A very wise counselor said to me one time, “If it isn’t a matter of life and death, it doesn’t need to be fixed right now.”
Oh, I wish I had heard those words years before and really grasped the true meaning.
The most common thing I hear from parents is that a kid knows the consequence and yet the teen continues to do the very thing that caused the consequence over and over again. As parents we feel caught in a loop and we don’t understand why our kid gets angry and starts building a wall sneaking around us to get what they want.
The problem is that many of us think of parenting as transactional. What I mean by that is that we’ve devised a system that says if our teen chooses to not abide by our rule, we issue a consequence. Cut and dry. Black and white. No discussion.
Let’s face it. Transactional parenting is easier. We don’t have to get caught up in the tears and listen to the 99 reasons why we are being unfair and why our kid should get off this time.
But here’s the downside. When we use transactional parenting, we might get the obedience that we want, but at what price?
Obedience doesn’t necessarily mean compliance on a heart level. More times than not, it means compliance on a fear level.
Several weeks ago I had a mom ask me what to do with her junior high age daughter who kept sneaking her phone into her room which was against the rules. The family rule was that when they came into the house they were to park their phones in the kitchen until after dinner. Already taking the girl’s phone away numerous times, Mom was upset that the girl had taken mom’s phone into the bathroom to call someone when she came into the house. The daughter’s phone was sitting in the kitchen where it was supposed to be.
I chuckled when I heard the story. Isn’t that just like a kid? We’ve all been there. Most of us have experienced something similar at one time or another. Can we just laugh?
Unfortunately in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to laugh. Our rule has been broken, our tween needs to learn a lesson, and we feel the need to issue the consequence.
Unfortunately, that’s what this mom did. She issued a consequence that escalated the situation into a shouting match.
Over what? Yes, you heard. Over what?
What was so important that this girl felt the need to violate the rule knowing she would most likely get a consequence? To take her mother’s phone was a bold step.
When I asked the mom why her daughter needed to use the phone, Mom couldn’t tell me. All she knew was the rule had been broken.
Like I said earlier — transactional.
Let’s go back to my opening line — “If it isn’t a matter of life and death, it doesn’t need to be fixed right now.”
What if the mom in the scenario could have paused (after all it wasn’t life or death) before she confronted her daughter?
Here are a few things that she might have thought of if she had taken the time to wait before the confrontation.
- “I don’t want her to think she can use my phone when she isn’t allowed to use hers. Do we need a consequence for that?”
- “Boy, that was gutsy. This must have been really important for her to sneak my phone. Something must be up.”
- “I wonder if it is time to revisit this rule and consequence? Maybe we need to look at why we started this rule in the first place. Maybe it’s time to think about it differently.”
- “It will be interesting to see if she comes and talks to me about taking the phone. If she does, I’ll know that the Holy Spirit is working in her life.”
- “I need to have a conversation with her that won’t be combative. I’ll try to talk to her after dinner or maybe tomorrow after school.”
If we’ve trained our brain to look at the possibilities rather than the rules, we’ll most likely discover that our kids have needs of which we aren’t even aware. Sometimes those needs and desires are worth the consequence and it is up to us to be the detective to understand the “why” so that we can reach their heart without always reacting to the rule. Sometimes we need to pause long enough so that we can see if God is working in our child’s heart.
So what can we do as parents when we blow a situation with our kids. After all, if we’re in the heat of the battle we don’t always remember to pause.
- Initiate a casual conversation. “Honey, I want you to know what I didn’t do a good job of handling the phone situation earlier today. I got really upset and took your phone away and I know you think I was harsh in issuing the consequences. I’m sorry I got so upset and I know that you are working really hard at following the phone rules otherwise you wouldn’t have left your phone on the kitchen counter. (See the positive?). I didn’t listen to you and I’m sorry. I’m listening now. So what happened today?
- Listen. Don’t interrupt and listen with your heart.
- Make sure you understand the core issue. Is it a rebellious streak of “I’m going to do whatever I want and you can’t stop me.” Or was the phone call so important that it was worth a potential consequence? Do you have a relationship with this child so that she could have asked to use the phone without hearing a lecture?
- Pause before changing the consequence. Too many times we hear our child’s side of the story and immediately change the consequence because of new information. We think of it as fixing the problem. I want to suggest that you keep the consequence until you’ve had time to process the new data and spoken to your spouse or a trusted friend who may be further along in their parenting. Tell your tween that you want to think about your conversation and then promise to get back to her.
- Revisit the consequence. Pausing on the consequence gives you opportunity to rebuild trust and leaves the door open for more conversation on what happened. Use this as a chance to right the wrong as well as address how you would like similar situations to be handled in the future. Be sure to end the conversation with a hug.
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Be still and know that I am God.
Dare you to be still in the heat of the parenting battles. Pause and let God work in your heart and the heart of your teen.
With the holidays around the corner why not put With All Due Respect: 40 Days to a More Fulfilling Relationship with Your Teens & Tweens on your shopping list? Whether it is for yourself, a friend, or as gifts for your child’s teachers, learning the language of respect is important as we try to capture the hearts of the next generation.
Here’s what one mom had to say: “If you want to renew and energize your relationship with your kids, this book is a great place to start! Each dare spoke such truth and I looked forward to each new real-life story. I wish it had been available when my oldest was going through the teen years.”