On Monday night, while Geoff was away on business for a couple of days, I asked Matthew to babysit his siblings while I went out for 2.5 hours to go to my monthly book club meeting. When I got home, the younger kids were sleeping and Matthew greeted me at the door with the news that he had something to tell me. Apparently he went upstairs about 90 minutes after Lizzie had gone to bed and he discovered her secretly listening to her ipod (audio book) under cover of her blanket. When he'd discovered her, she begged him not to tell me, even offering him all of her money. He was non-committal in the moment, but wasted no time in telling me of her actions as soon as I walked in the door.
Listening to audio books is something that all three kids love - they engage in it pretty much every day and they love it. We have hundreds of audio books and it's a big thing around here. Lizzie often likes to go to bed a little early just to listen to the latest audio book that she's crazy over.
...once it's bedtime, the technology gets turned off and it's just plain ol' bedtime. My younger two, in particular, are very early risers and they need to get enough sleep in the evening in order to have a good day the following day. So for Lizzie to be listening to her audio books for so long after bedtime makes a big difference in her outlook the following day. Not ok, particularly given that she did it when I was not home and understanding the expectations full well.
The next morning, I asked Lizzie how things had gone the evening before when Matthew was babysitting.
"Good," she said, looking me in the eye. A little too brightly.
"Yeah?" I asked. "Everything went well?"
"Yup," she reiterated. Seth said the same thing. She quickly, obviously, changed the topic.
I asked if I could speak with her in our little library for a little privacy and she followed me there.
"Lizzie, are you sure there's nothing you need to tell me?" I asked again, wanting desperately for her to tell me herself what had happened.
"Nope," she said brightly. Confidently.
"You're sure." I repeated it, still hoping. "Nothing happened that you'd like to tell me."
"No," was the answer.
"Well," I said, "that's too bad. I was hoping maybe you would tell me what I learned last night about what was happening after you went to bed."
"Did Matthew tell you?!" she shrieked, outraged. She was loud and panicky. She started to wail.
"Yes, Matthew told me," I confirmed. "As he was right to do. We don't have secrets in our family."
"I'm so sorry," she wailed, a completely different child than just moments before.
"Sorry for what?" I asked.
"Sorry that I listened to my ipod after bed time and sorry I lied to you this morning." More tears.
"I think that I should stop listening to my ipod for a week," she offered. "Maybe two." She was offering up her own punishment, offering up her beloved little ipod nano and her beloved audio books!
I waited for her to calm a little and went to sit beside her to comfort her.
Then I said, "I don't plan to take your ipod from you, Lizzie."
"Why?" she asked, shocked, tears suspended. "You should take it...I don't really deserve it."
"Well," I said, "you don't have to listen to it, if you don't want to, but I have no plans to take it away from you."
"But why?" she asked again. She was genuinely puzzled, and very surprised.
"Because I don't think the issue is about your ipod," I offered. "I think the issue is one of relationship."
"Well," I started. "I believe that when a parent and child are really attached to each other, when the relationship is really healthy and strong and when the child is really secure and confident in the attachment, children naturally want to obey their parents. It's kind of like how things are between God and all of us who believe in Him....when I'm feeling really close to God and I've been talking to Him and I'm in good relationship with Him, I want to obey His word and I want to do what He asks me to do. Times when I don't feel as close to Him, or when I haven't been praying or reading my Bible, I am less likely to pay attention to Him. I think, sometimes, Lizzie, that your attachment to me isn't as strong as at other times. And I've noticed, recently, that you've been struggling a little in this regard."
"So what does that have to do with you not taking my ipod away?" Lizzie asked.
"Good question," I responded. "I don't think that taking your ipod away has anything to do with what happened. For you to want to obey me, we need to feel really attached to each other and secure in that. I think you've been struggling with a few things lately, and I have no desire to make things harder for you. I want to make them better for both of us by working harder on our relationship, so that we feel as close as possible; and I think when that happens again, you're going to naturally want to obey again, even when I'm not in the room with you."
"I'm not actually concerned about the ipod," I added. "The much bigger issues are your trying to persuade Matthew to not tell me about it and about your not telling me the truth about it this morning. That's the problem when we don't do the right thing - the whole thing tends to snowball, and we get other people involved in our wrong-doing, and sometimes we lie about it, over and over again."
