So glad you are here to share with us some of the background of where this week’s text originated. Could you explain this recent struggle in a little more details?
Sure! So I mentioned in the text earlier this week that I caught one of my boys stealing from his classmates. In that text we talked about a rather new experience for me which was the ability to separate myself from my boy. And while that is true and it was a very freeing experience, it was still a very difficult situation to walk through with him.
His school’s system for behavior expectations focuses on positive reinforcements. One thing students can earn are called spirit sticks. They are little embroidered strips with a positive phrase on them like “owl-standing work” or “batting 1000” or “you’re the cat’s meow.” These sticks are placed on key rings and worn on backpacks by everyone at the school.
My son lives for spirit sticks! Over the last several weeks he would occasionally get off the bus with one or two sticks claiming that he found them on the bus. We talked about how he should probably turn these in to the bus driver in case someone noticed they were missing. He had never given me major reasons to mistrust him before, but I could tell something was going on with these spirit sticks he was “finding.”
I assumed he was trading various “trinkets” from his bedroom for other kids’ spirit sticks. I really did! But what I found out was much worse.
One day over spring break I changed the sheets on his bed. I found hidden under his pillow about 75 spirit sticks, some whole key rings full of them. I was honestly shocked. And I realized that we had a BIG problem on our hands! How did he get all these? How are other kids not realizing that their spirit sticks are missing? Questions flooded my mind.
How did you confront him with the problem?
Even though I was upset and part of me wanted to confront him immediately, I decided to wait to see if he came to me when he realized I had found them. This also let me process a little bit what I might say. I was still under the impression that he was trading for these or possibly taking them from kids on the bus.
After a few days of him not mentioning my discovery, I decided to look for an opportunity to confront him. One night, one of his brothers took something from his room which greatly upset him, and I had on open door of opportunity! I crawled into bed with him that night to talk about how he felt when his property was taken. I asked him what it might feel like if someone else took something without him knowing it. He talked to me about how he would be mad and maybe even sad that he had lost his stuff. Then I asked him if there was anything he wanted to tell me about. It took him several minutes to finally decide to tell me the truth. He confessed that he was taking them from his classmates at the end of the day during story-time as they waited to be dismissed to busses. He would take them while they were listening to the story and just slip them in his pocket. He would lie and tell me that he found them on the bus.
Wow. I don’t know what I would have done.
I didn’t really know what to do either. It just felt so wrong. In that moment, I really just wanted to know why he would do that. So I asked him. He said that he wanted more spirit sticks than he had because he wanted other kids to think he was a really good student. He also said that he thought he was doing a pretty good job in school and that he had gotten very few spirit sticks. Like no one was noticing that he was doing a good job.
I was so sad. I could feel some questions lingering in my heart. Had my performance based tendencies worn off on him already? Did I teach him that he needed people’s approval? Had he learned from me that who he is is wrapped up in what he can do?
And while I know I need to answer some of these questions, and really pay attention to how I am training my children to think about themselves, I knew the main task at hand was to teach my son how to make things right and ask for forgiveness from his friends at school. And this was going to be a huge opportunity to train him in the way he should go!
In light of that struggle, what mom win did you experience?
You know, I think the win came from the struggle itself. It was an amazing learning opportunity for him, and I got to spend a lot of quality time with him. The next day we sat down and drafted a note that he was going to write to all of the students he stole from. He decided what to say. I helped him get it into 4 succinct sentences, but the words were all his. I got to teach him how to write a note… the English teacher in me loved that! I spent time with him as we figured out which sticks went to each of 9 students. It was a hard task. He realized that he had been doing this for so long that he might not be able to return things to their rightful owners because he couldn’t remember.
We talked about what it means to have integrity. We talked about what it means to need forgiveness and where it actually comes from. We talked about how his friends might be a little mad at him, and that they might not trust him for a little while. He had to ask his teacher to help him return the property. She even had him read the notes aloud to his friends. He really had to face this! And he had to do a lot of this on his own. I prayed for him through each step of the process, but he did the work.
I really count this whole experience a win because I was able to separate my own identity from his, but he was really able to establish his own identity too. I hope with everything in me that he will not walk down this road again (and we have established clear consequences if he chooses to do this again), but I really think he has learned from this. And isn’t that the best kind of win? Plus I have opportunity now to talk to him all the time about who he is. That we love him no matter what. That he doesn’t need spirit sticks to be worthy of our approval or love.
That is the best kind of win and hopefully lots of “wins” to come in the future. Any words of encouragement for other moms in the trenches like you?
You know, I am no expert at this whole motherhood thing. I’m fumbling through all of it just like most us! I think I handled this situation pretty well. (And while I talked to my husband about all of this, and he was supportive of every step, and he had his own conversation with our son about this, I handled most of this process.) I don’t have any magical advice for other moms. I think sometimes we get it right. But I give all the credit to the Holy Spirit. I honestly think I was used by God to teach my son this lesson. And so my encouragement is this, let God use you. Try not to get in the way with your stuff (cause we all have stuff). God made you your child’s mom for the struggles he’ll experience and for all the good stuff too! Remember who you are. Remember whose you are and that your child is His too. Remember how awesome He is. You’ve got this mom thing even when, maybe especially when, you don’t because of His strength in you! #bemomstrong!