The other morning just as we’re about to leave for school, my wife is getting my daughter’s backpack ready. We hadn’t looked at it over the weekend because it was her birthday, grandparents where in town, and… whatever… just didn’t get to it. Good thing though, because she pulled out a graded spelling test and in big scary red ink was the number “0” and the word “CHEAT.”
My first thought, honestly, was an instinctive reaction as if it was my paper and I was busted by my parents. Fear and trembling. Cold sweat. They’ll kill me or worse. Oh wait.
It’s not mine. YAY!
But I’m the parent now. Boo.
“Don’t freak out,” I tell myself. My wife wisely tells me to not address this now; we’ll talk after school. But silly me can’t not talk.
We drive to school and instead I ask her about the topic in general. “Do you know what cheating is? What does the teacher think?” She’s just now 8 years old. She understands the general concept of cheating, but more in the case of “cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater” when another kid cuts a corner in a race around the playground. Her explanation to me was that her study notes were in her desk and she was stuck on the biggest word, “frightening.” More of a curiosity thing than a heinous crime. Motive carries a little weight, but still… technically wrong.
The tables have been turned, and suddenly (for once in my life) I wasn’t the one who did wrong. I’m not in trouble! But obligated to do something here as a parent. I created this pretty little independent person and am responsible to give her life-lessons, discipline, goals. Parenting is hard. I think I’d rather be the kid, take the punishment and go play than be the one to figure out how to deal with this as a father. I’m sad, embarrassed, disappointed, and frustrated that I can’t just force her do what I know she should.
Forgive me for seeing the obvious God/human parallel here. He’s got to be so frustrated with us. Especially Christians who have said to God that we will follow Him, do what He asked us to do, but manage to screw it up – daily if not hourly. I wonder what God’s reaction is. Sad? Just a facepalm? Frustrated? Or does the All-knowing have the big picture in hand, sit back and patiently wait, hoping that the guidance He provided will be enough for us to make it through? This is where as a parent I can relate to the Israelite children and their back-n-forth drama. “We will follow the LORD! Hey, is that a golden calf? COOL!” Scary part is that overall I’ll simply put my parenting skills out there and hope for the best.
So what do I want out of my children?
I don’t expect them to be perfect. Impossible. Parenting is balancing act of forgiveness and consequences, all covered in love. Being perfect is not the goal.
I do want them to try. Judging on my initial reaction alone, I was less upset by the cheating paper than I was when she left most of the answers blank on another test. Imagine if every self-describing Christian lived an intentional life. Not a perfect life, just intentional. Purposefully trying to love God and love others.
I do want them to understand that not all rules are equal. If I have to yell at her to brush her teeth every.. single.. night.. for the rest of her time in this house, it will all be forgotten if at 18 she is still the same sweet, kind, sympathetic, friendly young woman, just like the 8 year old that I know now.
But… you still can’t cheat on your test when you’re 18 either.