Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Should it feel this difficult?

Parenting can be tough in some of the smallest least for me, that is. As is the case in much of life, most parenting decisions don't directly impact my life exactly now. It is the constant investments, consistently made over time, that eventually add up to some kind of return later on. I think this is why it is so easy for me to underestimate the importance of daily decisions. Their impact is often not felt immediately, so it seems not to matter if I tend to waffle.

For example, I often hear this one excellent piece of parenting advice: "You have to choose your battles." Sure. That's true. But what do I use as the standard for which battles are worth choosing? As a Christian, it's easy to give a hasty answer: the Bible. But what wisdom does God's Word share for whether I should make my three year old eat his vegetables, or for which expressions of emotions are acceptable from my adolescents? I believe the answer is simple, but profound. By asking this question: "How will this bear up in the end?" It is too easy to convince myself that small things don't matter. But every single parenting decision I make has the potential to yield dividends that I haven't counted on.

So here's my most recent example. A couple of days ago, Loren and I decided to take the kids to the dollar theater. They were very excited, and we had to eat a quick dinner so we could get there on time. As they ate, the older kids talked animatedly about what they were about to experience. When they mentioned popcorn and sodas, our three year old, Isaiah, suddenly pushed his plate away and pronounced he was full. He had eaten half a chicken drumstick and none of his green beans. I told him that he could not be excused until he had eaten those green beans. He refused, so I said if he did not eat the green beans, he would get no popcorn. He claimed that he did not even want popcorn anyway, and I answered that it was a good thing since he wouldn't be having any without eating the beans. His brothers and sister tried to convince him that he should eat them. They knew, as did I, what was going to happen later.

I'm sure you are not surprised to hear that Isaiah was not happy when he was sitting down in the theater watching his siblings and father eat popcorn without him. I certainly wasn't, nor were the other children. But what did surprise me was the mental wrestling match going on in my mind! Maybe I should give him just one little handful. No, I told him he'd get no popcorn. Well, maybe he didn't really understand! You know better than that. Well, if I just tell him I changed my mind... Maybe...

And then the hubby gives me those puppy dog eyes and says, "Mom, can't he have just a little?"

How sad that our hearts were willing to put his temporary happiness ahead of our duty to shepherd his heart and mold his character. How indicative of our human nature, to try to shield him from even such a small consequence of his own choices.

It would have been all too easy to underestimate the importance of staying true to my promise that he would get no popcorn if he did not eat that tiny handful of green beans. After all, he generally does eat his vegetables very well. And his sad little eyes looked with such longing...and his dimpled little fingers reached out for that popcorn bucket every few minutes.

In the end, I took him in my lap, squeezed him to my chest, and whispered into his ear: "Isaiah, I love you. I love you too much to lie to you. I told you no popcorn, and that is what I meant. I'm sorry this is so hard for you, and I really wanted you to have some popcorn. But it is very important for you to remember that mom told you the truth."

Would it have been easy to rationalize letting him have a little popcorn? Certainly. Would it really make that much difference? I don't know. But I hope and pray that it made all the difference in the world, in his little mind, to know that mom really meant what she said.

Maybe I'm alone in this. Perhaps everyone else would have had an easy time carrying out such a sentence. Perhaps no one else would have chosen this battle. I don't mind having chosen to tell him he must eat his green beans, but perhaps next time I'll think more carefully about how difficult it will be to follow through with an imposed consequence before I pronounce one.

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