Those who have been walking this adoption journey with us know that part of Ozzie’s trauma therapy involves parenting classes for me in addition to therapy for him. Those who follow this blog know how incredibly beneficial those classes have been for me as a mother. *sigh* At my last parenting class we addressed another parenting lesson: “The proper way to discipline.” I am not sure what Ozzie has been telling his therapist (I am not privy to that information) but it must have sparked some concern on his part because we had an impromptu lesson following Ozzie’s session.
We sat down in his office and he expressed his concern that perhaps I was being too hard on Ozzie or expecting too much and that he wanted me to try a new method of discipline. He explained to me that it is most effective in cases like Ozzie’s to just focus on one behavior at a time. He told me that I was to pick the behavior that was most destructive or caused the most problems and only focus on that behavior for the time being. He told me that I was to close my eyes to all other behaviors and only discipline the behavior we are currently working on. “So,” he went on, “Let’s say you are having a problem with Ozzie stealing. You are going to come up with a plan of rewards and consequences to address that behavior. If other behaviors crop up during this time like talking back or lying I want you to just ignore them for the time being and once Ozzie has had success in this area we will then move onto the next behavior.”
My first thought after being given this instruction was the cartoon image of Ozzie throwing food across the dinner table as Toby and I look on with a speech bubble above our head that reads, ” This month’s focus is ‘lying’ I guess we will address THIS in May.” I had never heard of anyone parenting like this before and couldn’t imagine how a parent is to cover all the basics in 18 short years if the basics can only be addressed one at a time. Ozzie is 10…there is NO way I can fit it all in with only 8 years to go if I’m only tackling one behavior every couple of months. I can only figure this brilliant plan was developed by someone who has never been around children, much less tried raising one. I smiled my sweet “therapy appointment smile”, nodding as the doctor told me to pick one behavior and give it a try. I thought about my assignment as I drove home, wondering what one behavior I would choose to address if I could only pick one. It was like a game of ” If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only bring 3 things with you, what would you pick?!” Perhaps I am just too stubborn or stuck in my ways to give this new-fangled parenting strategy a try but to my untrained eye it seems a bit questionable. 🙂
While I found very little merit in the doctor’s game plan it did get me thinking about his observation that perhaps I am too tough on Ozzie or that I expect too much. It made me reflect and got me thinking about the balance we seek as parents between Justice and Mercy. I am a “Justice” girl by nature. I like my world cut and dry, black and white. I like to be able to clearly label things in life and put them in the “good” box or the “bad” box. I like predictability and knowing that certain actions bring about certain consequences. I find security in Justice because it is sure. I am a first-born child, a rule minder, and for me the answer is easy… if you do _________ than ________ will happen. I have discovered, as a parent, that justice is important. Rules are needed, behaviors come as a result of expectations and with rules and clear consequences come security and trust on the part of a child. Children need clear boundaries. Those boundaries make children feel safe, loved and secure. Justice is an important lesson for children to learn…but so is Mercy. Mercy is a harder virtue for me.
I read a quote that described Grace and Mercy like this:
“Grace is when you get the good things that you don’t deserve. Mercy is when you are spared from the bad things you do deserve. God is generous with both.”
Mercy is hard for me. It isn’t as black and white as Justice and the part of my personality that calls out for justice and fairness struggles with the freedom that Mercy offers. This Easter season I have been pondering my relationship with my Savior and the Mercy He offers me. I know what He has given, I know that He has removed the bonds of Justice in order to offer the freedom of Mercy and yet it seems so unfair and so unjust. I don’t deserve what He offers and yet He gives. He gives the gift of Mercy and now we are called to offer that same gift to others. Mercy when others offend. Mercy when others disappoint. Mercy when others hurt our hearts. Mercy when others fail us. Sometimes Justice is needed but so often Mercy is what is called for. Mercy for those we have yet to forgive. Mercy when our children make poor choices. Mercy when people fall short of our expectations. Mercy for ourselves when we fall short of our own expectations again and again. What a blessed gift Mercy is and yet it is often one of the hardest gifts to give. This Easter season it has been my prayer that my heart might be more open to the gift that has been offered me that I might tip the scales of Justice and offer Mercy to those who don’t deserve it because really none of us deserve it…that is why it is called a gift.
This Easter was a blessed one filled with gifts of Grace and blessings of Mercy as we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I consider the gift of Mercy this Easter season I reflect on an incident that happened one evening soon after Ozzie moved in. It was a rough night with Ozzie and I finally lost it and told him “enough is enough!” He looked at me and started to cry. My heart broke as he said, ” I’m sorry but I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’m still learning.” All the anger and frustration leaked from my tensed shoulders in the form of a heart-broken sigh. Once again I failed as I tried to find the balance between Justice and Mercy. As I tucked Ozzie into bed with an extra long embrace I felt the feelings of defeat and failure roll over me once again as I struggled with this thing they call mothering. Just when I was about to give in to defeat God whispered a reminder on His own, ” Remember, you have only been here a few weeks and you’re still learning.” 🙂 Perhaps that is what Mercy is all about, recognizing that we are all “still learning” and cut each other and ourselves a little slack. 🙂
“Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.” – Jeffrey R. Holland