Today three-fifths of my family is out gallivanting, having a great time in the sun at a nearby water park, laughing, playing, splashing, and eating all sorts of greasy summertime foods. Two-fifths of us are here at home. One has finished vacuuming every square inch of the house, laundered every article of clothing, and is now writing this story. And the other one is in his room–alone.
It was a consequence he chose by virtue of his behavior. There were, of course, smaller consequences leading up to this one. He knew he stood to lose this day, and yet the infractions continued without end. Much thought went into not allowing him to go. There was nothing reactionary in our choosing it as a consequence. It was deliberate and fair, and, of course, it is completely heartbreaking to have to carry it out.
It would have been so easy to give him another chance, another forty chances, to have said, “Well, you can go, but . . .” then have come up with something else, a comparable penalty. It would have been so easy to make excuses: “He has ADHD. Life lessons take longer to sink in for kids with this condition. Experts say that “parenting a child with ADHD is like parenting a child times five.”
I am also acutely aware that the number of times the five of us will be together is finite. Time will pass, interests will waver, and the days we can all be together become fewer with each passing year.
But we didn’t give in today. Edgar’s brothers and father left—not nearly as joyfully as they would have had we all bounded into the car together, but they left. And the pictures I am receiving via text message show me they’re there, they’re smiling. And they should be. Each of my sons earned the day they’re having. Two siblings should not have to be impacted because of the choices of one.
I asked Edgar what today taught him, and his response didn’t surprise me as it was something he has been told time and time again: “I learned that when I do the right thing I get privileges and that when I don’t do the right thing I don’t get privileges.”
He added that sometimes he forgets. And I understood my role as a parent is to be there to jog his memory, to sit with him when he is occasionally benched, to remind him of what he needs to do to be happy, safe, and comfortable in the world. My job is to be consistent, to be sure that I’m not the one making excuses so that he, in turn, does not learn to make excuses, so that he grows to be responsible, to be the person I know he is, the person he knows he is. I have to set limits and expectations for him now so that he can later do it for himself. I have to maintain the long view and be sure my own preferences do not trump what he truly needs.
Edgar won’t be in the pictures from today’s adventure, but he and I did create a memory—the lessons from which will serve him for the rest of his life. I know this, and he eventually will know this. And that is good. What’s not is that so often in parenting, indeed in life, is that sometimes the heart has to break for the head to learn what it needs to know. And it never gets any easier.