Running away can often be a plea to be lured back home.
“Come get me, mama,” she dared, arms crossed across her chest, a full block away from me.
“What?!” I was mad. It was 8:30 pm and we’d just gotten home from a lovely day at their grandma’s. A lovely day that ended with sibling fighting and lots of sass. A day that ended with me canceling movie night and directing the kids to bed. A day that ended with this child running away from home as soon as we got there.
“I’m not coming home unless you come get me!” She didn’t budge.
I didn’t understand. I thought she was running away from home, avoiding the consequence of a poor choice on her part. But here she was, asking me to come closer instead of getting farther away. I stood there, confused.
You see, when my kids cross a line, such as hitting a sibling, talking back too much, or lying about who knows what, my gut reaction is to send them to their room or put them in timeout. Essentially, they are exiled. Old school thinking is that this will teach them not to repeat the bad behavior. Usually, though, within the next hour (5 minutes?), the behavior returns, and then we start all over with the banishment.
I have tried to Love and Logic my way through consequences, but I’m awful at giving the choices. One choice from me is inevitably “go to your room,” and even if they choose it, I’m not sure they learn much. So, where does that leave us? Well, that night, I had a realization.
I make it a point to teach them it is okay to make mistakes and that we must make amends when necessary. But when I send them off every time they make a mistake, when I send them off to figure out the next right thing on their own, I also might be sending the message that there is no help for those that make mistakes. This is not the message I want them to get, nor is it what they need or want.
When my kids get in trouble, what they really want is for me to “come get them.” They need me to sit with them, and not to be alone in dealing with their feelings of remorse or confusion. They need the connection to another human being in the time they feel the worst. They need help understanding why they feel what they do. Sometimes they need to talk through the situation; sometimes, they just need to be held. Sometimes, they just need to know they are not alone in this messy business of life.
Of course, sometimes when they get in trouble, I’m angry too. In those moments of greatest frustration, it feels impossible to be around them, but after I take my timeout and catch my breath, maybe I can do something different.
So that night, as she stood there a block away begging me to come, I walked up that hill to meet her, to hug her, and to bring her home. She still didn’t get to watch a show before bed, but I think she had a better understanding of herself and her choices, and that’s more than any timeout will ever do.