My middle child is, well, a typical middle child. He is full of energy, loud, doesn't always think things through, but is the most loving of all my children. And because of his constant need to move and laugh and in the center of all the action, he gets in trouble a lot at school. We have tried everything to encourage him to behave, and we are currently working on 4 different award/punishment projects:
- He gets an "apple" to go on his chore chart every day he doesn't get in trouble at school. Once he gets 5 apples, he can choose from an award list we have for chores (movie, family activity, get a dessert, get an allowance, pick 1 thing from the dollar store, etc). No matter how long it takes him, once he gets the 5, he gets an award.
- If he makes an entire week of school without getting in trouble, he gets to pick out a dessert at our favorite local bakery (Ever So Sweet).
- If he loses a BEE (what his teacher uses in his class...they are all Bees because that's the school's mascot), then he is grounded the rest of the day.
- And because there is a field trip coming up, and he has lost a bee almost every day for the past few weeks, if he loses 3 BEEs, he does not get to go on the field trip. It's a "3 strikes, you're out" type of deal...and it seems to be working best for him...so far.
So last week, Jed made it the entire week without getting in trouble. Not only did he make it all week, but he earned his 5 apples. So he got to go to the bakery and he chose to pick out a movie for Friday night (kind of a tradition for us). And this is where God presented an opportunity for me to teach my son about rejoicing in other's accomplishments.
My oldest son is normally the one to go to the movie store to pick out the Friday night movie, but since Jed earned that right, my oldest had to stay at home with me while the hubs and Jed left. As they pulled out of the driveway, my oldest tearfully stared out the window mumbling, "It's not fair. It's just not fair!" When I asked him what was wrong he told me that he didn't think it was fair that Jed got to pick out a movie, but he didn't. I told him it was Jed's reward for being good at school. "But mama!" he said said tearfully, "I'm always good at school! Why don't I ever get rewarded?!"
All you first-borns, or "more mature" siblings can totally relate, right? Why is it that the "bad" sibling gets rewarded for something that you always do? I instantly thought of the older brother in the story of the Prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32). After the "bad" sibling took his father's money, ditched the family business, and quickly wasted all the money, he came crawling back to daddy...only to be received openly and was given a HUGE party. The older son, who responsibly stayed with the family business, and had always done what was right, got upset. Every time I read this story, I say "I know, right?! It's not fair!" right alongside the older brother. I always got frustrated with this part of the story. Even after teaching this Parable in Sunday School, when I got to this part, I summarized it by saying, "We should just be happy for others who have suddenly realized they behavior was unacceptable." It didn't hit home God's truth until I was staring at my handsome oldest child as his eyes filled with tears.
And this is how the conversation went:
I reviewed the story of the Prodigal Son with him. Then I asked him, "When you first started going potty in the toilet, what did mom and dad do?"
He answered, "You gave me prizes."
"Yes! But do I still give you prizes?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I know how to do it now."
"Yup. But when Abigail was learning how to go potty in the toilet, did we give her prizes, too?"
"Did we start giving you and Jed prizes again for going in the potty?"
"And that's because you already learned to do what was right, and it became habit. It became part of your life; it was just what you did."
Realization began to dawn.
"And just recently, what is something you have learned to do?"
"Ride a bike," he said.
"Could Jed learn how to ride right now as well?"
"But we aren't letting him learn right now because we are making this all about you. We are letting you learn first, and are rewarding you for doing so well on the bike. And once you get it down like it's second nature, you will learn new things to get rewarded for, and you will no longer get rewarded for learning how to ride a bike."
His face clearly showed he was starting to understand.
"So what does that mean for Jed right now? What does mom and dad, and most importantly, God want us to learn from this?"
"That I should be happy for Jed that he is learning how to behave at school?"
Just like the father in the story was trying to tell his oldest son to be happy that his younger brother finally learned the right way to live, we should be happy for the little accomplishment for those around us. We need to rejoice with them; be happy when they learn a new concept that we got down a long time ago.
This whole situation was not only a moment God gave me to help console my oldest son, but it was also a moment God gave me to understand that part of the story that I have struggled with most of my life. I must remember to love others as God loves me. I should be happy when others are getting rewarded for something that just comes natural to me. My love and support for my friends is just another way God loves others through me. I pray that in the future I reflect that love more often.