There was a problem in my house and I wanted a solution, fast. My teen-aged kids were constantly leaving their beds unmade each day despite my reminders to make them up each morning. By the time I made the afternoon laundry delivery to each room and observed the still unmade beds, the kids would weasel out of doing it at that point by reasoning that they would just be crawling right back in their beds in a few hours, so what was the point? To which I would think, “I don’t know – obedience, maybe?” I don’t like to nag and fuss because it just makes my kids more liable to tune me out which is a waste of my time and breath so I came up with something much better…
I gathered the kids together and explained a new policy which would be enacted beginning the following morning. Their beds were to be made by 10:00 a.m. with no reminders from me and if they weren’t, I would fine them $1.00. Before the shocked expression fades from your face, let me explain the rest of the policy. The $1.00 fine only applied to the first day. Each subsequent day that the bed did not get made resulted in the fine doubling. So the second day of non-compliance would cost them $2.00, the third day $4.00, and so on. You get the picture. Yeah, I know, I’m a mean mom, I confess. But my point in this exercise (beyond having beds made) was to teach my kids a few life lessons:
Obedience – I want my kids to obey what they are told to do whether they like the particular task or not. There are many things in life that we will want to procrastinate on or won’t want to do at all, but that won’t be an option. It is important that they learn to obey right away and do the best job they can. Obedience is also something that the Lord requires from each one of us from the youngest child to the oldest adult. (Discussed in greater detail in a previous blog post “The 3 Ways of Total Obedience“.)
Responsibility – My kids need to learn to do things by taking the responsibility for it themselves and not always waiting for someone else to tell them or remind them. Responsibility goes hand-in-hand with self-discipline. Learning this and putting it into practice will serve them well as they go to college, get a job, and establish their own households. Galatians 6:4-5 states, “But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.”
Consequences – Disobedience can bring about unwanted consequences. It can mean discipline from parents as children are growing up and graduate to other consequences such as a speeding ticket from a police officer or firing from an employer as an adult. Consequences of sin are even more dire and long-lasting as we read over and over in the Bible. Yes, consequences can be painful, but that is the point. The pain should act as a reminder and preventive measure from doing the same thing again.
As the next day dawned bright and beautiful, my hopes were (cautiously) high. Would my new policy be effective? For my daughter, the answer was Yes! She is extremely careful with her money and any unnecessary expenditure or waste of it is very painful to her. Needless to say, her bed was made in a fashion that a drill sergeant might have been proud of and continued to be each day. My son on the other hand…let’s just say I made some extra spending money off of him that week. After several days of paying fines, he began to get very frustrated and irritated – not at himself but at me. So we sat down to have a talk. I explained to him that I was not trying to drain him dry, but was simply trying to teach him some self-discipline and responsibility. He wasn’t easily pacified by this and complained that he would be broke before he ever remembered to start making his bed. My answer? “The remedy is in your own hands.” What I meant by that was he could stop the pain of the consequences, he could hang onto his money instead of paying fines if he would just do what he needed to do. Simple. It obviously was not painful enough yet because it wasn’t getting his attention and prompting him to take action. It wasn’t my fault that his bed was not getting made each day and deep down, he knew it. The fault was his own; he just didn’t like the consequences for his failure to act.
I do have some heart in me so I gave him a chance over the weekend with no fines attached, but starting again on Monday…we were going to pick up right where we left off. He was determined not to pay me another red cent, and that was fine with me. When Monday came, my son actually came into the kitchen to fetch me back to his room so he could proudly show me his bed nicely made up. (Not quite as good as good as his sister’s, but I wasn’t requiring military standards.) Each day thereafter, his bed continued to be made. Guess what happened then? It became a habit, a good habit that gets done without having to think twice about it or be in fear and dread of the fine-collecting mother.
In all fairness, this is a life lesson that applies to all of us. Many times I struggle with things I don’t want to do or I fail to do the things I know God has commanded me to do and I suffer the consequences of my own procrastination or disobedience. Not fun. But the remedy is always within my own hands. It is up to me to choose to be obedient, responsible and self-disciplined thereby sparing myself painful consequences and experiencing joy and satisfaction instead. Knowing this first-hand, I strive to teach my children so they too will learn to make good choices and do what is right.
Teaching character in our children must begin with our own good example lived before them, followed by consistent and persistent training as they grow up before us and the Lord. And who knows, you might just reap a little financial compensation on the side! ;)