Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Perfection or Excellence? Obedience or Honor?

What constitutes a dinner? Meat, vegetables, bread, dairy, possibly even some fruit or nuts? So if I’ve met all those requirements – will it be a good meal? What about a “great” or even “excellent” dinner?

Tonight my kids were presented with dinner. I met all the requirements (health-wise). I had meat, a couple veges, some fruit, dairy and even nuts. So why did my kids tell me I was mean, horrible, and that this was the worst day of their lives? Why were they complaining, upset, running off to their rooms, returning briefly to tell me how they would rather starve to death – and it would be ALL my fault?

Why? Because this was the dinner menu:

Meat – pepperoni slices

Veges – cold leftover beans and mashed potatoes

Bread – Ritz crackers

Dairy – slices of American cheese

Fruit – boxes of raisins

Nuts – salted almonds.

No plates. No silverware. No napkins. No cups or drinks even (though – they could have water if they wanted – I just wasn’t setting out any dishware). It was an easy dinner for me to prepare . . . . or should I say – pull out off the shelves. (My husband and I had a delicious dinner though – leftover London broil with Hunter’s sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, and leftover chocolate fondue for dessert!)

Why was I so mean? Why was I presenting my kids with such unusual fare? Was I mad at my kids? Was I bent on torturing them and endangering their lives? Not in the least. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was out of love, honor and a desire to see the best for them.

Excellence. Honor. Love. Respect. Integrity. Wise decisions. These are some of the qualities and character traits that we are striving to impart to our children – to do everything with excellence (“as unto the Lord, not for men”), to treat everyone with honor, love and respect, and to be a person of integrity who can make wise choices. We are not trying to set standards that are unachievable, nor are we seeking perfection from our kids. We are not even expecting them to obey our every command and do only what they are told to do. We are raising leaders. We are raising the next generation – the future of our neighborhoods, businesses, city, country and world. I am not going to be around to always tell them what to do. When they are 18 and in college – I don’t want them to just be another statistic – another drunk college student failing in class and in life, experiencing the harsh consequences of their poor choices. I won’t be there to tell them not to get drunk, not to skip class, not to cheat on an exam. I won’t be there to remind them to do their work or job with integrity and excellence, not just so that they will get promoted. I won’t be there - but in a way, hopefully, I will.

My goal . . . is to let my kids fail as much as they can while they are young and in my house, under my watching eye and guiding heart and hands. Yes, that’s right - I WANT them to FAIL! Why? . . . I want them to learn. I want them to make choices – wise choices. But how are they going to make wise choices as an adult, if they never learn to make wise choices as a child – if they are never given an opportunity – except – “do as I say . . . or else”? I will not be there to dish out the “or else” when they are adults (nor do I want to). They will feel the consequences themselves – and it won’t be pretty. Failing when they are a child will carry much less severe consequences than when they are an adult, but it carries greater benefits throughout their lifetime – as a child and an adult.

Yesterday I left after dinner to attend a meeting. My kids had assured me that they had cleaned their rooms and done their chores before dinner. I didn’t go check, as we are teaching them about honor and integrity. They are not working for me or for their dad - but for God. We were made to be excellent – we were made to do excellent things – we were made to not only honor people, but to be worthy of honor. How do I know? Because we were made in the image of God. He is worthy of honor. He does everything with excellence, and He IS excellent. So – I didn’t “check to make sure” that my kids were being excellent in all they did. However, when I came home and went to say goodnight to them, I saw the results of their efforts to clean. It wasn’t that it wasn’t perfect – it just wasn’t even close – and they knew it. They had excuses – but they all admitted that they “thought” it was “good enough” – but not excellent.

We’ve been teaching our kids about our family working as one body – that we are all part of the same body. If my foot decided not to work one day, to just take a day off, then it would affect the rest of the body. My other leg would have to work hard at walking (or hopping) to get the body where it needed to go. It might give up after becoming exhausted from doing all the work. The arms and hands would then have to take over the function of the legs – something they were not designed to do. The body would wear out quickly and not function well at all.

Our family is the same. If one person decides that he doesn’t want to do his part in the family – it doesn’t just affect him – it affects the whole family. Other parts of the body will have to step in and make up for what he’s not doing. If they don’t, then the body doesn’t get anywhere, or might not eat, or it might even hurt itself. It will fall apart quickly.

So how does all this relate to the delicious meal I prepared so lovingly for our kids?

