Without Anger or Excuse

Handling your child’s public misbehavior is where the rubber meets the road in parenting — isn’t it?

So here’s what happened – a big group of us took our kids to Busch Gardens for the day. My almost-9-year-old is right on the borderline for the height requirement of some of the really cool roller coasters.   We have an annual pass, so we go fairly often, and he has been able to ride a few of them in the past, but the threat of being flagged is always looming.

Well, this week one of the dads (who had taken the day off work to enjoy the park with his family) agreed to take 11 kids on coasters while the moms took the little ones to a play area.

On this day, my boy was pulled from the line while the other kids got to ride, and he was devastated.  Not only had he been looking forward to riding the coasters all day, but he was the only one who couldn’t ride, and it was embarrassing to be singled out.

Although he didn’t realize it, he was being set up for a great opportunity.
Our attitude is always a choice, and we have the power to choose a deliberately positive response.

But this was not the choice my son made.  Instead, he allowed each passing moment to intensify his disappointment.  Soon the sadness turned sour, and bitterness took root in his little heart.  Out of that dark place, he became belligerent and defiant, disobeying his friend’s dad and showing disrespect for the dad’s authority.

When I got the report (you know, the one every parent dreads), my heart sank. My first thought was to freak out and beat some sense into the kid (just kidding…well…sort of), but I also felt deeply sorry for him. I knew how badly he wanted to go on those rides, and I understood how deeply disappointing and even humiliating it was for him.

I also knew that this dad was very upset because of the way my son treated him.  This was a matter of justice, and it was a heart issue in my child that had to be dealt with in the best possible way.

Let’s face it, our kids are sinners in need of a savior. They make bad choices sometimes, and they need firm correction that demonstrates a deep love and concern for their character.

Of course I was horrified…even mortified, but I knew my boy’s heart was on the line, and this was one of those moments when I had to remember that I’m training up a leader who will one day impact his generation.

I called him away from the crowd, sat down next to him, took off my sunglasses and looked soberly into his eyes, which were beginning to fill with tears. I reminded him that disobedience and disrespect are not tolerated, and that he made some terrible choices.

We’ve taught our children that good choices bring good results, and bad choices bring bad results, so he knew that there was a serious consequence awaiting this serious offense.

“For the rest of the day,” I explained with deep sadness, “you will have to stay with me and not go on the rides or play games.”  He nodded his head.

He apologized to the dad (and I did too), and he accepted his fate with courage and without complaint, but my heart was heavy all day. As a parent we want desperately to bless our kids, just as our heavenly Father wants to bless us.  But sometimes their behavior forces us to stay the hand of blessing, and it’s painful for us.

We talked about it openly that night, and I was grateful to see the process of repentance happen in my boy.  I told him that I was sad because his choices that day robbed me of the opportunity to pour out blessing on him.

There are few things that we as parents love to reward more than a child who chooses to be cheerful in the face of opposition. Had my son chosen to face his disappointment and embarrassment with a positive response, I would have joyfully showered him with all kinds of rewards.

On the ride home, we talked about the Israelites and how they forfeited the Promised Land because they chose the wrong attitude.  God was able to reward only Joshua and Caleb because they were they only ones who had a right heart in the face of potentially bad news.

I can imagine what God must have felt when He issued that consequence. Parenting can be painful, but the stakes are high, and we have to respond carefully (not react impulsively). We’re raising laborers for the harvest, for heaven’s sake! (pun totally intended)

I was reminded of a few things this week: 1) our kids are sinners in need of a savior, and they will make wrong choices; 2) the right response is not anger, nor excuse; 3) we can always choose our attitude, and a positive attitude attracts blessing.

Please share your thoughts…

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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