Here is an excerpt from my book, “From the Heart of a Grateful Man” which is due to be released next month.
A War of Wills
As parents, My Beloved and I were blessed with remarkably honest children. They were so honest in fact that they were downright lousy liars due to lack of practice. That often made it relatively easy for us to quickly learn the truth even during the relatively rare times they crossed that line.
Once, when our oldest son was perhaps ten to twelve years old, he took a piece of gum that wasn’t his in our home without asking. We taught our children that if you take something that isn’t yours, it is stealing, and stealing is a serious matter that always has consequences.
But it was only a piece of gum. My son knew that if he admitted taking the gum in all likelihood he’d probably just get a reprimand or perhaps be asked to buy a pack of gum to replace it.
Instead of telling the truth, he chose to deny taking it.
It was obvious that he was lying.
My Beloved and I had taught the children from an early age that in our house if you break the rules, there will be a consequence, but if you lie about breaking the rules the consequences would be FAR worse than if you tell the truth right away. We then made certain that the lies ALWAYS did indeed greatly compound whatever consequences there otherwise would have been from simply breaking the rule.
So, he knew this, and still denied that he took the gum, even after I reminded him about what happens when someone lies in our house.
Normally, he was a well-behaved child, but this time he chose a different path.
He dug in his heels and refused to admit that he took the gum. So, he got an extra chore assigned to him. I don’t recall what it was but it was most likely unpleasant and could be done in about an hour.
I came home from work the next day and he still refused to admit that he’d taken the gum, AND he had refused to do the extra chore with which he’d been tasked.
He was clearly attempting to exercise his independence. (Such times are NOT what I think of when the phrase, “The joys of parenting” comes to mind!)
So, it was time to escalate the consequence. I reminded him that this all started with a single piece of gum, and now he had two hours’ worth of yard work to do before I came home from work the next day.
The following evening, I received no confession and the yard work still hadn’t been done.
I knew that this was a war of wills that as a parent I had to win.
I took him out into our large backyard and showed him a section of what used to be a garden and was now completely filled with weeds. If I recall correctly, I told him on a Thursday night that he needed to weed a section of it on Friday.
Come Friday evening, very little weeding had been done.
I was seething. I knew that a big and important event to him was coming up that he badly wanted to participate in (though I don’t now recall what it was), so I gave a final ultimatum to him:
“Weed the ENTIRE garden area (a space of about 15 feet by 50 feet) this weekend.” I added for good measure, “You have until midnight Sunday to finish the job, and I don’t care if you have to be out there in the dark weeding by flashlight, there better not be so much as a single blade of grass visible in that entire area or you won’t be going to (whatever it was that he so badly wanted to do.)
Finally, THAT got his attention.
He got up about mid-morning on Saturday and began working. He worked slowly but somewhat diligently. Unfortunately for him, when he dragged himself into the house at about dark, he was perhaps only one quarter of the way done with what had become a BIG job.
I began to feel sorry for him, but he knew I would not break my promise as to what would happen to him if he didn’t meet the deadline. It wouldn’t be good for him, and it would just make things harder for both of us the next time we had a war of wills.
He needed to be able to count on me and my word.
He began working early on Sunday morning. His pace picked up a lot. He was clearly a young man on a mission. He worked hard for many hours and had made good progress, but as dusk approached, it was clear that he was nowhere near done.
He kept working.
He worked until it became so dark that I could no longer see him through the window.
Then, I saw a beam from a flashlight. The work continued.
I occasionally looked out the window and the flashlight beam kept moving.
Hours later, right at midnight, he came in and with an exhausted voice mumbled, “I’m done.”
I sternly asked him if he got every weed and every blade of grass. He nodded yes.
The next morning, as we went out to see the job he’d done, I mentally prepared myself for seeing some missed small weeds and grass. I decided that if he did as good as I thought possible for someone his age, I would be prepared to cut him a little slack for the tremendous effort he’d made.
I’ll never forget what I saw. The large space that had been completely covered in weeds just two days before did not have a single leaf or blade of grass anywhere on it!
I gaped at it with awe and amazement. I doubt if I could EVER have done such a good job.
I saw the pride in his eyes at the work he’d done.
I hope he saw the same in mine when I looked at him and said, “I’m proud of you for the job you did.”
No truer words were ever spoken.