The Repentant Sinner – Extreme Edition! (aka too many rules)

jmb275Culture, Mormon, mormon 15 Comments

Suzy: Dad, I’m sorry I scratched the couch!
Dad: It’s okay, just don’t do it again.
2 minutes later
Suzy: Dad, I’m sorry I picked my nose.
Dad: Yeah, we don’t pick our noses or they bleed.
2 minutes later
Suzy: Dad, I’m sorry I kicked the chair.
Dad: Yeah, it’s okay, don’t worry about it.
repeat ad nauseum
next day
Suzy: Mom, I need to tell you a secret.
Mom: Suzy, if you’re saying sorry for something, I don’t want to hear it!
Suzy: I won’t mom, I just need to tell you a secret.
Mom: okay
Suzy: Mom, I’m sorry I jumped on the floor.
Mom: Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
repeat ad nauseum for 2 weeks
on a car ride home one afternoon
Suzy: Dad, I need to tell you something
Dad: Sure Suzy, what is it?
Suzy: I’m sorry I kicked the seat in the truck
Dad: Okay, thanks for telling me, just don’t kick it anymore.
dad turns on music
Suzy: Dad…Dad…DAD!
dad turns down music
Dad: Yes Suzy?
Suzy: I’m sorry I pulled out one of my hairs.
Dad: Okay, okay, just try to sit there and listen to the music.
dad turns music back up
repeat, AGAIN, ad nauseum (yes, my child is obsessive/compulsive)
Suzy: Dad…Dad…Dad…
dad is ignoring 5 year old
dad turns off music
Dad: WHAT! If you tell me you’re sorry one more, I’m gonna lose it!
Suzy: I’m sorry I wiped a booger on the seat.
Dad: Look, Suzy, you don’t have to say sorry for everything okay!
Suzy: But dad, I’m supposed to say sorry when I do something wrong.
Dad: speechless

I’ve been on my daughter’s case since she was born. “Don’t do that!” “Knock it off!” etc. She also has learned to say sorry when she does something wrong.  Honestly, I never thought this would come back to haunt me in quite this way!

I’ve laid out so many things that she should and shouldn’t do, and she violates so many of them just by nature of being a kid. But it was getting extremely tedious when every time she opened her mouth we had a confessional! I told her to stop apologizing all the time. Of course that’s not really what I meant. When she told me she was supposed to say sorry when she did something wrong, I simply didn’t know what to say. Of course she should apologize when she does something wrong, but clearly not everything was wrong, or at least it wasn’t a big enough deal to warrant guilt and/or shame. But is it a big deal? I had taken the time to tell her (repeatedly) not to do those things in the past, how should she know what is a big deal and what is not? How should she know when she’s apologizing too much, and which things warrant a real apology? How should she know which rules are really the important ones to keep, and which ones aren’t?  Perhaps I should have been more careful in my criticizing her actions.  Perhaps I should have just let some things slide, picking my battles more wisely.  After all, a parent can only handle so many confessionals!

Comments 15

  1. As I was reading this post, I thought it was going to lead into some kind of thing about how much God hears our ‘I’m sorries’ and whereas this kind of thing can drive us nuts He teaches us to do it, I guess until we don’t sin anymore. But there is a difference. God doesn’t give us too many rules. The number of rules isn’t the problem.

    I assume your daughter hasn’t reached the years of accountability, so we can’t really talk good and evil when referring to her actions, but we can talk what dad and mom like and don’t like.

    Everytime your daughter does something, I believe she knows in advance whether or not you will like it. You need to develop some kind of discussion with her that would be a precursor to agency – the ability and freedom to choose good or evil.
    With her, though, it would be the ability and freedom to choose what dad and mom like or what they don’t like. Later on, in the discussion you could add that when she chooses to do the things that dad and mom like she also is choosing to do what her Heavenly Father likes.

    I believe you need to teach her to think about what she does before she does it.

  2. Well, as I was reading it, I thought the moral was going to be that we’re always telling God we’re sorry but not making any changes. And that he must get awfully tired of hearing it and want to advise us, “Just…. pee or get off the pot!”

  3. Post

    Just to clarify, my intent has nothing to do with teaching my daughter, or parenting, or her OCD tendencies. My parenting may very well be lacking (I’ve not been doing it too long), but that’s not my point.

  4. *sigh* I went through that phase for awhile when I was younger. I was terrified of the prospect of going to hell. Around this time, I was also brutally honest. One of my Sunday School teachers said we should be brave and not afraid to tell the truth, even if it hurts. Needless to say, I was way more brave than necessary. In fact, I think it hurt my parents more than it hurt me.

    Now that I have somewhat of an understanding concerning grace (or I’ve made peace with the notion that I’m going to hell, so I might as well enjoy it), I may not be a shining, gleaming, annoying paragon of virtue and forthrightness, but at least I’m not annoying people nearly as much (at least those not on foreign beaches).

  5. I’ve been reading in Joseph Campbell, and one of the things that it talks about is the problem of being at war with human nature. It seems more productive to align and become in harmony with the best that is in us rather than constantly trying to enslave or subjugate our base instincts. What we feed grows. Sometimes what we resist, persists.

  6. I like viewing repentance simply as change – all-encompassing change. I don’t expect to do too many truly heinous things in my life, so “the steps of repentance” aren’t as important to me as trying to identify my weaknesses and strengths and gradually becoming a little better than before – one thing at a time. If I try to do everything at once and always, I’m going to fail; if I try to something now a little better and something else in the future a little better, in a constant progression, I’m going to succeed more often than I fail.

