Monday, October 27, 2014

A Matter of Consequence

A few years ago I visited a friend whom I hadn't seen in a long time.  As we visited and I was given a tour through her home, I noticed her teenaged son sitting quietly in a corner of the room.  His mother introduced him to me and without looking up he mumbled his hello.  Another friend and my mother had accompanied me on this excursion and my mother, noticing the quiet young man, attempted to engage him in conversation.  Her attempts were met with downcast eyes and mumbled, one-word answers.  This young man was not indifferent or rude, rather he was painfully shy.

As I sat visiting with his mother, I asked about her son.  She told me that his grades were excellent but he that he had a visceral reaction to school because he was so badly bullied.  He also suffered from severe headaches (due to the constant downward slant of his head, which was his method of avoiding eye contact).   It was the mother's opinion that her son would grow out of his shyness and everything would be fine.

I have to admit, I was rather shocked.  Never in my life had I met ANYONE with that degree of "shyness".  He was so withdrawn that he was, without a doubt, handicapped.  My heart ached for this young man.  His pain in attempting to interact with other human beings was almost palpable.  It broke my heart.

Waving as we drove off, I looked at my mom, aghast, and said "Mom, that isn't O.K.  That boy is 15 years old and cannot look another person in the eye (including his mother), much less hold a conversation - something must be done!".   From the back seat, the friend that had accompanied us on our visit piped up.  "Enola, he'll be fine, there are a lot of socially awkward guys that work on computers and make a lot of money - just leave the poor kid alone".  I was stunned.  This was a mother - couldn't she see what would happen to this young man if his family didn't help him through this difficulty?  He would never be able to function in society without the ability to communicate.  How his parents dealt with the situation now would determine the future for this young man - and it would determine if he would contribute to society or if he would drain society of its resources.  This was a matter of consequence!

The brief visit with my old friend brought the challenges of parenthood into perfect clarity.  In our desire to love and accept our children as they are, we often handicap our children for life.  Somewhere along the line we forgot that love doesn't necessarily mean acceptance.  When we love our children we see them clearly, honestly.  We walk beside them as they struggle to mature and sometimes, oftentimes, we push them past their comfort zone.  We see how their behavior will affect their future and we take the necessary steps to correct their path - even when those steps are painful. 

I have watched my children struggle.  I have been tough on them.  I have drug them past their comfort zones kicking and screaming.  But I have done all of these things because I love them.  I want them to succeed.  I want them to be capable, to be able, to contribute.  I want them to walk through the hard stuff now, when I am able to encourage them and walk beside them, rather than waiting for them to learn their lessons in a cold, uncaring, unforgiving world.

I think we confuse the meaning of the word love.  Love doesn't mean blindly accepting bad behavior, or behavior that will prove detrimental.  Love means disciplining your children when they're naughty, because if you don't, people won't like them.  Love means requiring your children to finish what they started because it will teach them to persevere.  Love means giving your children the gift of consequences, whether for good behavior or bad.  Love means knowing your children,  acknowledging their shortcomings and being willing to do what is necessary to see them through to the other side.

We live in a world that has mistaken love for acceptance.  They are not the same thing.  In fact, acceptance can be on of the most unloving act any parent can commit.  How we love our children truly is a matter of consequence.


  1. Enola,
    You are perceptive and correct in your assessment. My children are grown and I speak from experience. Our son had bullying in school and our daughter was very shy. We did many things to help them. Homeschooling for 5 years. Raised in a christian home. Lived out our faith at home. A good christian therapist is like a good surgeon. He is able to clean out a wound and remove a cancerous tumor. He is able to take God's word and realign the child's thinking to right thinking. I am not talking about a youth pastor! Our friends have said they could not afford professional counseling. It is a matter of priorities. We were a one income household. Construction/maintenance low income. I ask you, would you rather pay for a funeral for your child? I ask you, would you rather visit them in prison? I ask you, if your child had a cancerous tumor on their body you could see would you ignore it and say they will grow out of it? Thank you for posting this.

  2. Enola, you didn't mention anything about this boy's father. One of my favorite articles here was about how you and Sir Knight raised Master Hand Grenade ("raising boys" at left of your home page). My hunch is that if this boy had been raised similar to MHG, the results would have been much more positive.
    Montana Guy

  3. I am almost certain that that young man's problem, like mine, was (and most likely remains) high-functioning autism. It gets missed A LOT. Even worse, as I'm sure you can generalize from your experiences in raising Master Hand Grenade, quite often "help" turns out to be more disabling than simply growing up with a sensible, involved parent would have been.

    I am very thankful that, like your wonderful son, I had sensible, involved parents and other relatives who both accepted me as I was and pushed me to learn, grow, and function.

    It's not gone. I still have difficulties when meeting strangers for the first time (but I do interact, and I do warm up within a reasonable length of time). I will never be the great hostess of an amazing dinner party (but I do have friends, and I can have them over one or two at a time for coffee). I will never be a social butterfly (but I can approach strangers, ask for help, make chitchat even if I don't enjoy it, schedule my own appointments, and et cetera). I will never be popular with the local playgroup or particularly beloved in the Women's Circle at church (but I can have a few friends over for my kids to play with-- six friends last weekend, in fact-- and participate in a small group).

    Just as your delightful son still does things unconventionally, I will never completely shed my "handicap." But because God knew me before He formed me and put me in exactly the right place (a family of smart, strong, persistent, sensible hillbillies, not a few of whom were a little autistic themselves), I learned to adapt and function.

    Now I am raising my own "alphabet soup" kid (a young son with ADHD). After some initial stupidity-- and thanks in no small part to you and your blog-- I am following the methods of my forebears. I am thankful to report that my hyperactive child is, currently, a good student who is learning patience, persistence, and self-control. I took him to the optometrist over the weekend (with no small trepidation, as he would be alone with the optometrist during the exam). Much to my pleasure, the optometrist reported that he conducted himself as well as most of her much older patients!!

