I was on the hunt for little boy dress shoes when I discovered the tight bundle of clothes wadded up and shoved behind a storage bin in the boys’ closet. In that bundle I found a pair of khakis and a school uniform fleece that I had given to Nicholas less than twenty-four hours before with instructions to put them away.
This is not the first time we’ve faced dishonesty coupled with lack of compliance from this particular child. It’s not even the second. Or the third. Or the fourth.
But it had been months since the last episode, and I had really hoped the lesson about honesty and obedience had finally sunk in.
Parenting Nicholas has stretched my creativity so far that it’s taken on a whole new shape. Trying to discipline using “natural consequences,” when there aren’t any natural consequences that matter to him one whit, frequently leaves me feeling completely helpless.
I do not react well to feeling helpless. I firmly believe that the greatest tantrums and rages we fly into are caused by feeling powerless.
But yesterday—call it grace, call it personal growth—I did not lose my temper. True, for a change I did have a consequence I could apply: he’d been promised a play date, and losing that mattered to him very much.
But it’s also because I’ve spent a lot of time in the last several months making a concerted effort to seek out the best in this child. To open my heart to him, to love him better. But especially to look for the best in him instead of the worst.
To put it simply, yesterday was different because I was able to approach discipline with mercy.
Now, if you’d put those two words together a few months ago, I would have turned my nose up. I would have equated mercy with clemency–like a child is getting away with bad behavior. Like, I’m not disciplining them at all.
But that, like most of our thought processes about mercy, is far too small. The thing is, when a kid pushes your buttons time and time again (you’ve all got one of these, right?), your heart starts hardening toward them. If you’re not careful, you start expecting the worst from them—and worse, looking for it. And then, when it’s time to discipline, you’ve got all that baggage, and it’s impossible to discipline in love.
In the past months, because I’ve made a focused and ongoing effort to seek out positive interactions with Nicholas, I have laughed much more with him. Been able to take advantage of his eagerness to be useful. Had thoughtful conversations with him. Learned to recognize the sensitive soul beneath the demon named “strong-willed.” And (most importantly!) I’ve learned that he’s far and away the best kisser of all my children. 😉
The upshot is that our relationship has become far less contentious, and when we did have an episode yesterday, I was better equipped to handle it.
And all because I have begun to seek out the best in him instead of expecting the worst.
To me, that is the essence of an attitude of mercy, and it is the attitude of mercy that underlies what Jesus lays out in today’s Gospel, the actions that became the corporal works of mercy.
There’s a clear parallel here to all our attitudes toward others, but for today I’ll leave it at the level of home and family. There are plenty of Mercy Mondays left to spin out the implications for the rest of life.
For other Mercy on a Monday posts, click here.