It was the summer before my son’s freshman year in high school, and he had one request of me: “Mom, can I join the football team?”
I remember the moment so clearly. I was a mom of three small boys ages 4, 3, and 1. It was a beautiful spring day so the boys and I packed up the stroller to walk down to our park. As the older boys ran and jumped and played, I pushed my giggling little guy on the baby swings. Not meaning to eavesdrop, but being too close to avoid hearing, I listened in on a conversation between two moms.
There they were in the local Walmart. Two young siblings arguing over a toy. Tempers were flaring, voices were raising, and then, it happened. One of the little tots smacked her sister in the face and grabbed the toy away. A somewhat embarrassed and aggravated mother quickly took the young offender by the arm, pulled her closer to her sister, and demanded:
“Say you are sorry right now.”
With little jaw clenched tightly and nostrils flaring, the guilty sibling replied, “Sorry,” in a less than genuinely repentant tone.
All was good. Problem fixed. Happiness was restored to the world once more.
I could hardly restrain myself. Despite my best efforts I felt my head begin to shake from side to side…I was shaking my head at myself.
For I was once that mom. I was that mom who immediately pressed my young children into apology mode when they wronged someone. I wanted my little ones to go from angry outburst to contrite heart in mere seconds. I wanted to believe that uttering that five letter word, s-o-r-r-y, made everything all better. How naive I was! How foolish!
Forcing an immediate apology is actually encouraging our children to lie.
As parents we somehow feel that as long as the word sorry is uttered, the situation has been taken care of.
Truth be told: apologies have very little to do with actual words. They have much more to do with the state of our hearts. Genuine apologies come once we have grieved what we have done. We should, at some point, become aware of how our actions have hurt others. And, at that point, we should feel a sense of sorrow, a sense of disappointment only in ourselves. Most importantly, we should feel grieved that we have sinned against the Lord. We should feel compelled to make things right, first with the Lord and then with those we have wronged.
The process should be no different for children. I realize that not every five year old is capable of the above thinking (but I am also not saying that they aren’t). As parents, it is our responsibility to move our children in that direction, though. It is our responsibility to take the time, to sit them down, and talk to them about their wrong doing. Parenting takes time. The true reality is that the only reason we force our children into immediate apology is so that we feel as if we have done something to fix the situation. It is the seemingly easy way out for us. Honestly, forcing an immediate apology does nothing but reinforce the idea that one can utter words they do not mean in order to get ones self out of trouble.
Continuing this practice will have devastating results as our children grow into teens and adults.
We’ve all seen adults who have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions. We see them shift the blame and make excuses for their behavior. They are quick to point out the faults of others to divert attention away from their own shortcomings. We see the stone like faces and hear the robotic, emotionless words uttered by one who has been forced into apology, and we know in our gut, that they likely don’t mean it.
I need not look any further than Psalm 51 to show me what true sorrow for one’s sin looks like.
A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
A contrite heart is one that is sincerely remorseful and seeks to make things right…not for the purpose of saving face or avoiding trouble, but to genuinely mend fences, to make things right, and restore fellowship with those we have hurt, particularly the Lord.
Our children have to get that message. They just have to. Forcing an immediate apology will never produce a contrite heart.
So how does the parenting process change? Well, I’ll give you a scenario.
A few months back, one of my boys lied to me. He lied about something silly, but no lie is small, and no lie should be ignored. I showed him scripture. We talked at length about the tangled web we weave when we lie. We discussed how there is a breakdown of trust when one lies. I expressed my disappointment. I inquired as to why he didn’t feel compelled to speak honestly to me. We had a good conversation. I finally asked him what he needed to do in order to make this situation right. He knew that he first needed to go before the Lord and seek forgiveness, and, he would also need to make things right with me. He owed me an apology.
After our discussion, my son was sent off to his room. I gave him a bit of time to himself, then checked in. In all honesty, I completely went up to his room expecting him to apologize to me. I mean, thirty minutes had passed, his heart was surely contrite by now! When I poked my head in, I was greeted by a pout. I finalized the amount of time he needed to spend in his room and left.
We ate dinner. He got ready for bed. I tucked him in and we said goodnight.
The next day came and went.
Nothing. No apology.
The next morning came and I was literally biting my lip. My heart wanted to scream, “When are you going to apologize to me?”
I restrained myself.
At lunchtime, my son came up to me and apologized. He said that he was sorry for lying to me and thanked me for taking the time to talk to him about it. I hugged him, affirmed my love for him, and offered my forgiveness.
A contrite heart restored our fellowship.
Something happened when my son was given the time to work out his wrongdoing. He actually realized what he had done was wrong. He was sorrowful. And eventually, in his time, he knew he had to make it right.
That is what we need to strive for.
Our family is in full-on Olympic mode.
