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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Promise of Pain

My thirteen-year-old daughter lost three checks from her employer, the neighbor lady whose dogs she walks five days a week. My girl only gets around to submitting bills to her boss once every four or five weeks, so these are large-ish checks. After much searching we managed to find two of them. “I guess you gave Miss Ann those other dog-walks for free,” I told my daughter, who scowled and grumbled.
Yes, we could ask Miss Ann to write a replacement check. But I’m absolutely not going to, and if Miss Ann offers to do so, I’m going to discourage it. Not because I’m a mean parent, but because my daughter is currently very disorganized and a little irresponsible. And she won’t work toward improving in those areas if she never suffers because of them.
People only change when it becomes too painful to stay the way they are.
That’s the very core of discipline: we make our kids’ lives a little uncomfortable by taking away something they like or giving them something they don’t like so they are motivated to change an unproductive or unwelcome behavior.
It’s the core of natural consequences in adult life too: If I don’t fill up the gas tank, I may end up stranded; If I fail to show up at work, I won’t get paid; If I don’t secure the ladder before I climb up onto the roof, I may fall and break my legs.
 No one likes pain; we would all prefer to avoid it (which is why motivation theory works). Incidentally, it’s one of the points people often use to argue that there must not be a God, because why would a good God allow all this pain in the world? I won’t go theological here, but let me just ask: If you never persevered through pain, what would your life be like right now? Would you have finished school? Would you have stayed through marriage troubles? Would you have run that race, learned that instrument, or lost that weight?
If a person never persists through anything difficult, it’s probably because s/he never had to. It never became more painful to stay the same than it was to grow and change.
The father of an adult son once complained that his son wouldn’t move out or get a job or contribute to the household in any way. I suggested the father start to charge the kid rent. The man spoke to me as though I had an IQ a little lower than Forrest Gump’s: “He can’t pay rent,” Dad said slowly. “He doesn’t have a job.”
Right. And as long as he gets free room and board, he’ll never get one.
(Seven years later he still hasn’t, incidentally.)
I want my kids to live good lives. Honestly, I wish they could live pain-free lives. But a pain-free life is a stagnant, immature, and growth-free life. My kids (and I) must suffer some pain in order to learn, mature, and become wiser, better, and more responsible people. This is true until the day we all die.
And I’ll bet that the next check my daughter gets from Miss Ann will not be stuffed into a backpack or back pocket, but will get signed, sealed, and sent to the bank immediately.
Learning that life lesson is worth picking up a month’s worth of dog doo for free.

May we have you over again? Yes, please! No, thank you.

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