a conscience who can feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Or not. I realized there are more consequences to our actions than just the circumstantial ones, that she is growing up not only in body, but also in faith. I realized that I won’t always be able to make her feel sorry, that sometimes she will rebel against repentance and have a hard heart, and that there’s not really anything I can do about it in the moment.
I realized even now, when she is five and disobeying her mom without remorse, I can shepherd her through the situation by giving her all the information she needs, but ultimately conviction comes from the Holy Spirit and repentance is up to her. This revelation – the epiphany, if you will – leaves me feeling as if a giant rock is sitting on my chest because I can’t control the outcome.
As parents we talk about slowly letting go of our kids as they wean from the breast, learn to walk, go to kindergarten, graduate high school. But I’d never thought about slowly letting go of our kids as they take more responsibility for their actions and their conscience. Nobody told me how painful it is to watch your child fall into the same sin over and over and over again, experiencing consequence after consequence.
Nobody told me I wouldn’t always be able to protect my kids from themselves.