Over the last few years, I’ve adopted a phrase that has been proven true more often than not. I have said that criticism is autobiographical. The things that can drive us nuts about someone else may very well be things that are present within us. Sometimes, if we really stop to take a good, hard look at ourselves, we might realize that we are not as good as we think that we are and that our faults are evident upon closer examination.
Nowhere does this seem to be magnified as much as it is in our children. We see in them the results of our own investment and childrearing, but we also see in them the faults and foibles that they have picked up on and adopted as their own, oftentimes, unbeknownst to us. In some ways, parenting could be the greatest blessing and curse to a person, depending on whether or not they want to continue to allow themselves to be refined, transformed, and changed as they grow older.
This seemed to have been on full display for me while I watched all three of my kids for the four day weekend that my wife was away. The most memorable moment of the weekend happened and I did not even witness it, I only dealt with the fallout from it afterwards.
In order to give the full picture here, I have to confess something about myself: I am a collector. That might be read by some as a hoarder (including my wife) but it’s not everything that I collect, it’s only certain things. At some point in my life I went through those phases that young boys go through of collecting baseball cards and comic books. As I grew older, I began to collect music, movies, and books. My collection grew and grew and grew and became very space limited by our home. I’ve gotten a little bit better as time has gone by, especially in this day of digital media. Kindles and MP3 players have saved my house from being overrun.
I say that to set up what happened while my wife was away. When we moved to Virginia a few years ago, we connected with a couple from Massachusetts who have become dear friends to our family. They have really become surrogate grandparents to our children as my parents are now gone and my wife’s parents are still up north. They have been so generous to us and our children, sometimes spoiling us all just like families often do with one another.
Our friends gave my oldest son an iPod touch that had belonged to their granddaughter. She had upgraded and so, they gave it to my son. He was as happy as a pig in mud to have this new contraption. With the constant advancement of technology, upgrades are happening daily, so this year, there was another device upgrade and our oldest inherited a newer iPod touch. He was sweet and kind enough to give his other one to his younger brother.
My boys are in the “superhero” stage right now. Honestly, their depth of knowledge about the difference between DC and Marvel has far superseded my own, especially at their age. They want to play as many superhero games as possible and they search high and low for apps that will be compatible with their devices. My wife and I have taken turns to allow them to download certain parent-approved apps.
The Thursday that my wife left for her trip, I was tired and groggy and a bit overwhelmed. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep over the course of a few days, and I was more dismissive of my children than any parent ever should be. So, when my younger son came and asked me to put in the iTunes password, I didn’t think anything of it. Why should I? My quick glance at the iPod didn’t set off any red flags for me. We had instructed him on downloading free apps rather than ones that cost money, so why should I worry?
Boy, was I wrong. The day trodded along and my oldest got home from school. I decided to take the kids on a few errands and then get something to eat…..as a family….at a sitdown place. It was the perfect storm of sorts. I had probably pushed the kids potential for behavior control and we ended up in Panera Bread, a place we had been many times before. As I tried to figure out what we could get, my oldest sat right down on one of the lane dividing pillars, straddling it and nearly knocking it into all of the other patrons waiting on line. My daughter obediently (surprisingly) sat in a seat waiting for whatever food I would bring her. My youngest son began to do that thing that siblings do so well to each other: pick. He started getting on every nerve of his sister.
Within minutes, I decided that Panera was not for us that night. As all of this was taking place, my wife called. In the midst of our conversation, she asked me whether or not I had input the password for her iTunes account into our younger son’s iPod. I told her I had and asked why. Well, turns out that he had purchased a “very expensive” app. Well, you’re talking about two people who are too cheap to buy $0.99 apps, so how expensive could it really be? How about expensive to the tune (no pun intended) of $200.
Well, that was enough to send me over the edge. If an app costs that much, it better do a whole heck of a lot more than just keep me busy for a few minutes. It had better cook, clean, and mow my lawn. I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t. As soon as I hung up, I unleashed on my boys. I didn’t lose my cool, but I expressed my frustration to them and let them know how disappointed I was. As I was dealing with them, I said, “You are no longer to download anymore apps. You have enough, why don’t you just play with the ones that you have?”
In that moment, the power of those words splashed my face like a bucket of ice water. I realized the irony of what I had just said. It sounded vaguely familiar, first as something that my parents had probably told me a thousand times, but also as something that I might need to ingest myself. I realized in that moment that my kids were just doing what I do…..healthy or unhealthy……right or wrong……and it was a powerful lesson to me. They are watching, they do what I do, is that a good thing or a bad thing
Children are little representations of us. When we carry that out, there are some deep theological implications as think about whose children we are and how we represent our Father. But on the earthly scale, it’s still fairly significant to realize the importance of what we pass on, what we model, and how we live. I realized that my criticism was certainly autobiographical and that I needed to take a deeper look at myself. It certainly gave me pause to consider what I was doing.
Thankfully, iTunes refunded my wife and we moved on from there. My kids are still little collectors, but I hope to learn and grow together with them. Part of that learning and growth is in being honest, with myself and with them. I don’t want to say, “do as I say and not what I do.” That kind of advice never goes over well. So, I’ll invite them into my journey and hopefully, it can be a teachable moment for all of us. If nothing else, they’ll learn not to buy $200 apps.