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Our Story Begins: The Lesson Of Natural Consequences

Growing up was a struggle for me from almost the very beginning. I was born with horrible difficulty breathing and more than 40 years ago, was diagnosed with what is called extrinsic asthma triggered by milk, pollen, dust mites, and the worst, mold . . . practically everything.

But I was lucky. My mom tells me the story of two separate occasions, one I believe was in the hospital, another during a family trip, when I had an allergic reaction so bad that my breathing was in that last gasp. She called it the “death rattle,” something she’d learned during her nurse’s training. I’ve heard it only once, in my last minutes with my wife… even while on the respirator. It’s not like you picture it;  there’s no drama, no struggle, more physical resignation. I did it twice, and though I don’t obviously remember, I can still see my Mom’s color drain when she – only rarely – speaks of it.

I spent a long time in the hospital, poked, prodded, crying, unable to see my Mom at night. I still remember the fear when the lights would go off and the nurses would walk out, my bed in what seemed a huge room. The nurses would come in several times a night and take blood and I grew to cry just at the sight of them. I would go to the small balcony of that room at 7 am and stare down until I saw my Mom on the sidewalk coming up and run back into my bed. I didn’t know until years later, but she wanted to cry every morning she saw me standing there.

Growing up, I couldn’t play as much as the other kids and I had to carry an inhaler when people didn’t know what that was. But my parents didn’t just encourage, they made me do it. I have never been more thankful for that. The fact that I went out and tossed the baseball or played Frisbee and football with my brother and Dad were in no small part the reason I outgrew the extrinsic asthma.

I tell you this story because a part of me worries that as parents we protect our kids far too much. My mom, in an effort to keep me alive, had to clean the sheets every couple days and dust the house constantly. But I wasn’t put in a bubble and kept inside. My parents insisted I do what all the other kids do. I was told to be as strong I possibly could and treated like a normal kid… just one who couldn’t last as long as his brothers.

I think sometimes we baby our children too much. We Clorox the counter after every little thing. We use germ killing hand cleanser even if we haven’t been to a dirty gas station bathroom. Massive, speed racer like metal slides are gone and we trim our trees so that kids can’t climb the lower branches to get up high.

I am guilty of it too. My kids have never had a bad sunburn until last weekend. The one day I wasn’t watching over them (when someone else was), they didn’t use sunscreen and my sons looked like lobsters just pulled from the kettle. My youngest, Sam, was so burned he started to get horrible blisters on his shoulders. I started to feel guilty about the fact I wasn’t there to put the sunblock on and force them out of the sun for points at a time. I didn’t keep them drinking water or hydrated or cooled off. I picked them up to find them this way.

So shouldn’t I be upset? Well, sure I am. I was horrified that it happened and that neither the person watching them nor their older sister had thought to put on sunblock– which I had told them to do right before leaving them. As hard and horrible as this is, though, even my nine-year-old son (so tough looking and flirtatious but a marshmallow inside) now understands there are consequences. When we started caring for the blisters and the burns he was loathe to let anyone near them. He ducked when the medicine came close to contacting him.

Two days later, still injured, he takes it. He understands the pain of contact is necessary to diminish the burn, the blisters, the long-term pain.

Had this not happened, the sunscreen admonition would just be another nagging line of mine to their ears. “Gawd Daaaad! Enough already!” Now, regardless of where or when, I know my kids. All four will harp on me about sunblock… just from this one experience.

My point is this: sometimes we need to let the kids be. Sometimes it’s okay if they eat a little dirt. It’s not bad if they get cuts, scrapes, and if all we are able to do at the moment is clean them up the best we can. I don’t advocate the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality, but smothering them doesn’t help, either.

What do you do? Do you wipe down, clean, chase, and protect your kids to the point of hurting them in the other direction? Can they stand on their own two feet?

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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California.  A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog. Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.

5 Comments

  1. Beth

    June 10, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Like many of us, kids don’t believe in consequences until they encounter them. I stopped nagging about homework and that led to some hard, hard lessons, but they need those before they head off to college and have to discipline themselves.

    In middle school they would protest wearing coats in Michigan winters, my daughter even grabbing one on the way out the door as ordered, then abandoning it on the back seat and running into school. So I quit the hounding, saying I wasn’t going to force the issue unless it was less than 20 degrees out or pouring snow. I ignored the questioning looks I got from relatives and other parents. Both kids choose to wear black wool pea coats now.

    My mother sheltered me and the world hit me back. All my children’s lives, I have been preparing them for the day they are on their own. I want them to know not just WHAT to do, but WHY. Sometimes that means they have to absorb some “why not?” to make the lesson stick.

  2. Lisa

    June 10, 2012 at 10:19 am

    I believe they need to learn from experience and sometimes suffer the consequences to fully understand cause and effect. The only place where I will not falter is with their physical safety. We live a 15 minute walk away from school. Every day my children are walked to and fro. My eldest is 10 years old and my in-laws have suggested that he should walk himself to experience some independence. I don’t feel comfortable with this yet, but he experiences independence in so many other ways. Really, you just have to do what’s best for your children in your own way.

  3. Ella

    June 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

    haha…Dave, just yesterday we were at the park. Joelle was playing in the water away from me. What I didn’t anticipate was her taking that hand, straight from the ground and sucking the water right off of it! UGH! But I didn’t run over. What was done was done. She was having fun, and if she starts to foam at the mouth I’ll take a look and DECIDE if I should rush her to the hospital.

    Besides, the way her brothers leave the bathroom is FAR WORSE than any horror a playground has 🙂

    God Bless your mom.

  4. Gayle Mahoney

    June 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Dave, you sound like an awesome dad because you have the instinct for it! Sounds like one sunburn incident will have much more longevity as a family life learning event than it will detriment your kids’ physical or mental health longterm.

    No matter what, parents have about 20 years to prepare their kids for life in the world… if they enter adulthood with some decent decision-making skills, like knowing when to put on sunscreen, and learning how to live up to one’s own moral compass, all will be good!

  5. Joyveline

    June 11, 2012 at 3:38 am

    I taught my children there would be consequence to everything they would do in life. Good things reap good consequemce. Bad reap bad consequence. But I also taught them how to pray. Prayer changes things and sometime if ur heart is right God will change the bad into something good. They are young adults and they did test did theory. My children will tell anyone its true.

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