Which Comes First: Discipline or Understanding?

We’ve taken on a new endeavor in our house for Lent.  My son was given a choice between two changes to be made in our lives for these 40 days, neither of which made him too happy.  In the end, he conceded to my first choice.  We have reduced the time stolen from our lives by television.  I have chosen my words carefully when talking about this with my son.  We are not “giving up” television.  We are “making healthier choices.”  Sometimes words don’t mean squat to a six-year-old who is missing Phineas and Ferb, but I continue to reinforce in my own way.

I have not taken television away entirely.  I have simply set firm and reasonable limits on what is allowed.  Frankly, it’s still more than what is probably suggested.  He does not play video games and seldom is on the computer (only to check out the newest Lego sets to add to his wish lists), so television is really his only “screen time.”

For the most part, he has accepted this new lifestyle of ours.  He even budgets his alloted time himself, telling me he wants to save 30 minutes until right before bed because there is a new episode on that he wants to watch and not DVR.  When he is with me, this has been a smooth evolution.  When his father and grandfather get involved, compliance becomes combattive.  I think this is, in part, due to the fact that neither of them concur with my decision.  They’ve both hinted at, or come right out and asked if this rule is in effect at their houses.  Um…..is it not Lent where you live?  These are two people who are highly dependant upon that little (or not-so-little) box making noise at them all day long.  It is habit – first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.  They both fall asleep to the hazy flouresent glow and mind-numbing hum of the television.  To them, I have chosen to torture my child for 40 days.  My son is just astute enough to pick up on that, and tries to play their support against my decision.

The last couple days he has said to me “I didn’t even want to do this.  It’s not fair!”  That started me thinking – is it fair?  If he does not understand the purpose of what we’re doing, is there any point in doing it?   I started questioning my decision, so I went back to the beginning – why am I doing this?  That was easy – I wanted to reduce one of those distractions that gets in the way of relationships.  I wanted a way to begin strengthening my relationship with my son, and with God – and hopefully his relationship with God.  I am hoping that at the end of the 40 days, we will not return to the previous ways, but continue on this new path, feeling more fulfilled.  This is a sound and valid reason.  I stand by my decision to reduce television time.

Now comes the harder part – is it logical to pursue this endeavor if my son has no undestanding of the relationship-building aspect, but rather sees it only as punishment?  I’ve never been a believer in penance during Lent.  I’ve never understood this season in that way.  It’s been a much more positive experience for me.  Holy Friday is the most important, moving and transformational services for me.  I look forward to this liturgical season more than Advent and Christmas.  This is where my faith identity is rooted.  When I see my son struggling and drifting toward a feeling of penance, I panic.  No!  No!  No!  This is not what it’s supposed to be!  He doesn’t understand it, and I began to question my decision.

Then mama bear came out and stared stubbornly at this issue.  I decided my life would not be dictated by my child.  We have moved to point in our society where we make exceptions and allowance for our children out of fear of hurting their feelings.  They become the bosses.  King Edward VIII once said “The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.”  That was in 1936, and we’ve only gotten worse since then!  Hurt feelings are a part of life.  Following a rule you don’t understand is a part of life.  Learning lessons is a part of life.

Finally my ancestral German stubbornness quieted down long enough to listen to that tiny, more Zen-like part of my psyche.  Then I realized, if we wait for understanding before welcoming a new discipline, we would wait too long and miss out on the best part of the training.  Part of taking on something new is to learn.  Fullfilment can’t come all in the head.  The whole body, mind and spirit must be fully engaged.

Whether he understands or not, we will continue with the healthier choice to reduce the amount of time taken from our lives by television.  We have enjoyed each other’s company so much in the past week and a half.  We’ve done puzzles, played new games, made up stories and laughed a lot.  It’s already changed our life with each other.  As we continue, I know it will change our life with God, too.

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