In my previous blogs (Back to Basics: What God is Teaching Me about Stewardship and It’s Not Selfish: Why Personal Stewardship is One of the Most Loving Things You Can Do For Others), I’ve been talking a lot about stewardship. I’ve discussed caring for our bodies, our emotions, and our relationships, including our relationship with God. Since this topic has been on my mind a lot, I’m beginning to see how important it is in my parenting too. And how convenient that God brought to my attention an area in the life of my 7-year-old daughter that needed a serious lesson in stewardship!
My parenting philosophy summed up consists of connecting with my children on a regular basis, modeling a life in pursuit of God, and training them in the way they should go. This means, as much as possible, I try to stay away from punishment and reacting in anger. Instead, I am mindful of giving appropriate consequences while continuing to love them and keep a heart that is for them.
While thinking more about stewardship, I was realizing how it goes hand-in-hand with consequences. I usually have a difficult time thinking of appropriate consequences for my children, but when I learned more about the topic of stewardship, it made coming up with consequences much easier. Oftentimes, a child’s misbehavior is a lack of stewardship in a particular area. For example, a child not cleaning up his toys is poor stewardship of his belongings.
In some instances, misbehavior is even a problem of usurping the authority (stewardship) that belongs to someone else. This would involve stealing toys, trying to control someone, or even violating their body by hurting or touching inappropriately.
The problem that continued to resurface with my daughter was the failure to clean up her clothes. She would leave them all over the house after changing her outfits multiple times a day. My husband and I have talked to her over and over again, but, of course, it never helped the situation.
Several weeks ago when the idea of stewardship was fresh in my mind, God gave me a solution to the problem. At first, I was hesitant as it seemed to be rather drastic, but I was at my wit’s end and did not want any more arguing over the matter.
So I tried it. I opened up her closet after she had gone to sleep and I removed everything but a t-shirt and jeans. I figured with the irresponsibility she had shown over the years, this would be all the clothes she could handle.
To make matters worse (for her), my daughter is a major fashionista. She loves assembling cute outfits and accessorizing with jewelry, headbands, purses, and scarves. And the next day was church—her excuse to get completely dolled up and look her best.
The next morning, my daughter happily asked herself, “I wonder what I’ll wear today?” I was bracing myself for impact as she headed towards the closet. She slid open the door and quizzically asked, “What? Where’s my clothes?” As I explained what I did and why I feel she hasn’t earned the right to such a large wardrobe, her face sunk and she felt the sorrow of her irresponsibility.
The beauty of consequences is that, as the mom, I am no longer upset and emotionally tied to my children’s poor decisions. Consequences allow them to experience the effects of their choices. Rescuing them from these harsh realities and then yelling or punishing only reinforces the fact that they don’t have to reap what they sow, as long as they can endure the parent’s anger. Usually this situation works well for the kids as their parents are the ones carrying the burden of the consequences while the kids coast through life, never learning responsibility. Or, if they do learn, it’s only because they are afraid of the reaction of authority figures, not because they desire to steward well.
In this moment with my daughter, I was able to meet her in her sorrow and console her as she felt the discomfort of her poor choices. At no point did she feel I was angry with her, which helped to solidify in her mind that this was her problem that she had created. Now I could be there for her as an ally instead of the enemy.
I discussed the rest of the deal with her too. I explained that each day she succeeded in taking care of her clothes—keeping them off the floor, hanging and folding them neatly, etc.—she could choose one article of clothing out of her bin. If she left anything lying out or failed to take care of something, it would go back in the bin.
So far, this has been more successful than I anticipated. More than keeping her clothes off the floor, my daughter has been more careful about keeping her clothes clean as she may have to wear the same ones the next day. She has also been wearing her outfits all day instead of changing multiple times a day.
I guess that at some point she may reach her clothing threshold of what she is capable of stewarding. That’s why this system is so great—it takes that into consideration as clothes are added or taken away, depending on how well she can take care of them. I suppose if she’s very determined, she’ll be able to get all her clothes back, which would also be great. As her mom, I want her to be blessed and abundant unless, of course, she crumbles under the responsibility of that blessing.
While this method may not work for everyone, it’s been great for us and it gives a practical example of how to parent using the illustration of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Just as we have been given authority over different areas of our lives, children too have been given authority. It’s our job as parents to help them discover what they have authority over—not giving them too much or too little, which could exasperate, discourage, or spoil them.
When we allow them to take control of themselves, their belongings, and their responsibilities while allowing them to reap the benefits and consequences of their actions, we are preparing them for a life of responsibility based in love and respect for themselves and others.