Today in the frantic midst of returning home from the grocery store, unloading three little bodies, taking my dogs outside to handle their business, unloading and putting away groceries, and trying to get two of those three little bodies in their beds for nap, my three-year-old approached me with a funny look on his face.
“Mommy, I don’t want to show you what I took.”
“What do you mean, buddy?” I responded.
“I don’t want you to see,” he said.
Although I had a hundred little things to do in that moment, I knew that his words required my immediate attention.
I said, “let’s go look together.”
He ran up the stairs, closed his bedroom door, and stood protectively in front of it.
“Let mommy in, please,” I said. Remember, we don’t keep secrets from each other.”
Reluctantly, with his head hung low, he opened his door and led me inside. Disappearing under his bed skirt, he emerged from under the bed with a small, mostly eaten, pack of orange Pez candy in his hand.
“Mommy, I’m sorry I took this.”
He hadn’t stolen it. It was from Christmastime and he likely found it somewhere in the house and brought it into his room to stash it away.
I had a range of options at that point:
1. Laugh it off and say “no big deal.”
2. Discipline him for hiding candy in his room.
3. Get angry and make him feel guilty.
4. Hurry past the issue and finish handling my tasks.
This is a minor infraction, right? A three-year-old hiding candy in their room has probably occurred since candy was first invented. Back in the early days of our nation, there were probably little pioneer children hiding homemade brown sugar candy under their pillows.
That being said, my children are not permitted to keep food (including candy) in their rooms. This is a family rule that they know and understand.
I was also in the midst of a frustrating time of day, and my nerves were worn thin from our grocery trip.
Although the four options that I listed above were my immediate, guttural thoughts, I chose a different path.
“I’m so proud of you buddy!” I said.
“I’m so proud of you for telling mommy the truth. You did the right thing and I’m not angry at you – not at all.”
He locked eyes with me intensely, and said “I’m sorry I ate them, too.”
I hugged him close, and quietly reassured him, “it’s a big deal that you told mommy the truth. Thank you for that.”
Now I want to pause the story here to clarify something for you. By the grace of God, I had the self control and foresight to respond to him this way today. Do I always handle parenting issues with such a cool head?
I screw up routinely. Some days I get frustrated, I speak unkindly, I discipline from a place of emotion, and sometimes I even ignore or dismiss my children. I am perfectly imperfect. Perfection doesn’t exist, after all. Not here on earth. It is a mere farce – an illusion.
I don’t share my parenting stories with you in an attempt to elevate myself to a place of authority or to appear perfect. I share them with you to encourage you.
I want to encourage you because you won’t always get it right.
But it is my earnest desire – the desire of my heart – that I respond to my children in ways that teach them that they can trust me.
I want them to trust me with the revelation that they’ve been hiding candy under their bed.
When they are teens, I want them to trust me with the revelation that they are hiding pot in their room or that they’ve been viewing pornography. I pray that my children never have to confess these things to me, but aren’t they the teenage equivalent of a three-year-old hiding candy in his room?
You know the saying: “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.”
While they are little, and the risks are small, I want to teach them that they can trust me. If they trust me now with the little things, my hope is that one day they will trust me with the big things.
In that moment earlier today, I expressed to him my genuine thankfulness that he trusted me enough to confess his wrongdoing to me. I wanted him to understand that he did the right thing by sharing his disobedience with me. He already knew that his behavior was wrong – I knew it from his words and demeanor. But in that moment he was trusting me. I may not have found that candy for weeks, and he could have eaten the rest of it and hidden the wrapper in the garbage. But he trusted me, and he told me the truth.
I don’t know what the future holds for my children, but while they are little I want to praise them for trusting me. Because whether it’s the three-year-old with candy in his room, or the fifteen-year-old with a bag of marijuana under his mattress – it’s a heart issue, isn’t it?
Today my three-year-old showed me the condition of his heart. In his heart he felt guilty and remorseful. If I would have reacted in the ways listed above, my actions would have told him either:
1. The guilt you feel in your heart is an overreaction. It’s not a big deal.
2. When you approach me with a heart of remorse for doing wrong, you will suffer consequences.
3. When you approach me with a heart of remorse for doing wrong, I will get angry and respond out of emotion. OR
4. I’m too busy to listen to you.
Will there ever be consequences when my children confess disobedience to me? Of course – if the circumstances require it. But in this situation today, the guilt that my precious little boy already felt in his heart was enough for him to learn his lesson.
Today I wanted to celebrate his honesty, when the risks are small. I may even treat him to something special tonight to reward him for telling me the truth about something little, in the hopes that he will one day tell me the truth about something big.
And that special treat may even be candy – just not in his room.
Do you agree with my approach? What would you have done differently?