We’ve allotted a bit of time each evening to watch some of the events together as a family. We recently scrolled through a list of the events, and the boys were shocked to see medal bearing competitions in badminton, trampoline, and ping-pong…I mean table tennis. We decided to take a quick peek at the table tennis and badminton events. The boys remarked at how silly they thought these competitions were.
“Why in the world would anyone want to make ping pong so competitive (and funny to watch)? Look at how serious they are! Mom, they are sweating…they are sweating playing ping-pong!,” they exclaimed.
This made me chuckle. This statement was coming from a group of boys that makes even the most mundane activity into a competitive sport. Like who could throw a frisbee over the roof of the house or who could mow the lawn the fastest or who could register the fastest bike speed on the street’s digital speed limit sign. Anything and everything usually turns into a competition in my house.
As silly as some of these events may appear to us, it reaffirms to me the competitive spirit that is stored up within each of us. Whether you are an athlete, a musician, a writer, a hunter, a hiker, a fisherman, an artist, a cook, or an entrepreneur, we are wired to strive.
There is one guarantee in competition: someone will win, and someone will lose. There’s no way around it.
When my children were young I noticed an alarming trend beginning. There were no winners or losers in competition. Whether you finished first or last, everyone was a winner just for trying.
We live in a “Trophies for Everyone” society. A society that wants to insulate our youth from the negative feelings associated with losing. What a great disservice this thinking is doing to our youth. One of the greatest motivators in life is losing. Just listen to some of our Olympic athletes talk about how past failures have pushed them to work harder and set new goals.
One day our children will be the adults of the world. They will experience disappointment and defeat, and no one will be there to give them a ribbon or shiny trophy just for trying. There will be promotions that slip away. Quotas that are not met. Elections that are lost. The list can go on and on. They must know how to deal with failure. They must be taught how to take that loss and use it for the good.
Here are four steps that we have focused on with our boys:
Whether you are taking a test or taking part in a competition, you must go into the event prepared. This requires consistent, dedicated work before the actual event. Your input directly correlates to your output. Basically, what you put in is usually what you will get out.
Try Your Best
Whatever you do, give it your all. Don’t leave anything on the table. Put out your best effort and push yourself. Win or lose, be happy with what you did. Most importantly:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
I Corinthians 10:31
Allow yourself to experience the thrill of victory but do not deny yourself feeling the agony of defeat should that be the outcome. Be a good sport in winning and losing. Congratulate others. Have a moment. If you need to cry…cry. If you need to sit quietly…do it. Allow yourself to process. When losing comes do not brush it off, do not pretend that it is not there, do not store up your feelings inside. Deal with it and then let it go. Use it for motivation. Use it as inspiration. Above all else do not let winning or losing define who you are.
Take time to evaluate. Is there something that I could have done differently?
These are not revolutionary ideas. They are common sense ideas. Don’t get me wrong, instilling these ideas is not always easy. All of my children react to winning and losing in their own way. One is a bit too casual, one gets it pretty well, and one, well, let’s just say, we’re still working on it.
My kids have heard me say this over and over again;
If you are going to try to win, you must be willing to lose as well.
I remember having a conversation with a college friend about what our future plans after graduation were. I wanted a big city job, with a big city paycheck, and big list of accomplishments. I wanted to dress in my tailored suits, carry a briefcase, commute to New York, and have the corner office. Married life was not a priority, and the thought of being a mother was not even on the radar.
My post-graduation job search proved to be difficult, and I found myself working as a teacher’s aide in a local elementary school. Working with children was quite a departure from the corporate ladder I thought I would quickly ascend, but nonetheless, it was providential. Those little kiddos began to soften my heart. I mean, how could they not, especially when they call you mom by mistake! Despite the school’s request for me to work into the next school year, I pursued a full-time job elsewhere, securing an entry level job in Human Resources with a prominent investment banking company. This certainly seemed more my speed.
I remember my last day at school. My little kindergarten children , their parents, and my cooperating teacher threw me a party. There were little notes from my little people, tiny handmade gifts, and lots and lots of hugs. As I walked out the classroom door for the last time, my cooperating teacher, whom had now become my friend, left me with one thought, “Get your teaching certification and come back here to student teach. I’ll be your mentor. You should be a teacher.”
I hugged her, and tucked her challenge away.
My new job provided me with exactly what I wanted. I rubbed elbows with some pretty important executives, had the opportunity to work on Park Avenue in New York City. I wore my suits, sipped my expensive coffee, and took the elevator up to the top floor. I also got a taste of the not-so-savory aspects of work: power hungry colleagues, down right nasty bosses, and a cutthroat environment that pointed fingers, shifted blame, and beat people down. I was offered a significant promotion and turned it down. I feared that if I accepted the position, in time, I would grow callous and cruel like the people around me. I remembered those little people and their little notes and their little hugs. It was at that time, I opted to leave my current company and move to a smaller business outside of the city.
