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My son, Luke, is not the most patient person… He turns 8 this week, and since he was very young, that boy could negotiate anything. If you give him a job to do, he’ll usually exceed your expectations, while he cleverly negotiates a win-win — “Yes Mommy, I’ll feed Marley, but then can I do my iPad?” “Yes Dad, I’ll pick up my clothes, but then can I get a piece of candy?” He also has the best luck in the world and is likely the kid I’ll take to Vegas for his 21st birthday. 🙂

Luke is also extremely smart, he questions answers that are readily given to him, and although I encourage this through him navigating his life, at home I expect respect and courtesy, not a constant challenge to what I’m telling him as fact. My husband and I have both always taught our boys the importance of respect, and it remains one our top values at home.

But what happens when your child begins to question your authority by slightly breaking the rules? What happens when yes, you want them to question and understand a larger picture conceptually, but at the same time, you want them to accept your parenting and authority?

First, it’s 22 minutes on the iPad when you’ve given him 20. Or it’s an extra lifesaver when you said to have just one. Or he’s running 5 minutes late from returning home from a playdate outside when you told him to come in by 5:30… These little mishaps add up. They appear like tiny, insignificant grievances, not even really worth addressing at times, right? But actually, they are relevant. And they do matter. They deserve your attention, and here’s why…

In a society where accountability and character are rare, yes, these little grievances do matter very much. These little hairline fractures of breaking the rules  — the gray areas of life — are what will shape your child’s character and integrity. The “little” things they do now will become “big” things later, and they are worth getting a handle on them now while the stakes aren’t as high.

So, yesterday Luke expressed he wanted to purchase a Lego for himself with his own money for his birthday. I told him that yes, that would probably be fine, but I strongly encouraged him to wait just a few days, until the day after his birthday, so he could watch the new Lego Movie, which comes out the day after, and see if he had any new Legos from the movie to add to his list. I also explained that he doesn’t know what he is getting for his birthday, he might even get that Lego, or he might get money from grandparents that would add to his total, which might change his mind on which Lego he intends to purchase…

We needed to get ready for church, so we said we’d finish that conversation later… In typical Luke fashion, I had to stop him from the ongoing argument he would likely attempt to win simply by saying, “I promise we’ll talk about it again later.

Well, while I was getting ready for church, my son went to my husband and asked him the same question: “Can I buy the Lego X-Wing for my birthday with my own money?

My husband told him that would be fine and that he could go ahead and order the Lego after church when we returned home. As I was finishing up getting ready, Luke came in to see me and explain he had talked to his daddy about the Lego, and Dad had said it was Ok to go ahead and order it.

Well, I was LIVID! And not with my husband — because he had no idea of this previous conversation — but with my son!

I calmly looked at Luke and said, “Ok, I’ll go talk to Dad.” I pulled my husband into a private area where we could talk without Luke hearing us and I told him exactly what Luke and I had discussed, and what I had said. Then I said, “Look, here’s the thing: it’s not a super big deal and I probably would have come to the same conclusion you did anyway about him buying the Lego, but he went behind my back to get a different answer from you because he didn’t like the direction it was going in with me, and he thought you’d be a shortcut to get what he wanted.

My husband agreed and went to tell Luke the same thing. He said he needed to do whatever I said…

Enter Luke, sobbing with huge alligator tears streaming down his face…

Mommy, mommy, I didn’t know, I didn’t know [I went to Dad behind your back]!! That wasn’t what I was trying to do…

I calmly looked at him and said, “Luke, yes you did know….” And keep in mind, I had to pause several times in between these words to get him to stop sobbing.

Luke, you did know what you were doing. You went directly behind my back to talk to Dad about the very same thing we started discussing this morning, because you thought he would give you a different response than the one I gave you. And he said it was Ok because he didn’t know you and I were already talking about it… Also, I probably would have come to the very same conclusion Dad did this morning and let you order the Lego today, but as you know, we needed to get ready for church, and so we said we’d talk about it later… Now, instead of talking about it later, you tried to shortcut me by using Dad to get what you wanted…  and as a result, I’m not going to let you order the Lego today…

More sobs… more time passed… more sobs and pleas…

After he had regained composure, I said, “Luke, when I say something as the parent, it stands. When Dad says something as the parent, it stands. You don’t need to go to the other one after one of us has already given you our word about something. And when you go directly behind our backs and try to use us against the other one, that is not Ok, and you will get in trouble. You’re lucky I’m going to let you order the Lego at all for your birthday, but it will absolutely not be today. You need to learn this lesson in patience and not using one parent over the other to get something you want.

I continued to explain that when he cheats at a game, like Monopoly, by taking more than his share from the “bank,” that’s cheating and it’s dishonest. The same thing is happening when he goes back and forth between me and my husband. And there are consequences. I explained to him that his character — who he is as a person — matters very much and that’s our job as parents, to build good, honest people!

As adults, we know this: the dopamine high you get from a new toy or new pair of shoes (for us ladies) is temporary. I know Luke will be excited about that Lego for a week or so, and then he’ll move on to the other things he gets for his birthday, or even to something else he wants in his mind. It’s temporary. We know that, but to a kid, waiting a week for something feels like FOREVER, especially when it’s birthday week.

But making our children wait is exactly what we must do to build character-filled, compassionate, kind humans who will contribute more to society than simply what’s on their own agendas. When we make our children wait for something we’re teaching patience. But there’s a bigger picture as well: a vast portion of life is spent in waiting — waiting to be 10 to claim double-digits, waiting to be old enough to watch a PG-13 movie, waiting to be able to drive at 16, waiting in line at the DMV as an adult, waiting for a paycheck after putting in the work, waiting for test results, waiting for the right person to marry, waiting to have the money to buy a house, waiting, waiting, waiting….

And while I absolutely believe in being in the moment and being grateful for where you are, on the way to where you’re going, this is a much larger concept that’s learned over the course of life where you spend a great amount of time in waiting.

So making our kids wait actually does them a real favor. It teaches them that’s real life, that not everything is instant. And honestly, we appreciate every little thing more when we’ve been waiting for it and it finally comes to us. A lesson in waiting is also a lesson in Gratitude and Appreciation. It’s a lesson in hard work and enjoyment. It’s a lesson in satisfaction over something well-earned.

So, right now I have an almost 8-year-old who is just yearning for this Star Wars Lego set… and he will probably get it… eventually. But I guarantee you, he will appreciate it much more after learning this lesson in waiting. And he won’t receive the Lego until I’m convinced he’s learned it.

– Christina


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