Just yesterday at a family Christmas party, my son found himself caught up in a moment of complete silliness and fun with his cousins. In a fit of unthinking joy, he pulled down his pants and shook his little batman underwear booty. According to the witnesses (his much older sisters) he immediately pulled up his pants and ran to me. In confessing his crime, he sobbed big, splashy tears.
I knew three things immediately: 1) My extended family was watching me, the homeschool mom, for how I would handle this situation, 2) my son was not a future pervert, but a little boy who was behaving like a little boy, and 3) how I handled this would make or break future decisions he made.
I am the only homeschooling family in my extended family. There is no negativity from them, but I do answer many questions about the why, the how, and the stresses that go along with homeschooling. While I have the impression that I have the confidence of my extended family, I’m also aware that I am closely watched. With three biological daughters and an adopted son, homeschooling and faithful Catholic, I suppose they see us as unique, as dedicated to faith and family. But perhaps they see us as odd balls. I don’t really know, nor do I really care about their opinion. We homeschool and we adopted on the encouragement we received from our faith in God. That’s all I really care about. That said, they were watching and I didn’t want to screw this up.
I wish I could say I responded with understanding and reacted in a way that was both appropriate and effective, but I admit that I was completely shocked. I had no idea what had inspired him to do this, wondered if the other boys had put him up to it, and knew that I needed to conduct an investigation. My daughters assured me that my son acted alone and that he had come to me immediately and of his own accord. My cousin, the father of the other boys, was smiling at my shock, so I was mildly assured that no serious damage had been done. In the end, my son sat alone for a few minutes to allow the wave of spontaneous pant-dropping to pass. After five minutes, he rejoined the group knowing that we would discuss this event when we were at home.
He didn’t like that, but I told him, “I think we both need some time to think about this. We are here with family that we don’t see often and I don’t think now is a time to discuss this. When we get home, we will talk with daddy and we will decide what to do.”
Talk with daddy. The head of the family. The man, who (according to my son’s understanding of how the world works) is only brought into the discussion on the most serious offenses. (And that is true.)
We arrived home several hours later and, I admit, I had forgotten the ordeal. My son had not. He immediately put on his pajamas, brushed his teeth, and sat on the couch…waiting. When I didn’t bring my husband in right away, my son came to me.
“Mommy, may I speak with you and daddy in the other room, please?” He’s six. I believe this was the first time he used the words “may I please?” without a reminder. He asked with such polite demeanor, I knew that he was really torn up by his actions.
He was crying too hard to fill my husband in on his inappropriate shenanigans, so I did. I stuck to the facts. Fun cousins + extra desserts + silly games = a bad choice.
My son described the funny feeling he had in his chest, that he just felt sick and was afraid that his pant-dropping actions at the family party were so severe it was actually going to make him be sick.
My fantastic husband encouraged my son, “That’s God speaking in your heart. That is called ‘conscience’. That is your soul telling your body that what you did was wrong. And now you know that when we do something wrong, our conscience, our soul that is formed in God, speaks to you through your body. Next time you feel like you might do something wrong, remember how terrible you are feeling right now. Remember this feeling and it will help you not feel this way.”
My son, in the past, has tried to place blame on others. I know I did that too when I was younger. My parents did not allow me to believe that lie. My choices are my choices. Sure, someone else may have spoken the dare or plotted the idea, but it’s up to me to decide whether or not those plans are right for me. We’ve done that with our son, and yesterday he applied that. He knew he had made a mistake. He knew the punishment would be necessary. He also knew that if I heard about it from someone else, the punishment would be more severe and the trust between he and I would be damaged. This lesson may sound as though he learned it easily, but it’s actually the culmination of months and years of consistent discipline. Trust is earned through diligence and can be lost through carelessness. Gaining trust back is a time-intensive duty.
As we discussed this together, my son, my husband and I, it became apparent that my son’s greatest fear was that his bad choice would cause my husband and I to not love him any more. As I’ve spent the day reflecting on that, I realized that my son doesn’t think he loves me when he’s angry with me. He still has a very child-like impression of what unconditional love is. I think many adults struggle with this as well. Unconditional love means that while I might not always like what you do, I will always love you.
We repeated that to him.
“There is nothing that you can do that will make us stop loving you.”
“There is no thing you could do that will change the way we love you.”
“God gave you to us in such a special way. His love for us and our love for you will never change. No matter what.”
Again and again we must say these things and show this truth to our children. There will be times that we don’t like our children very much, but we will always love them. To like someone is easy. To love someone is a choice. To like is a preference. To love is an action.
I learned a valuable lesson, too. Once again (cuz I don’t always remember the lesson the first time) I was assured that sometimes the punishment for a child is all in the ‘waiting to tell dad’. There is value in allowing a child time to remove themselves from a situation so they can calm down. There is value in waiting to discuss the situation until the parent’s mind has had time to think about the ‘why’ and the ‘what to do next’. And there is immeasurable value in giving the child time to think about their actions and listening to what they have to say.