Yesterday my seven year old son (we'll call him RJ) came home from school. We did his math homework and read together until it was time to pick up his older sister from school. My daughter hopped in the van and asked, "Did the school get a hold of you about RJ?" I perked up...why would the school need to talk to me about RJ? She continued, "About the Knife he brought to school?"
Well, I was furious! I couldn't wait to get home and get some answers from my little imp. I walked in my door and called for RJ. He slowly slinked his way into the foyer with a look that said, "OMG! Please don't kill me!" I asked him if he had something to tell me and he admitted to what he had done. I couldn't believe that my sweet little boy who wouldn't hurt a fly had brought a "weapon" (a small pocket knife that was more like a fingernail file) to school. He's not even allowed to play with it at home. I huffed and puffed at him and asked him what he was thinking...why would he do something so foolish. He just looked at me with those big blue eyes and shrugged his shoulders. I wanted to punish him in the worst possible way I could imagine so I sent him to his room and ordered him to clean it by himself (anyone with children understands the depth of this torture).
I called my husband...my nose snorting and ears steaming. I was like a bull seeing red. My husband really let me down. I wanted him to join me in my fury...to feed my fury. Instead he shrugged it off like it wasn't a big deal. Actually, he did feed my fury...it was just directed elsewhere. How could he not see how serious this was? Things aren't like they were when we were kids. Some schools have a zero tolerance for such things and the child is immediately expelled. I wasn't sure how this school district handled these violations. I had just ended my call when my delinquent sidled up to me with an envelope for me. It was a letter that was carbon copied to the superintendent, RJ's teacher, the school counselor, the principal's file and all others who had any connection to my son. It explained that RJ had brought a pocket knife to school and that he would have in-school suspension the following day.
I have to admit that I felt a sense of satisfaction at the surprise my husband experienced when he saw the letter and realized that our first grader was being suspended. And yes, I did say, "I told you so!" He tried to appease me by saying that I should be glad we're not like "so and so" who has to go to court over his high school aged son frequently. I simply replied that the reason I am concerned and taking this so seriously is because I don't want to be like "so and so" who's always in court with his son. The dim light bulb in my husband's head brightened as he nodded his head slowly.
Okay...so there are probably quite a few of you who are thinking to yourselves, "Take it easy! He's just a kid!" So I'll get to my point here. I believe in today's culture there is a propensity to excuse our children and protect them from the consequences of their choices. When I say "children" I am not only speaking of the young children but also the adult children in our culture. I want to scream when I see or hear of the child who sasses their parents or grows up to live off their parents without contributing anything themselves...or the person who has a child and then dumps them off for their parents to raise. Why has discipline become such a dirty word in our society? Isn't this life about making choices and then dealing with the consequences of those choices? Good consequences from good choices and bad consequences from bad choices? If we shield our children from these consequences while they are young then how can they function and know how to make good decisions as adults? The answer...They can't!
So...we return to the case of my son. Did my son realize that the little pocket knife he held is considered a weapon? Did he know that it was against school policy to bring a knife to school? I can answer with certainty that he did not. Did my son know that he was not allowed to play with a knife? Did he know he was doing something wrong when he took that knife to school? I can answer with equal certainty that he did. Did he deserve to have a consequence? Of course! Was suspension too severe? Maybe. As I thought about my son's suspension and this violation going on his school record, my heart was softened towards him (I really do have a heart). I thought about how afraid and nervous he must be feeling about what he would experience in school the next day. These thoughts led me to think about the consequences of our choices even more. Consequences start out small...a skinned knee, time-out, a scolding, being grounded, losing privileges...but as we get older our choices become more important and our consequences more severe. Can we help our children avoid the severest consequences by making sure they experience fully the consequences of those more minor decisions they make in their youth? Consequences are sometimes a natural result of our actions or they may be a punishment put in place to discourage a certain behavior. The purpose of consequences is to teach our children how to make good choices. By disciplining children, parents prepare them for adulthood so that they are able to take responsibility for their actions and are prepared to deal with the consequences of their choices whether good or bad.
Like I had said previously, my heart was starting to soften towards my son. During our family prayer last night I prayed that RJ would be comforted while he endured his suspension the next day. This morning I wrote a letter to the principal apologizing for my son's action and explaining that RJ is a good boy who made a bad choice. I also thanked her for giving my son a consequence so he could learn from his mistake. I took the time to read the letter to RJ and ask him how he was feeling about his suspension. I held him while tears poured down his face. I told him to remember that he was a good boy and that his dad and I still loved him. I also assured him that his teachers and principal knew he was a good boy and that they still loved him even though he had made a mistake. His tears streamed around the big smile on his face.
This experience made me think about our Heavenly Father. There are many times in our lives when we may feel smacked down by the consequences of our bad choices. Does our Heavenly Father feel sorrowful when he sees our suffering? Did he send His Son so that we may be forgiven and freed from our pain? Does He hold us in his arms as we weep? Yes...Yes...Yes!