    I think it’s important that the student see the principal more often than just when she is in trouble. Principles need to praise exponentially more than they criticize. Otherwise, they just come to hate the principle. (In that light, I apologize, Doug, for losing my temper with you.)

    Children tend to try to drink from the hose. I’m too old to do that anymore, so I prefer a constant, steady sip.

  7. JMB, you write (#4): “Just to clarify, my intent has nothing to do with teaching my daughter, or parenting, or her OCD tendencies. My parenting may very well be lacking (I’ve not been doing it too long), but that’s not my point.”

    Yet your final line in your post reads, “Perhaps I should have just let some things slide, picking my battles more wisely. After all, a parent can only handle so many confessionals!”

    Not so hard to see where we’ve gone astray…

    When we think about repentance (is that the point?), I think there are a couple of models. One is the apologize-as-you-go plan (which your daughter seems to be practicing, either because of age, training or some other reason). Another is the batch method which children often ‘mature’ into in their early teen years (before they ‘mature’ into not praying at all) in which we lump all our sins into a one liner at the end of the day (“Please forgive me for my shortcomings and help me to do better.”) I suppose another model is to stop repenting altogether because we don’t see the point.

    But apologizing is not repenting, nor is it asking forgiveness. Of course we learn along the way that repenting is the intersection of recognition, guilt, confession and commitment not to repeat the offense.

    Now in the second half-century of my life, I am arriving at a modified “batch” approach (or I’ve discovered it at work for some time) in which certain categories of errors or mistakes or sins or transgressions or character flaws or whatever you choose to call them become more important and require my attention.

    Twelve-step program encourage this sort of approach when they invite participants to list all their character flaws including circumstances in which those flaws reveal themselves. Subsequently they seek God’s help to remove those shortcomings, and then seek to make amends (or restitution in Primary-speak) wherever possible (and, in Twelve-step language, where doing so will not do harm to others).

    In the end, it’s about the change, not the guilt or the shame or even the apology (see Alma 42).

  8. Well, my daughter just turned 17…and I have to say I can relate. Each child has different personalities, but for my 17 year old, I am actually talking to her and teaching her she should not say she’s sorry so often. Why?

    Because she has learned that whenever something goes wrong…if she apologizes, it is a humble way to try to prevent getting in trouble or make others feel sorry for her. It is hard for us as parents to get mad at her when she apologizes for everything.

    But she also needs to learn to be a strong girl, and not let others overpower her. We tell her that when she says sorry all the time, it makes us pity her, but not respect her. So there are times when saying sorry too often takes too much responsibility for things she shouldn’t and only focuses on the negative.

    Neal A. Maxwell once said, “too many openings of the oven door causes the cake to fall, not rise.”

    If we are constantly focusing on all the things we do wrong, we will just see all the failures and that does not help our confidence rise. Life is about making mistakes, learning from them AND MOVING FORWARD to benefit from that experience.

    Repentance isn’t about saying sorry…it is about changing your heart so you want to try harder in the future. Sometimes that requires saying sorry to heal relationships, but not always. Sometimes instead of saying sorry, it is just better to avoid the problem next time, show that you are trying, and everyone is happy.

    That is what I’m working on with my 17-year old. She is already so sweet…now I hope to help her be stronger also.

  9. Post

    I appreciate the many points of view this thread is generating. That was really my point.

    I apologize if I misled you. My point was to make you think about what I might mean.

    I like what many of you have said. There is no right or wrong answer and you have all brought up wonderful points.

    Let me explain what I personally thought about. BiV hit on it very closely. For me, the point was, I have given my daughter so many things to worry about, things that she will naturally do as a 5 year old. Yet, I’m really more interested in her learning how to play nicely with her sister, treat her friends with respect, etc. than I am about her scratching the kitchen table. Perhaps, in our own lives, in part due to the myriad rules in our lives, we lose sight of what God would really rather have us work on. Perhaps we spend so much time repenting over failed assignments, a beer drunk, tithing not paid, the Sabbath not kept, etc. and God is simply shaking his head saying “no, I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you to be a better person.”

    As an example, we could look to the Pharisees. As Rich said, it’s not that God gave the Jews too many rules, but perhaps the rules got in the way. Perhaps the rules were obstructing the real point of the Gospel. I think in Mormonism we sometimes let the details (and even the church in some cases) get in the way of the Gospel. It then becomes a fruitless exercise of repenting for not obeying the myriad rules, but not really changing which I believe should be the focus.

  10. Fwiw, Pres. Uchtdorf would agree with 100%. I have no time to find and link his talk about it, but he said pretty much exactly that – minus the beer reference, of course. 🙂

  11. Ray, perhaps this is part of the section you refer to on rules…

    there are so many “shoulds” and “should nots” that merely keeping track of them can be a challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles—many coming from uninspired sources—complicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person’s good idea—something that may work for him or her—takes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of “good ideas.”-Pres Uchtdorf

  12. jmb,

    “As an example, we could look to the Pharisees. As Rich said, it’s not that God gave the Jews too many rules, but perhaps the rules got in the way.”

    That’s not quite the way I look at it. It wasn’t that the rules got in the way, though, they did to some degree. It was, “if these rules are good these stricter rules are better and shows us to be more righteous because we are willing to be so strict.” Aren’t I great for being willing to follow all these rules.

  13. Sorry this is the wrong place for this but I know of no other way. If jmb275 could email me I have a question for him. (I can’t seem to find his contact information anywhere.) My contact information is on my blog.

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