I will never forget the time when my parents made me walk across the street by myself and apologize to a neighbor for a wrong doing. I was probably 10 years old, or something like that. I had done something stupid (I don’t even remember what it was anymore) and the consequences of my actions was to go over and apologize.
I’d have rather DIED than to walk across that street. I’d have taken a spanking or a restriction any day, but instead my parents were determined that I own up to my wrongdoing and make that painful apology.
It took me what seems like hours, in retrospect, to work up the nerve. I finally crossed the street, and think I must have stood at their door for 5 minutes before I was able to bring myself to knock.
Finally I did it, and granted, I survived, but I have never forgotten it.
As a child it never occurred to me how hard it must have been for my parents to stick to their guns while I cried and begged and pleaded to be released from this gruesome responsibility. They seemed so confident and in charge, but perhaps they wondered in the midst of it if they were doing the right thing… if they were being too harsh… if they should back down… or at the very least accompany me on this dreaded errand (as I begged the to do.) As a child it didn’t occur to me to wonder those things, but looking back now, I wonder how often they second guessed.
Last week the memory of that dreadful incident so long ago came flooding back as I found myself in a very similar situation, but this time on the other side of the fence.
I won’t go into details in order to protect the innocent (or, you know, the guilty), but I had to look onto my child’s big watery brown eyes and make a decision. Would I practice tough love and force him to own up to his mistake, or would I cave to the emotion of the situation and let him out of it?
I had done the right thing by the parenting books — I wasn’t angry or spiteful; instead I was allowing the natural consequences to take their course. This allowed me to be the empathizer, not the enforcer. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Honestly, I think it might be easier to dole out an arbitrary punishment than to force a child to face the consequences of his actions. At one point, I almost backed down, but finally I decided to stand my ground. I didn’t lecture, I didn’t yell, and I didn’t use sarcasm.
What I WANTED to do was pull his head down to my chest and rub his back and tell him it’s okay, never mind, let’s just go home. But instead, I sat patiently and quietly while my child collected himself and prepared to do what he had to do.
I’m tellin’ you what. Give me the terrible twos any day. Parenting tweenagers is a whole different world. If there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that nothing about parenting is cut and dried.
He did it, and I’m proud of him, but most of all, I’m proud of me. I don’t think either of us will forget it for a good long while — until some other horrifying experience trumps it, no doubt.
On the plus side, I think we both learned from the experience. Hopefully. Because I don’t want to learn that lesson again any time soon.