By this time I was married. My husband and I began to talk about our future plans. Lord permitting, we agreed that we would love to start a family. Then, the big question came. “What do you think about staying home with the kids?” After much discussion and prayer, we decided, and felt led, that I would stay home and raise a family. However, I was not pregnant at the time, so I tucked that commitment aside and continued on as normal.
I was enjoying my new job. I had my own office. Liked the work. Had a great rapport with my colleagues, yet I couldn’t help acknowledge the growing realization that I was feeling very unfulfilled working in corporate America. Those little kindergarten kids kept coming to mind. “Get your teaching certificate and come back here to student teach. I’ll be your mentor. You should be a teacher.” I could not get it out of my mind. My husband and I began to pray for direction.
Again, I came to another crossroad. The director of my department offered to promote me to the position of Assistant Director at a neighboring facility. This was kind of a big deal. I was pretty young, and I imagined that with time, I would have quite a bright future here. I also saw that with a bigger paycheck and more prestigious title came longer hours, more responsibility, working from home after hours, and being on call to handle problems. Again, my husband and I prayed. Our answer was clear. I not only turned down the promotion, but I put through an application to attend a local college to begin Master’s work and the process of obtaining my teaching certification.
I approached my boss and told him my plans. He was surprised, but encouraged me to go for it. I was still able to work until the point where student teaching came around. And when it did, I knew exactly who to call.
It was all arranged; I would be student teaching in my old school, with my old friend. After the first week of school, I was given full reign and responsibility over the class. I kind of questioned that, but my friend and mentor assured me that I would get a student teaching experience like no other. She knew me, had watched me work, and had no reservations about putting me in the driver’s seat. I became the teacher in every way, every day, every hour of the school day. I had a new crew of little people, and my heart was full.
Again, providentially, the Lord had placed me in that classroom at just the right time. My mentor’s mother grew ill and eventually passed away. Her time away from the classroom was significant. I was literally handed the reins of the classroom and was flying solo. I approached my principal and questioned if I should be on my own. He looked at me and reminded me that if he was comfortable having me in charge, then I should be comfortable being in charge. That’s all I needed to hear.
Like I said, I had a student teaching experience like no other. When my college advisor came to evaluate me in class and talk with my cooperating teacher, she confirmed this. I remember her telling me that most student teachers are never given free reign, that they rarely have the support network I had from my cooperating teacher, the principal, the secretaries, and fellow teachers. I was truly blessed.
I could clearly see the hand of Lord in all of this. He had put those little people, with those little notes, and their little hugs into my life years ago for a reason. They chipped away the stone around my heart and made it more receptive to what the Lord’s will was for my life.
As my student teaching time came to an end, my cooperating teacher had set up several evaluations for me. She was determined to get me a job within the district. I had a string of township principals in the classroom to watch me teach. I did secure a long term substitute position in the district, and continued there until the end of the school year.
I would then turn my attention to finding a full time teaching position somewhere for the next school year. I sent out a slew of resumes and received one rejection letter after another. Then I received a phone call from my mentor. The second grade teacher in her school, whom I knew, had a daughter who was the librarian in a neighboring school. There was a first grade teaching position open at her school. I was instructed to promptly get my paperwork together and get it over to her right away. From there she would pass it along to the second grade teacher, who would then send it to her daughter, who would then give it to the principal. I did as she instructed. I wasn’t expecting much.
But in short time, an interview was arranged, and then a demonstration lesson with the class. My mentor would stand by my side, look over my lesson plans, make me practice my lesson on her. She’d encourage me, help me put together a portfolio, and would be my biggest cheerleader. In the end I was offered the position. I truly could not believe it. This was an incredible school in a distinguished district and they took me, a newbie with little to no experience. Only through the Lord did this happen. Looking back on it, I could see His hand connecting the dots, lining things up, making His plan for my life reality.
So as the school year closed out, and I completed by substitute roll, I turned my attention to getting ready to have my own classroom. I had an appointment with my superintendent and my principal in two weeks to go over my salary and benefits, and then to sign my contract. The pieces were all coming together. I was beyond excited. My husband was thrilled.
The Lord had truly done a huge work on my heart over the course of six years. He had taken me to the place I thought I wanted to be, the corporate world, allowed me to get a glimpse of what He really wanted me to do, work with kids, and now, provided me with a wonderful job. What would He do next?
Well, the Lord was ready to shock my husband and I with something quite unexpected. Something that would really test us and the commitment we had made.
Last year I took some time to write about my experience with undiagnosed Lyme Disease. I’ve decided to dedicate the next few blog posts to discussing Lyme Disease as it relates to children. It’s one thing when we experience illness ourselves, but it can be downright heart-wrenching to watch a loved one battle illness, especially when that loved one is a child.
Continue reading “Children and Lyme Disease – Part I”