"I knew it was wrong to listen in secret last night," Lizzie offered, a little quietly. "And I knew that I wasn't telling the truth this morning when you asked about last night. I'll say sorry to Matthew, too."
Finally, the confession I'd hoped for earlier.
"I know," I said. "Thanks for saying that. I forgive you."
"So are you going to send me away?" Lizzie asked, as she often does when she's gotten into trouble about something. The thing is, that question used to break my heart and I always ended up in tears and in re-assurance mode. It still hurts me deep on the inside because I know the trauma that led her to ask that question many times in the early days of her being a part of our family. But over the past 6-12 months, the question has been bothering me a bit in a different way - I really do think Lizzie is secure enough in our relationship now (and with her place in our family) to not really believe that any more. I also think that, these days, she sometimes uses that question to distract me from the real issues at hand. I decided to test the waters a little.
"What do you think I'm going to do, Lizzie? Do you think I'm going to decide to send you away?"
"Well, you haven't ever," she said. "But you might this time!"
"No, I haven't ever sent you away," I agreed. "Do you think I'm going to send you away this time...do you really believe that?"
"Well, you might not send me back to an orphanage, but you might send me away for three days," she proposed.
"Where do you think I'd send you?" I asked. "For three days."
Silence. Then a deep sigh.
"No," she said finally, shaking her head. "No, you're not going to send me away. I know that. Not even for any days. You love me too much."
"That's exactly right, Lizzie," I said, inwardly relieved and thankful that we've made at least that much progress over the past six years. "I will never give you away, I will always love you, and I will always protect you. I love you just as much at this moment as I did before we started having this conversation. We all make mistakes, including you and including me, and I love you just as much with mistakes. Just like I know you keep loving me when I make mistakes, even when you're mad at me. And just like I know God still loves me when I mess up...and He gives me a lot of grace some days."
"I know," she said. "Me too."
"So, do I get a consequence?" she asked.
"Well, here's the tough part," I said. "The consequence when we disobey and when we lie has to do with the relationship. Trust is affected when we lie. I can't pretend that it doesn't affect our relationship. It makes it harder to trust when we know someone has lied."
"When will you trust me again?" she asked, tears in her eyes.
"I don't know for sure," I answered as honestly as I could, but with my arm around her. "I want to trust you...really and truly. And I will trust you again, Lizzie...I know that for sure, too. But it may take a little time, and for right now I feel sad in my heart about that."
"Me, too," Lizzie said, crying.
"Ok..." I said, sighing and getting up, ready to move on. "Should we go make some breakfast together?" I offered.
"Yes!" she said, eyes transformed into hopeful ones...tears still on her cheeks. "I know we're having scrambled eggs. Can I crack the eggs?"
Dr. Gordon Neufeld's work, and my learning of it, have taught me that consequences rarely have their desired effect. Sure, it can bring about compliance in the moment, and taking Lizzie's ipod away (as I wanted to do, in my frustration) would certainly have had her feeling sorrowful in the moment...although not necessarily about her wrong-doing, but rather about having lost her ipod.
I want my kids to learn to do the right thing because they are well attached to me and because they want to do the right thing...the thing I've asked of them. Taking away her ipod, taking from our children the things they are most attached to, in the name of giving a consequence, may ultimately lead them to stop caring about those things because they are at risk of being taken away; and this leads to their hearts becoming defended against those who might harm them. I really did want to take her ipod away in the moment, to 'teach her a lesson' about what happens when she doesn't obey. That was my first instinct...and a natural one, I think. But to what end? She would have sorrowed about the ipod, rather than about having disobeyed me or lied to me. And she would have just learned not to care as much about her ipod and the dozen or so audio books that are on it, because it might again be used as a punishment when she messes up again....and these are not the outcomes that I'm looking for. Although I'm repeating myself here, I'll say it again, as much to remind myself as anything: I want Lizzie so well and deeply attached to me that she wants to please me, wants to listen to me, wants to obey me. This is what will set her up to be thoughtful in the future, when someone in university or in her workplace wants to involve her in something that she shouldn't be doing; she'll have opportunity to think through the right issues - about potential loss of trust, about risk to relationship. And by learning to obey now, out of love, well, that sets her up for obeying God when He asks something of her. That's my great hope.