After the whines, complaints and loud reactions of disbelief and anger from our kids, I sat them down and explained why they were being fed such a delightful meal. I decided that tonight I would NOT cook with excellence. I would still “meet all the requirements” for a meal – just as my kids tell me “but I did my chore”, or “but I picked up all the things off the floor” (and put them on top of the desk or shelf where they don’t belong), or my favorite – “but you didn’t tell me to do that. . . I didn’t know” (even though it’s listed on their chore chart), etc. I wanted my kids to not only hear about excellence – but to see it – or in this case – to see the lack of it. Sometimes you don’t value something, or really understand a concept until it’s taken away or not there. No one can truly know what it’s like to be hungry, unless they’ve gone without a meal or two. No one can truly know what it’s like to be tired, unless they’ve been without sleep. I wanted my kids to see, feel and taste what mediocrity (or really, in this case, sub-standard) was like – and how it affected the whole family. It definitely benefited me – I didn’t have to cook or work hard. But it negatively impacted 5 others. Would they starve? No. Would they be undernourished? No. Would the food be offensive to their taste buds? Possibly. Would they survive? Yes! Would they learn a valuable lesson? Definitely!

With 5 kids, the reactions varied – with most of them throwing a verbal fit, and a couple of them throwing a physical fit – either yelling or running off to their room “to starve”. My youngest child (5 yrs old) decided to look for the best in things and said “mom – this is an excellent meal. Thank you.” And she ate it right up – cold green beans and all! My oldest (14 yrs old) made do – saying the meal was “fair”. My 7 year old eventually came to his senses and heartily ate up his creative homemade “pizzas” (Ritz, pepperoni and American cheese). My 12 year old disappeared up to his room telling me that he was going to starve because he “wasn’t” going to eat this food! He didn’t buy into the “theory” that this food was better than what some starving kids in Africa were eating today.

The most interesting response, to me, was my 9-year-old daughter. Once she realized that this experiment wasn’t a joke, or just a visual lesson – that this really WAS their dinner – she promptly stomped off to her bedroom yelling all sorts of things: “You’re mean! I’m going to starve! You CAN’T make me eat this!” To which I calmly and lovingly responded. “I’m sorry you feel that way. You definitely won’t starve – there will be breakfast in the morning. . . . That’s fine if you don’t want to eat it. That’s your choice. You can choose to eat this or nothing.” She returned from her room a couple minutes later, buried in a blanket with an evil eye peeking out from behind it. “I am NOT going to basketball practice tonight!” and off she stormed again.

“That’s fine hon. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. I’ll be happy to take you, but if you don’t want to go – that’s your choice. No problem.” I lovingly replied.

Again, a couple minutes later she reappeared from upstairs. In response to my question about whether this dinner was excellent, good, fair, poor or really bad, she mumbled out - “This dinner sucks.” That was quickly followed up by – “And Mom – I am NOT going to basketball practice – and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!” (stomp, stomp, stomp – back upstairs). I calmly reiterated that it was totally fine if she didn’t want to go – that it was her choice. If she changed her mind, I would be happy to take her – and that we would need to leave in about 20 minutes.

5 minutes later she had changed into her practice clothes and was sitting at the table attempting to make dinner with some extra ingredients she had found in the fridge. “Oh, I’m sorry hon. Those are not part of dinner. You can feel free to make something out of the food on the table.” Another round of complaints – something about how mean I am and how gross the food was. But within a couple minutes she was making her own homemade “pizzas” like her brother. I even heard 3 “Mom, I love you”-s – from my 5, 7 and 14 year olds. Right on time, my 9-year-old daughter joined me in the van, cheerfully eating her pizza sandwiches and chatting my ears off as we headed off to basketball practice.

As I write this – I am sitting at my 9-year-old’s basketball practice – and she just came up and gave me a kiss on the cheek. J

I guess my mean mom status has been upgraded. J

I think we are on our way to seeing more wise choices from our kids. I never did see my 12 year old emerge from his room before we left for practice. But one thing is for sure – he won’t “starve to death” – and just possibly he will remember what excellence, honor and integrity really “tastes” like.

For more ideas on how you can train your kids to make wise choices - check out these books:
Parenting with Love & Logic - Fay & Cline
Loving your kids on purpose - Danny Silk

1 comment:

Michelle said...

LOL Lori! you crack me up. this certainly is creative! i never would have thought to do something like this. i am trying to imagine mom and dad doing it to us and what my reaction would have been. i dont know if i would have gotten the lesson. but would have loved the america cheese as that was one of my favorites. i love how you figure out new ways to teach lessons. ;)