Do the right thing.
Don’t do the wrong thing.
Until recently, I’d have said that these statements were basically the same. Both express an important virtue that homeschooling parents want to pass on to their children.
But my perspective changed after the 2017 Plague of Snack Locusts.
I imagine a lot of households struggle with this problem, but especially homeschool ones. I say “especially” simply because we are at home so much more.
I’m talking about snacking.
It is, I admit, a problem of abundance. I’d far rather deal with that than scarcity. But with abundance comes the responsibility for good stewardship.
Exodus 10:15 mentions this problem. Kind of. [The locusts] devoured all that was left after the grocery trip—everything wrapped in plastic (but not so much the fruit on the counter). No crackers or pretzels remained in cabinet or pantry in all the kitchen of the Joneses.
And Exodus isn’t wrong. If my children were gone most of the day to school…or even half a day to school…it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But with four kids with constant access to the kitchen, it was a real problem.
So I set out very clear rules as to when snacking times were and what was acceptable to eat. I went over the rules with each child, then posted them on the fridge. The result?
Kids broke the rules. They still ate up all the snacks.
Now it had become a character issue. It wasn’t that they were hungry—I encouraged them to eat apples, carrots, bananas, or oranges at any time at all, in any quantity. It was that they wanted crackers and chips, and were willing to let greed and disobedience rule their decisions.
I was in a quandary. I couldn’t cut off snacking entirely; kids need to eat during the day. I also didn’t want them to start sneaking food. I couldn’t stop buying the tasty snacks because that would penalize the children who were following the rules. It’s always been my policy to not make food a source of punishment or reward.
Don’t do the wrong thing. I didn’t want to be my children’s opponent, but I didn’t know how to fight this battle.
When I discovered that two locusts kids had gotten into special treats that were specifically for our Friday morning co-op—a longstanding rule—I melted down. With eloquent frustration, I implored them to tell me why they insisted on disobeying clear rules. “Dad and I will figure out what to do about this!” I thundered. I was totally bluffing.
In the calm after the storm, I realized that I couldn’t make them obey. I couldn’t make them choose the boring apples instead of the yummy crackers. It was a heart issue, and heart issues were beyond my jurisdiction.
As I pondered this thought, I spotted one child swinging on our hammock in the back yard, obviously feeling pensive too. I prayed, “Please touch that heart, because I can’t.”
A while later, that child found me in the kitchen. “I’ve decided on what my punishment should be.”
I was surprised. “What’s that?”
“No snacks or electronics for a month.”
It was a big sacrifice; this child loves snacks and the Playstation. In fact, I thought it was too big. But I didn’t want to reject his sacrifice, so to say. We talked a little longer, and came to an agreement for the day. No electronics for a portion of the day, and more importantly, this child was to make a big effort to follow the snack rules all day.
That’s when the difference between those two statements dawned on me. The rules are still in place. We’ll still need consequences. But instead of yelling, restricting, and policing, I could make a positive effort to help my kids follow the rules.
Do the right thing. I could help them, not fight against them.
As with most life stories, this one doesn’t have a tidy ending where everything works out. We’re still fending off the Snack Locusts and the unsavory heart motivations that go with them. I have a better grasp of the situation, however. After all, God shows me what is good to do and accepts my penitence when I don’t. He’s not my opponent, waiting to punish me. He’s my refuge and my strength, actively helping me.
Sure, we teach our kids that they don’t do the wrong thing.
But even better and more powerful, we help them to do the right thing.
Photo Credit: Second image courtesy of Sara Jones.