Putting Your Foot Down

3 12 2012

ps 37_6Part Two

Yesterday I had a conversation with a couple of friends about the challenges of shaping behavior in their 2 year olds. The topic was “hitting” and how do you get them to stop hitting when they are two and not really able to dialogue about the problem or reason it out. One of the moms carries a roll of tape and a pair of socks in her bag and when her child hits, she puts the socks over their hands and tapes over them with painter’s tape so the child can’t use her hands for a while. It is a physical reminder that hands are to be used lovingly, and if they choose to do otherwise, they temporarily may not use them at all.

The child is not pleased. In fact, the other day this particular little one railed against the discipline for twenty minutes. Have you ever been in the room with an unhappy 2 year old for twenty minutes? It’s exhausting. And here is the thing: this mom is prepared to engage in this battle until it clicks with her child and the hitting stops; because hitting others is wrong.

“Wrong” is easier to deal with when it is obvious; when the lines are clear. For example, you don’t say cruel things to other people, right? Then somewhere around grade one your child says something you think is unkind and adds the line “I was just joking.” You can argue that it is not funny, but the line has suddenly become less clear. What’s funny and what’s not funny? When is sarcasm okay or not okay? What’s wrong has just become a touch more difficult to define.

Take swearing; when is that wrong and what makes one word more wrong than another? What if it is “close” to a swear-word but not a swear-word? Is it wrong or in bad taste? And how will you shape your child’s use of language when often you don’t even hear it; when it is a post on Facebook or liberally used in the private world of texting?

As a parent with several teenagers I can tell you that standing up for what is “right” is not simple. Pointing to this idea of “True North” has me constantly evaluating if North still stands in the same place as it did when I was young. What is wrong? What do you not bend on?

Standing up for what is “right” is a lonely place these days. In summer I phoned all the parents of my son’s friends. He wanted more independence and so we laid out some ground-rules of what that would look like. One of our requirements was that I would speak to every parent in every household he would potentially stay in for the night to let them know what we expected of him.  For the most part we were in agreement, but here and there I ran into parents saying, “My son is a good boy. I know he drinks occasionally but at least he tells us about it.”

These are 14 and 15 year olds we are talking about.

When did the law become an option? In BC you cannot, by law, drink until you are 19.  Not one, single, alcoholic beverage. It doesn’t matter if you think it has little effect; it doesn’t matter if the quantity seems reasonable; it doesn’t matter if you know about it or it is consumed on your property. It is against the law. It is wrong.

Teens will ask, “Why are you making such a big deal out of this? It isn’t like we are getting drunk. It is just one drink.”

I can tell you, as much as I am clear about what is wrong with this scenario, I will find myself getting worn down and confused. There are a lot of things parents should not be so intense about; there are things that are actually trivial that we shouldn’t get so in knots over. Which are the things that go in the “minor issue” category and which go in the “major issue” category?

Back to drinking, Parents will laugh and say, “Oh yeah, I remember drinking when I was 14. It’s just something teenagers do.” I will find myself thinking, “Is that right? Do teenagers just do that and I need to relax on this a bit? In light of all the worse things kids are doing, can I live with them having a drink here or there? What if they are honest about it? What if it is in a controlled environment?”

And then I shake my head. This just does not work. Wrong is wrong. As soon as we start messing with wrong to make it look more right we are in capital letters TROUBLE.

The issues have become much more complicated than deciding whether drinking is right or wrong. There are issues of integrity and attitude, respect for authority, responsibility with money, dating and sexuality, proper internet and texting use, and the terrifyingly casual approach to the “recreational” use of marijuana to name a few.

When a 14, 15, 16 year old pulls out all the stops and begins to challenge what is permissible and what’s not, you better know what you know to the core and you better be well familiar with prayer. A conversation with a determined teenager can be as grueling as a contentious court case. They will go for the jugular and there you are suddenly on the stand, defending the battered idea that there is a right and there is a wrong with EVERYTHING against you.

This is where Psalm 37:6 comes in. I don’t believe for a second we are alone with this. I think raising our families against the tide of our decaying culture is a missionary call and I believe that God is all over helping us. Raising a family to walk uprightly isn’t so that they will simply be productive, honorable citizens down the road; raising a family to live by God’s original intent is part of being a light on a hill in a dark, confused, hurting world.

I believe God is with us in this, holding up the weary parent and sustaining us when it seems our voice wavers, small and tired and weary. When we have had to say over and over and over, “No, we can’t let you do that.” When we come before Him, prepared to keep standing and keep on standing for what is good and right, He will help us to be steadfast and, more then that,

“He will vindicate you in broad daylight, and publicly defend your just cause” Psalm 37:6 (NET).

I don’t even know what that looks like but it strengthens my bones! I am not only defending, I am defended! I can keep standing up for this because the Merciful Judge is in my corner.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean God is on our side in an American-Christian-Fundamentalist way. I just mean God is showing us how to say, “Hey wait…there’s a better way. A life-giving way. A restorative way. A way that God can bless.” I can actually see myself glancing to the right and God giving me the nod: “You go.” He has long been concerned about evil; He has warned and warned and warned us about the perils of experimenting with sin. He is looking for people to send, to strengthen, to speak through.

So Mike and I spend hours deliberating over each challenge presented to us. I mean hours. We close the door; we talk. We read God’s instructions and journal. We pray. We meet together again and we call our teen in and remind them that there is a right, and there is a wrong. And I am finding I can actually stay soft (yes I cry my eyes out) even while being strong (yes, I know what we need to do and will do it). I can love my teenagers when they give me their best-worst shot. And I can, even when I think I can’t anymore, put my foot down.

— Teresa Klassen

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