Raising a Child Who Learns the Hard Way

Anyone else remember Dennis the Menace or Alvin the Chipmunk and their respective guardians, who yelled so the whole neighborhood could hear, DENNNNNNNNIS! ALLLLLVIIIIINNNN!

Yeah, I’ve got one of them.

The child you have to watch the most when he’s with friends. The child of “You’re grounded,” and “If I have to tell you one more time,” and “What do you think you’re doing?” and “What on Earth were you thinking?” The child of brilliant lies. The child whose maniacal laughter makes you cringe because you know, you just know, something awful and inappropriate and ridiculous is taking place somewhere just out of your line of sight.

When caught in the act of doing-something-stupid-his-brain-hasn’t-yet-told-him-is-stupid-because-he-wants-to-make-his-friend-laugh, he’s the one with the blank stare and the glum mouth, holding the Object Of Suspicion, searching for a way out when he knows this is the end of the fun.

He’s the one who has to learn the hard way.


Yeah, I’ve got one of them.

It’s hard to parent a child who has to learn the hard way. It’s as if they’re always pushing against the fence, and you are the fence, and you are far less barbed wire than you are an old, decorative split-rail.

Tonight, my LTHW thought it would be fun to maybe throw a few Coke cans into the septic tank (caught before the act took place – the maniacal laughter gave him away).

What is he saying there in the yard with his brother and his friend, what are they plotting, what could possibly come next from this mastermind of mayhem, this prankster of pranks, this giggling gigglebox?

“What are you doing in the middle of the street??”

“We were just meeting a nice lady and her sweet dog!” LTHW claims, and you look up the street to see a nice lady, with her sweet dog. The parent pleasing child affirms this one truth among a dozen questionable responses, and you believe him because the evidence stands… and the parent pleasing child is a terrible liar.

“I’m sorry for my behavior earlier,” LTHW says later, after the friend is sent home, after the giggles simmer down.

The child who asks me to pray with him when he’s anxious, and he’s often anxious. The child who asks for beep-boops and kisses and one more hug and a few more minutes to read the Lego Bible. The child who worries anything can happen… and anything can happen.

And that’s the hitch in raising LTHW children. The LTHW child is not his misdeeds, mistakes, and misadventures. The LTHW child is not cruel or evil or bad. The LTHW child is my child. He is my amazing, innovative, creative, crafty, hilarious, stubborn, smart, sweet, gentle-when-he-wants-to-be, repentant child of God, likely future prodigal son.

And how does the Generous Father deal with the Prodigal Son? He loves him and loves him and loves him and loves him and loves him. Over and over. Every day. No matter what.

God help me never forget that. God help me be a generous parent.


Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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