When we are young and idealistic, life seems straightforward and decipherable. We don’t know what’s wrong with people out there; they are morons! We tend to see things as good or evil, black or white, right or wrong. As we mature and experience more of life, we start seeing many situations that present themselves as more of a judgment call, a matter of priorities, choosing the greater rather than the lesser. It becomes a question of value. Our values affect everything. They shape our worldview, and they absolutely drive our parenting.
My husband and I are both big advocates of personal responsibility. We believe in earning your keep and cleaning up your own mess. We regularly say things like, “Your behavior is always about you.” We live in a No Blameshifting zone. You get the point.
So, because we so dearly held this value, we focused on it in most of our daily parenting scenarios. What we didn’t realize at the time was that because of that choice of focus, we had let go of some other character attributes that are also important. If one of the girls left her toys out, we did not help her put them away. She was responsible for her cleaning up her own mess. If one of the girls left her scooter out, we did not bring it in for her. If that meant it stayed out overnight and was possibly stolen, it would provide a lesson about responsibility. These are perfectly reasonable and healthy ways of addressing these situations, especially for the parents who are focused on raising independent, responsible kids. However . . .
We began to notice how unhelpful and unsympathetic our girls could be. Sometimes, one would ask the other for help carrying something, she would refuse and say, “No, that’s not my stuff!” Or one would ask the other for help looking for something that was MIA, and she would reply, “How am I supposed to know where YOU put it? You should not have left it out!” Uhhhh.
After observing these patterns of prize-winning behavior, we realized that in our effort to instill personal responsibility, we overlooked opportunities to model compassion, empathy, and service to others. We overvalued independence, and undervalued mercy and helpfulness. We were not that crazy about the results at that point. We had daughters who would not blame others for their behavior, but also would not help each other through a tough spot.
Time to tweak our strategy.
We prayed and considered our options for a bit, and decided that while we would continue to require responsibility from our girls, we would begin to look for more opportunities to show grace and mercy to them in practical ways. This time, if a daughter asked for help, we would happily pick up one or two toys and contribute them to the bucket. If a daughter could not find her textbook, instead of just being empathetic, would would pitch in and join the search party.
And this is the dance of parenting. Realizing that we have overvalued something here, and undervalued something else over there. Occasionally it will be the black and white issue, like stealing a pack of gum, or sneaking cookies from the kitchen while mom vacuums upstairs. But most of life is lived in the gray. Finding balance in focus, re-evaluating priorities from time to time, and being flexible.
We still want responsible kids, but we also want kids who are quick to lend a hand to others. We needed to bring our value system back into balance. Justice AND mercy. Most people naturally lean toward one or the other, but the truth is that we need both. Jesus IS both. We are not Jesus. Thank God for grace, which, as parents stumbling along, we need far more than justice.