    Never give up, never give in, and never be afraid to take a different route to get there. It is a matter of consequence, indeed.

  4. It's easy to blame this on bullying or other outside factors but the simple truth is some people are born this way. Parents anguish over wht should they or could they have done different and of course many parents and non-parents are quick to blame others (like bullies) for this. It's obvious that "bullying" is not acceptable but in a hyper-sensitive society everyone seems to have a different definition of what bullying is and often harmless or normal childhood interaction is punished by the bullying police. This child's problem is within himself. Perhaps counseling will help but more likely it will simply be a waste of money. There isn't always a simple solution to problems like this.

  5. I think the point is that "born this way" doesn't mean "can't learn and won't grow."

    My father could have assumed that I was "born this way" and would remain this way. Others did. Thankfully, he too was "born this way," and remembered all of the things that were done to help him learn to adapt, adjust, compensate, and function. That gave him the insight, the patience, and the perseverance to do the same with him child.

    Counselling, when it's aimed at teaching people to lie down and accept the limitations that someone else sets for them, does more harm than good. When it's aimed at teaching those skills that I was blessed to have a father "born this way" to teach me, it can be of great benefit-- too bad counselors who will do their job correctly by working for their own obsolescence are few and far between.

    There isn't always a simple solution, there is never an easy solution, and one family's solution can be different from another family's even while both solutions work for the respective people practicing them. Those of us who were "born that way" are a diverse lot.

    It's true that there isn't always a solution at all...

    ...but it's also true that, with patience, persistence, and a strong rebellious streak in the face of the experts, there is a solution more of the time than society would have us believe.

    1. I can't disagree with what you have said. But my point was that for children with issues like this often bullying isn't the cause and to rally everyone against bullying and blaming bullying isn't the cure. Real bullying shouldn't be allowed in schools. But punishing all childhood nteractions in the name of stopping bullyng shouldn't be allowed either.

    2. I agree - 'bullying' is being used as a cudgel to stop or limit ordinary childhood interactions. As Enola and other posters have discussed, doing what is best and necessary for a child is often not what they want to do or what is easiest to do with them around - but it is what is right.

    3. In that, you are correct. I took a lot of abuse as a kid-- maybe I deserved it and maybe I didn't, but no force on Earth short of me magically learning to "look normal" could have stopped it.

      I think it's nice to teach kids not to treat each other that way-- not to throw rocks at the little girl who sucks her thumb and cries too easily, say. That's just good citizenship. But to expect anyone to stop it all from happening is just completely ridiculous. No one could stop it then, and no one can stop it now.

      I'm sort of glad that no one did. I learned to run fast. I learned to hide. I learned to have a thicker skin. I learned self-control. I learned not to retaliate. I learned what REAL friends were-- how to choose them, and how to be one.

      Too, without the kids throwing rocks, I might not have had as much incentive to learn to "act normal"...

      No, I don't think we can stop even real, true, honest, and actual bullying. I'm the world's authority on bullying; the REAL bullies will just find a way to use anti-bullying policies against their targets. It's probably good to teach kids that there are consequences to treating someone that way (even if they are as freakish as I was at 7). And it's probably good to provide the little freaks that catch it with a safe place to go and a safe person to talk to-- someone who can help them learn, because there are a lot of kids out there who aren't as lucky as I was.

      We can, and maybe should, do those things. Can we stop kids from bullying?? No. Should we try to do it by force of law?? NO. It's not just going to fail-- it's going to backfire. Again.

    4. I'm not sure if I was clear, but I don't think that the anti-social behavior is a result of bullying. I think that the bullying is the (predictable) result of this young man's inability to function in social settings. I don't think that bullying is O.K., but really, there is nothing I can do about that. I can only teach my child how to behave and I can help them to see how certain behaviors affect certain responses in other people. None of us can stop the bullys of the world - but we can give our children the tools to deal with them.


    5. That's why I want to load up my kids, hop in my van, and drive out to Idaho just to give you a hug.

      I realize that's kinda weird, but seriously.

      You teach your kids not to act like that...

      ...and you teach them to deal with the people who do...

      ...and you teach them to deal with, overcome, or work around their own difficulties...

      ...whether they want to learn or not. You're not silly enough to expect them to learn it tomorrow, in one lesson. You're smart enough to teach them again and again, loving enough to extend them grace (what REAL acceptance really is-- not blindness to a problem or indifference toward solving it, but loving someone even before it is solved).

      If more people thought like you do, dear one, the world would be a better, saner, kinder, safer, more able, and more functional place.

  6. Enola, What a sad tale and I feel so bad for this child. Yes, loving your children sometimes means that you have to push them kicking and screaming into maturity and adulthood. My own child was very shy due to bullying. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of tears, and a lot of frustration to push her past that shyness into the social butterfly that she has become. Love your blog by the way. Blessings, Kat

  7. Well said....the same could be applied to teaching in public schools as well.

  8. I have never commented on any of the blogs I read, but I must comment on this.Two years ago my son was 13 and was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and Celiac disease 1 year ago, He had been an outgoing, loving teddy bear. And then he withdrew, wouldn't leave his room, wouldn't go to school, and wouldn't go to church. I knew we needed help. He started therapy with a wonderful counselor and within 3 months we saw an awesome change and now he is his outgoing self and deals very well with social situations. I watch him daily to see any signs of backsliding into this behavior and will deal with it aggressively. I don't want to lose my wonderful loving son again. He is now in a loving church school that understands his needs. I thank God everyday that my family urged me to face his change and deal with the problem. Never give up.

  9. Your remarks are stunning in their perception and wisdom!