Driving a Porsche 944 down a country road at 70 mph would cloud any 16-year old’s judgment. It did mine back in 1989 when I borrowed a car from my dad’s used car lot to take a friend to the mall. When the State Trooper’s lights lit up, my foot hit the gas. When running didn’t work, I tried hiding by taking the car through a ditch and ending up in someone’s driveway. The Trooper saw it all, of course. Amazingly, he only cited me for speeding and extinguishing my headlights while driving – and then let me go on my way.
My stomach was sick with the thought of having to face my father when I got home. We didn’t stay at the mall long and I then crawled my way back home. I still remember my father reclining watching television when I sat down next to him to tell him the dreaded news. His response? “Well, you’ll have to pay the fine.” Wait, that’s it? “Oh yeah, your mom wants you to get some milk from the store.” OK, I thought and reached for the keys to my car (a dull, brown 79 Toyota Celica). My father stopped me and said, “No, you take the Porsche.” Stunned, I just stood there. He elaborated, “The car didn’t speed, you did.”
Later that month, my father went with me to court while I stood before the judge and DA to explain why I ran from a State Trooper. They had a nice laugh at my expense while I paid my fine. All the while, my father did not have to say a word. I remember him just being there with me.
Now as a father of four myself, I’ve drawn on that experience more than once. In that one night, my father taught me the power of natural consequences and of trust. With three simple sentences, my dad went from potential executioner to trusted ally – a refuge to help me with the consequences in front of me. I went from seeing my dad as a source of punishment to a source of help. He even went above and beyond by demonstrating his trust in me to do the right thing by putting me right back in the very situation that I just screwed up.
On more than one occasion, my temptation has been to “pile on” the consequences when my children have messed up. The natural consequences just didn’t seem to be stiff enough or they didn’t seem to care enough. The problem with introducing artificial consequences to our kids is that it suddenly puts us in the position of a punisher, dealing out detached consequences from the situation at hand.
How different would my perspective have been if my father had become outraged, told me how stupid I was and grounded me? Now I had the natural consequences to deal with, plus I had no source of help – the world would’ve been against me. I would then had seen my father as a source of punishment, someone who couldn’t handle it when I messed up.
Danny Silk, the author of Loving On Purpose, puts it this way “Too often, fear hijacks us when dealing with other people’s mistakes, and we react with punishment and control. This effectively cuts off our ability to come alongside a person who has failed and offer our strength and influence to help them clean up their mess and overcome the issue that created the mistake in the first place.”
When facing your kids’ mistakes, stop and ask yourself if they are already facing a natural consequence. Procrastinating on homework? Let them get the bad grade. Rotten attitude toward siblings? Help them see what they’re reaping in the relationship. Put a hole in the wall while rough-housing? Time to teach how to use spackle and paint. Put your car through a ditch while running from the police? Let them pay the fine and then send them back out for milk – in the Porsche.
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Jason Williams is a father of four and husband of one. He’s an elder in his local church, enjoys board gaming and has been developing software for over 30 years.