My bedroom has a massive bed. One king mattress on the floor, with a queen mattress pushed up against it. That’s an 11 foot wide bed! We’ve kinda given up on convincing the girls to sleep in their own room. They always end up with us, anyways.
My bedroom has rules though. Just basic stuff like… if you want to sleep with Mama you have to, oh you know… SLEEP. As in, lay down and not disturb the other sleeping people. You can look at books or color a picture in your own bed, in your own room. But if you want to sleep in Mama’s bed you can’t be disruptive. I think that sounds pretty fair.
Well last night, my 5-year-old didn’t agree.
She wouldn’t stay in bed, kept disturbing her sister, and finally was standing up on the mattress, spinning in circles. I warned her that she would have to sleep in her own bed if she didn’t lay down. The spinning continued.
I picked her up and carried her to her room (which, by the way, is right next to ours!). Oh, the screaming and crying! Shrieking “NOOOO!”. as if she were about to be boiled in oil.
I plopped down in the rocking chair in her room and held her until she stopped thrashing around. “Babygirl, I will not let you keep your sister awake. You would not lay down and be quiet. Now you need to sleep in your room tonight “
“I’m sorry Mama! I will lay down now! Can I sleep with you? Please?!!!”
At this point I had steam blowing out of my ears. I mean, I gave the kid several warnings. We’d been doing this for 20 minutes! She knew the conditions, and she chose to ignore them.
“No. Not tonight. You decided not to do what you were supposed to do, and thus is the consequence.”
“But Mama! I will go to sleep nicely now!”. Commence a fresh round of shrieking
“Too late.” I whispered in her ear.
Immediately, in my head I heard the words wailing and gnashing of teeth.
I sat there, in the dark, holding my screaming kindergartner. Starting at the crucifix. How many times have I failed to do what I clearly understood was required of me? How many times have I made the choice to not follow God? When I go crying to Him, begging another chance, what if He said “Too late?”
I squeezed my little girl tighter and told her God had changed Mama’s heart. We snuggled, and talked about God’s forgiveness and mercy, and redemption. I told her that even though I have done so many wrong things, I still hope God will have mercy on me and let me in heaven. I told her that God says he will show mercy to the merciful. So I would let her try again and sleep in my room. Not because she deserved it; she clearly didn’t. But because I don’t deserve heaven. Because Jesus paid the price to forgive us, and wants us to forgive each other. I told her I would give her another chance, not for her, but because I love Jesus.
We had a really good talk about mercy, and then she went to sleep in my bed. There’s no telling how much actually sank in; she’s only 5. But I really believe that these little moments are laying the foundation of her faith.
When to show Mercy
So, am I saying that we shouldn’t enforce our rules, and never let our children feel consequences?
Children need law.
But we need to remember mercy. Our parenting should reflect God’s perfect Mercy to our children. Mercy allows room for repentance, and second chances. And when there is no repentance, mercy allows the sinner to feel consequences, to lead the heart to change.
If my daughter hadn’t been committed to doing better, being quiet, and letting her sister sleep, then it would have been wrong for me to let her back in my bedroom. If she had seemed insincere, then it would have been wrong. But I know my child. I knew that she was committed to doing better, if given the chance. And that is when God shows us mercy.
When to enforce a consequence
Natural consequences will often happen in our child’s life without a second chance. Your preschool child threw a fit about not getting ice cream instead of playing, and now she is wanting another chance to play, but it’s time to leave the restaurant. Your toddler threw the toy out the car window, and now it’s gone with no way to retrieve it. Your teenager refused to come to the table when called, and half an hour later when she finally walked in, the pizza was gone so she got peanut butter.
Our children will learn over time about how their choices affect them. Life doesn’t always accept apologies or give second chances.
But as parents trying to model God’s grace, I believe the only time we should impose consequences is when our child is uninterested in change. And the consequences should ONLY be our effort to control the damage of our child’s poor choice, to prevent them hurting themselves or others. Imposed consequences cannot ever change our child’s heart.
An example would be taking away a toy that the child insists on using to hurt someone. Or saying “I will not let you keep your sister from sleeping. If you will not be calm, then you must sleep in the other room.”
And not letting our child do harm is also a mercy to him!
So, when I’m not sure how I should respond, I’m going to try switching places. If I were in my child’s place, what would God’s Mercy look like?