When our children are little we begin the dance of them doing something wrong, and us parents supplying a consequence if one doesn’t naturally occur. We can call it training, discipline, survival, whatever. Most of the time, this little dance results in a parent feeling like they are doing a job well and a child learning to conform to the household rules. (NOTE: Consequences do NOT work for any child who has experienced trauma; I have one of those kiddos but this is NOT the kid I’m talking about. This is about your “typical” kid.) At around 2 years of age, we start with saying, “no” followed by some time spent in time out. The consequences match the age and progress to include time away from video games, no sleepover, extra chores, etc. However, eventually, our children will age out of this system! Usually when this happens, we parents are totally caught off guard. We don’t see it coming and then, Wham! There it is.
This happened to my husband and I 9 years ago. The evening is in my memory as clear as the stars were on that summer sky that night. My family was attending a picnic/party at my sister-in-law’s campsite near the river. The local town was having a festival and my daughters wanted to walk to town by themselves to check out the attractions. I was content at the picnic visiting with friends, so after a lot of discussion, we decided this would be an okay thing for the girls to do. We gave them the rules and the curfew time and off they went. At the appointed time, my 12 year old arrives back alone. Now dark, she had to walk a path along the river alone. Small town living protects me from thinking horrible scenarios as a first response, but at the suggestion of “well meaning” others, they did pop into my head. Where was her sister?! It seems they met up with some friends and got separated. My sister-in-law had children older than mine so her and her friends were very familiar with this story. Sixty people at this party wanted to activate and go and find my daughter. I was going through the typical emotional cycle. Worry. Anger. Fear. Worry. Anger. Fear. We sent out a couple of young adults to look and they returned with information that my daughter was last seen with a certain boy. A High School Senior with a reputation. Oh dear. So, we can stop worrying about stranger danger, but we can still worry. My husband and I headed out in the car and didn’t get very far when we see a silhouette of a couple of teens holding hands walking toward us on the road. Behind them fireworks are blasting in the sky (I couldn’t make this stuff up!) and it feels like a scene out of Grease. Our headlights make it apparent that this is our daughter with a boy that I refer to as “Ashton Kutcher” cute. As they walked closer I looked at my husband and in that moment recognized it and said it. “We got nothin’.” There is absolutely no punishment or consequence on the planet that will make this High School Freshman regret breaking the rules, ditching her sister and worrying her parents to spend time with this boy. This was one of those times as a kid that the crime is SO worth the punishment! The rebellion is a rite of passage and though I didn’t condone it, I understood it. My husband and I had nothing. Our daughter was safe and no consequence we imposed would matter. We had moved beyond the “disciplining.” She would be making her own decisions from then on out and we had to pray that she made good ones.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were consequences. She had to call her best friend and tell her she wouldn’t be going on vacation with her the following day. We both cried. She cried because she would be missing the trip and I cried because she was growing up. After that moment, my perspective changed dramatically. We parents can guide, train and try, but in the end, our kids will do whatever they feel they need to do. We don’t “got nothin’,” we have the opportunity to walk down that dark road sparkled with fireworks with them.