A couple of nights ago I got a call from my twenty-year old daughter at about 1:00 am "I'll be out until around 3:00, Mom," she told me. "A lot of my friends are here and the party has just started."
Since Christiana lives at home, I insist that if she is going to be late, she gives me a call so I don't worry myself into a frenzy. "Okay, 3:00."
Something happened that took me by surprise after that. You don't have time for all the details, but let's just say I didn't like what she had to say in her next call, and I let her know it in no uncertain terms. She called back to say she was coming home. Somehow I sensed that there was more to the story and I told her to stay at her friend's house. "Don't come home tonight." We live an hour away and crazy thoughts of car wrecks and sliding into deep ravines rushed through my mind. "No, Chris. Don't come home until tomorrow."
I couldn't go back to sleep. There was something I needed to know. Something important. I got up and went to my quiet place and sat in my favorite rocking chair. Sometimes in the early hours of the morning, I got it! I am going to share this bit of wisdom with you.
When a child is small, we manage his behavior by discipline appropriate to his age and understanding. We may spank him, give him a time out, or take away a priviledge.
When that same child reaches puberty, our methods of discipline must change to fit the development of the child. A child in puberty should never be spanked. To do so undermines his budding sense of independence and works against the very maturity that we want him to achieve. So we take away treasured activities, limit his free time, assign him chores, or confiscate his cell phone. In short, we give him consequences in keeping with his "crime," and he learns that every choice has a consequence and poor decisions will cost him something.
But what do we do when that child grows up? What if he, or in this case, she, is a loving daughter who submits to many of the requirements of living in your home, but in other situations, insists on maintaining her own standards--standards that are at odds with your own?
This is the situation I found myself in early Saturday morning. It was then that I realized that my habitual pattern of demonstrating my disappointment in my daughter's choices, and communicating my disappointment in her decision to do what she wants to do rather than what I think is right, I practically push her into deception. I have set the price on honesty too high for her to pay, forcing her into a position of either lying or confessing to something that she knows will exact an emotional toll on her tender spirit that she is unwilling to pay. I am not playing fair. While she would have accepted the consequences if I had reduced my financial support for a season (something I did later do) or taken away her use of my car, the price I demanded was that she feel the full weight of my pain, of my fear for her, and of my disappointment in her choices. I learned later that she would have put herself at risk to come home in order to keep from disappointing me--though driving home (due to her choices earlier in the evening) would have endangered both herself and others. That is when I realized that my parenting needed to change. While my children may tell me the truth most of the time if it means facing unpleasant consequences, they will rarely tell me the truth if they believe they will cause me hurt or disappointment by acknowledging what they have done.
The lesson that I learned is this:I can influence my adult children by expressing my feelings about their behaviors without overburdening them with the emotional distress induced by their choices. The consequences of their actions belongs to them--but my emotional distress, my fears for them, and my disappointment belong to me. Manipulating our adult children with our emotional reaction to their choices is counterproductive and may drive them away from us and deeper into high risk or unhealthy behaviors.
"Come now and let us reason together," the Lord said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah. (l:18)
With reason and consequences the Lord sought to bring repentence to erring Israel. Isn't that what we want? Children who have learned to work out their choices with reason and take accept the consequences of their decisions.
For More on this go to: My Articles/ A Hope To Embrace