Have you ever backed yourself into a corner as a parent? Thrown out an ultimatum you never wanted to follow through with? Promised a reward you didn’t think you’d actually have to produce? Claimed in a moment of frustration something along the lines of “If you ______ one more time I swear I will ______”? Have you ever regretted it later?
If so, then I feel you. Let’s just start there.
I myself may, hypothetically, be currently residing in a very tight corner that I may or may not have backed myself into. Hypothetically.
Generally speaking, Husband and I are fairly level-headed with our parenting. I feel I can say that honestly. We try to teach, train, and even discipline our children in love. We try to avoid taking things personally or getting emotionally charged when they challenge us. We try to always bring it back to Jesus and what the Bible says about whatever behavior or attitude that’s become a problem. This helps. This takes the pressure off of us, in a sense. It is a common ground for us parents and kids to meet on. It is a foundation and a filter for how we raise our kids.
And that’s all fine and good.
But every once in a while our kids bust out with a real whopper. Every once in a while we are totally, completely baffled. And a maybe even a little angry. And by “every once in a while” I mean roughly every five minutes.
Last week I was concerned when, upon entering my 5-year-old son’s bedroom, I was hit with an unmistakably pungent urine odor. Naturally I was confused, because as I said, our son is five years old. He is not a bed-wetter, and he has been potty trained for over 3 years. Upon further investigation, we discovered the urine smell was coming from the carpet. When questioned about it, he confessed to peeing on his bedroom floor. Just because it seemed like a good idea. In our brand new home on our brand new carpet. I won’t lie, I was mad. It’s not like this was a case of sleepwalking, or confusion as to where he was supposed to go. He knew what he was doing and he knew it was wrong.
We made an appropriately big fuss over it, there were consequences he had to accept, and we had many talks at length about where he was allowed to go pee (in the toilet) and where he was not allowed (anywhere else). We shook our heads in disbelief, spent a good deal of time cleaning out the carpet, and moved on with life.
Four days later I walked in his room to wake him up and thought I caught of whiff of it again. “Bummer”, I thought. “I must not have gotten it all out last week.” I put carpet shampoo on my grocery list and moved on with my day. The next day I went in his room again and the smell was even stronger. Something was definitely wrong.
Once again my mom radar was on and up and making that “BEE-DOO! BEE-DOO!” minion sound that it often does.
I called my son upstairs and he took one look at me kneeling on his bedroom floor, wild-eyed, frantically feeling on the floor the telltale wetness that could only mean one thing, and immediately eeked out an, “I’m sorry?” It sounded like a question.
It was wet in every direction. Pee. Pee everywhere! I put my rising fury in check and asked him through clenched teeth, “Did you pee on your floor again?”
“Only three times!”
He said it as if it was a reasonable line of defense.
Wait, three times? I sat dumbly, calculating his meaning.
Yesterday. He had peed the day before too, and I had unknowingly let it sit for twenty-four whole hours.
Are you freaking kidding me right now?
In a half a second I saw a whole segment of “Really?!” with Seth and Amy play out in my mind.
ONLY three times?”
And “Really?! You couldn’t have even just peed in one concentrated spot so that I could at least clean it up efficiently? You had to spray it all around your room like a fire hose? Really?”
And “Really?! You couldn’t walk to the bathroom which is just four feet down the hall?”
I’m going to be real here and tell you that I basically lost my mind at this point. I was pissed (pun intended). I could not believe that he would go this far. I was calculating the carpet cleaning bill, and I was remembering how soberly he had promised never to do this again after the first time, and I was flabbergasted as to what the devil would possess him to even try this once much less three times. Once I realized I was having a hard time controlling the volume of my voice I did what any intelligent (or frazzled) mother would do, and I told him to wait on his bed for his father to come home and then I went into my closet and called Husband.
Because sometimes when you’re about to lose your shit, the best thing (for everyone) is to have your spouse tag you out.
Husband swooped in like my savior and dealt with it all calmly and firmly, wrapping it up with a promise that if he ever does this again, we will have to go buy him diapers. “If you can’t go potty like a big boy, then we will have to put you in diapers again. But you are a big boy, aren’t you? And you won’t do this ever again, will you?”
Jax is our tender-hearted child, always quick to repent, so he was all big tears and quivering lips and “I’m sorry’s”. The mere mention of diapers was mortifying to him and Husband and I were sure he’d never try this again. Not when diapers were on the table. We felt so smart. After all, the punishment should fit the crime, right?
Except two days later I discovered a toy bucket full of pee in the corner of Jaxon’s room.
I can’t even…
This would equal the fourth pee incident. Are you even kidding me.
With all the self-control I could muster I asked him when exactly he had peed in the toy bucket.
“I don’t know my days! Monday?”
He had no concept of “Monday”. To be totally honest, I myself couldn’t guess when he had done it. I’ll spare you the details, but one quick glance in the desecrated bucket proved that the contents had “aged” for a time. It could have sat there for days. (Ewe.) We had no way of knowing whether he’d done it before or after the last incident and the Big Diaper Ultimatum. It was a definite gray area.
His lip quivered again. “I’m so super sorry! Oh no. Oh no”, he wailed with real regret. Regret because he knew what this meant. Diapers. We both looked at each other sadly. Then he began to sob, and kept sobbing into his little pillow for the next hour over the humiliating prospect of life as a five-year-old in diapers. I almost sobbed too, because I saw his internal struggle to brave this consequence, and as mad as I was, zero part of me wanted to humiliate my child. Yet we had clearly said “If you do this, we will do this.” What were we to do?
No seriously, I’m asking. What were we to do?
He cried himself to sleep that night, and again the next morning, stationed at the top of the stairs with his blankie next to him and his little face in his hands while tears spattered his feet. He was too devastated to come down and eat his Fruit Loops. All he could think about was how everyone was going to laugh at him.
Husband and I were torn. Conflicted. This is a kid who is already painfully shy to begin with, who crumbles under any type of public attention, even when it’s positive. A kid who turns bright red at the drop of a hat and who cares deeply about how the world perceives him.
I definitely don’t claim to know much about parenting, as I’ve only been at it for 8 years, but if there is one thing I have learned so far, it’s that parenting is personal. Every household, every parent, and every child is different and unique, and what is right for one may not be right for another. What may have little effect on one child, can have devastating effects for another child.
Do we want to teach our kids to learn from their mistakes? Yes. Do we want them to understand there are always consequences for their choices? Absolutely. But it has never for a moment, been in our hearts to humiliate our children. We want them to know that we are for them. That when we discipline them it comes from a place of love, and that it’s to teach them, not to punish them for punishment’s sake. We want them to know about grace too, because after all it is our lifeline here on this earth.
But what do you do when they willingly walk into a bad decision? Do you protect them from the consequence? Or let them suffer the whole brunt of it even if it’s devastating to their little hearts? What is the lesser of two evils?
What is the balance between grace and accountability?
Husband and I discussed it at length and at the end of the day neither of us felt decidedly good about pulling the trigger on this one. We decided to choose a different course of action, one that was more suited to our son. Not an easier way for him, necessarily, but a less hurtful one.
To be honest, we are figuring it out as we go. I’m certain this is one out of a million times that we will question ourselves as we navigate the choppy, uncertain waters of parenthood. Maybe sometimes we’ll decide to change our course. Maybe we’ll make a wrong turn here or there. Maybe sometimes we’ll find another way to end up where we want to go.
But we decided that this time, if we must err, to err on the side of grace.