Ethan, my 8 years and 362 days old son, walked into the house without his glasses. I was busily preparing to present a lesson on the Kingdom of Heaven at the Jackson Heights Church of Christ in Columbia, Tennessee. I was already stressed because I was behind and under the gun. Ethan said, “Dad, I took a nap on the bus and put my glasses on Jacob’s backpack.”
It took me a moment to process. “What?”
“I took a nap on the bus and put my glasses on Jacob’s backpack.”
“Are you saying you left your glasses on the bus?”
“No. I left them on Jacob’s backpack.”
“Wasn’t Jacob’s backpack on the bus?”
My blood pressure started rising. Jacob lives next door so I hustled Ethan off to see if Jacob had his glasses. Of course not. Jacob said he put them on the seat beside Ethan so Ethan could find them. Yeah well, we already know how well that plan worked. Fortunately, we live in the middle of a loop the bus has to make so it actually passes by our house twice. We waited in the middle of the road. Ethan was frolicking with his siblings seemingly oblivious to the financial crisis he was putting us in. I, on the other hand, was about to lose it.
We stopped the bus, but no glasses. The driver assured us she would look for them. I talked to her this morning. No glasses. Who knows what has happened to the glasses. Probably one of the kids saw them and grabbed them. I hope it was someone who knew they were Ethan’s and decided to hold on to them to give them back this morning. However, I don’t have too much hope for that.
Can you see where I nearly lost a great opportunity yet? I was already stressed and this was just a bit too much. I almost lost it. In fact, I was so mad I told all the family to just leave me alone because I was about to come unglued and behave inappropriately. Gratefully, as I went back to my lesson, I recalled the number of mistakes I have made that have cost me all kinds of money. Then it hit me. When I make a mistake that costs me money, who pays for it? Not my parents. I do.
This is not a time to be overflowing with anger. This is a life lesson in the making. This is a time to teach consequences.
I had a little heart to heart with my very precious near birthday boy.
“Ethan, I’m sorry I was so angry. I’m trying to get over that. The fact is, everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes that have cost all kinds of money. I’m upset that you were careless but we all do that sometimes. Here’s the problem. When I make mistakes, guess who has to pay for it?”
“You do, Dad.”
“That’s right. I do. Now that you’ve made a mistake, guess who needs to pay for it?”
“Me?” He said it in the form of a question clearly hoping he was mistaken.
“Yes. You. Your birthday is on Thursday. Any money you get is going to have to pay for some new glasses if you don’t find them.”
Then I showed him his bank account balance online from the 8 years of saving gift money and other savings and I said, “Here is your bank account for going to college or buying a car one day. Here is the balance. Whatever is left over after your birthday money will have to come out of your savings and you won’t be able to use it when you get older for whatever you wanted.”
He immediately started crying. For a moment I was crushed. But I held on. This was the right thing. After all, what would happen if he was careless with his glasses and learned that a new pair would just magically appear? He certainly wouldn’t learn to take care of his glasses or anything else.
Of course, later he said something to his sister about being punished by having to pay for his glasses. I pulled him aside and said, “Oh buddy, you misunderstood. I’m not punishing you by making you pay for your glasses. Punishment would be if I spanked you or grounded you or removed some privilege. This isn’t punishment. This is natural consequences. If I lost my glasses, who would have to pay for them? That’s right, me. That wouldn’t be punishment. That would simply be what I had to do because I lost my glasses. You need to learn that lesson too. Sometimes everyone is careless and makes mistakes. But when we do, we have to pay for it. If you can learn that lesson now, you will miss out on a lot of heartache as you get older.”
As you can see, because I allowed myself to get angry in the moment, I almost lost this golden teaching opportunity. It was almost merely a time for me to shout and holler and generally be foolish in front of my kids. Gratefully, by God’s grace, I was able to seize the moment. It wasn’t easy for me and it won’t be easy for Ethan (especially on his birthday on Thursday), but in the long run it will make his life easier. I’m sure of that.