09 Sep Essential Parenting Lesson: Let children suffer consequences
It’s hard to watch our children suffer consequences for their poor choices or foolish actions. The older they are, the more challenging the consequences.
When my children were little, of course there were times when they were disobedient. I would ask them if their homework was done, and they would say yes when in fact the real answer was no. I would ask if their chores were done, and they would say yes, when in fact the answer was no. It wasn’t difficult to see that their chores or homework weren’t done. All I had to do was check. Then I would remind them that they needed to finish their chores or homework or they would not be able to play with friends, or they could sit in their room until their homework was done.
When my children got older, the consequences of their actions had a larger impact on their future. For example, when my oldest daughter was a junior in high school she had several AP classes and an ACT prep course that my husband and I had paid a significant amount of money for her to take so that she could do well on the test and attend the college of her choice. The largest obstacle to that goal was her boyfriend. My daughter loved to spend time with him. They were inseparable. I had asked him not to see my daughter on certain days so that she could study for her test, but he blew off my request as quickly as my daughter did.
It was difficult for me to see that my daughter had potential but that she was wasting a valuable opportunity to excel on a test that would help determine the course of her future. The result was she had a miserable performance on her ACT and failed her two AP tests, thereby not getting college credit for them. Instead of telling her “I told you so,” which was what I really wanted to say, I said nothing. Quite frankly, what would it have changed? Instead my daughter said, “This is all my fault. I should have listened.” (That admission came several months later.)
This same daughter also had an argument with us as she was on her way to see this same boyfriend. We told her not to take the car as she was in no condition to drive (she had been crying), and we were not letting her drive our car when she had been inconsiderate to us. When my husband left to run an errand and I had run upstairs to take a shower, she took the car anyway. She came home just as my husband was getting home. She had received a speeding ticket. I was too angry to speak, so I went up to my room. My husband merely said he was disappointed that she had disobeyed us.
The following week she said she was going to the city building to pay for her ticket. I knew she was going to ask me to give her money to pay her ticket. On her way out the door she said, “Well, can you give me the money?” I said, “I wasn’t the one that got the ticket. Dad and I are not paying for it.” My daughter fretted over that for the next two weeks. It would have been easy for us to pay the ticket, but then what would she have learned? That she can drive as fast as she wants, she can disobey her parents, and there will never be consequences. No. We let her sweat that one out. I still don’t know how she paid for the ticket, but she did.
Now that same daughter is at college. She has a part-time job and is responsible to pay for the gas in her car, her food and her utility bill. The other night she came to visit us after having received a French manicure. The next day she told my husband, “I was pulled over for running a stop sign. I didn’t see it. I was so afraid to tell you that I got a ticket.” My husband said, “Why?” With a little time, she’ll figure out the message: if you can afford to pay for a French manicure, you can afford to pay for a ticket.
Sometimes it has been really hard to stand by and watch my children fail either from laziness or disobedience. But in that failure they learn the best lessons in life. They learn responsibility and reality, and those are two things worth learning, even if it’s the hard way.