To Have a Hamster to Hold: A Case Study on Child Discipline

May 28, 2014

After discussing how to discipline and how not to discipline, I thought a case study on how these rules work in our family might help.

I have one son who is very responsible. (That is not to say my other sons are not responsible…) He takes care of his chickens without reminders. In fact, he has sixty chickens at various stages of development from egg hatching to on their way out the door. 

For some reason he thought that he needed a hamster to cuddle. I tried to convince him hamsters don’t cuddle. I reasoned with him that it would only be active at night when he was asleep. I tried to assure him that hamsters were not what he really wanted. Finally I just told him “no” we would not get a hamster.

Every day for over THREE MONTHS (which can be a long time) I heard how his life would be so much better if he had a hamster. The sun would shine brighter if he had a hamster. The air would be cleaner if he had a hamster…

Three months of daily suggestions of life being great with a hamster took its toll on me.

I do not know where my other son was this entire time, but he came home one day asking, “Do we want a hamster? Someone has to get rid of her hamster. She said it doesn’t do well with other hamsters, in fact it ate them, but do we want it?”

I thought that he was joking…where had he been for three months?

I re-evaluated why I said ‘no.’ He was responsible, he would take care of it, he would purchase the food, he would not grow weary of the chores involved….so why not? I told Jonathan to bring the hamster home for James.

When the older boys heard, they said, “Oh Mom, you gave in…” (talk about second-guessing) One son said, “Well, now I know what I have to do to get my_____.” 

Hammy arrived keeping James busy making trails and toys, designing nesting materials, trying snacks… He enjoyed his hamster.

But pretty soon we started hearing that his hamster was lonely. His brother reminded him that his hamster ate his friend and his wife and he deserved to be lonely. I reminded him of the sun shining brighter because now he had a hamster.

He found another way to ask. If he could borrow the neighbor’s two mice and raise their babies he would help them feed their snake…What happened to cuddling? What happened to being complete with a hamster?

Shouldn’t I be thrilled that he has incentive, wants to keep busy and wants to help his neighbor? But mice? Intentionally reproducing them?

Again I was quick to say “no” but then reminded myself that he was responsible, he would stay busy, it had a purpose….we said "yes."

This week when Hammy died, James grieved over his loss. I was reminded of the importance of letting children pursue their interests, even when it hurts. I do not like buying animals that will die. But should I not allow my children to have them because they can get hurt?

The rewards of caring for and cherishing life cannot be measured. Those lessons cannot be learned by taking out the trash or doing the dishes. But I also know that caring and nurturing life is not for some of my boys. Engines and mechanical things that can be picked up and put away at will work for them.

So if you go back over my list of do’s and don’ts of discipline, you will probably find many I did not follow in this case: Do not reason with your child. (They will win.) Do not argue with your child. (Their energy is boundless; their creativity even more so.) Never give in, never give in, never give in… Choose rules carefully. Be consistent. Be strong. Say no and mean it. 

What’s a list anyway, but an invitation to break it? (Now where do my boys get their desire to break rules?) My oldest son once told me, “Mom, you don’t break rules, you just bend them to make them work for you.”

Rules are guidelines to give structure. They are not to restrict you from life.

You know your child. You know better than anyone what he needs to excel. What do I really know? When I don’t know what to do I don’t look to a rule to find the answer. I return to the Master who takes both me and my child by the hand and teaches us both what we need to know to see Him better.

When Hammy died, we both cried. His time gave James time to cuddle before handing him back to the Master who holds all creation in His Hand.

Isn’t that what life is all about anyway? Taking care of what the Master gives us, whether that be a hamster or a child until He takes them back?

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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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Welcome! I'm Sonya Contreras. Author of Biblical fiction. Married to my best friend. Challenged by eight sons’ growing pains. As I write about what matters.