Life is a series of situations unfolding and I believe that the way we react to those situations is what defines our quality of life.
Last Sunday we had planned to load up our food into an already loaded trailer and head off for six days of tent camping. What we found was a cut lock and 80% of our stuff missing.
Now we don’t pack light. I rented a 12-foot trailer and I loaded it with plenty of stuff to keep us busy for the week. Besides clothing and camping basics I had new archery sets for my kids cause we were going to shoot some stuff. We had that mouth spreader card game. Plenty of other things. We were dialed in.
While I was gathering my thoughts and deciding what the plan was going to be, I saw my son sitting on the edge of the trailer looking sad. He had just experienced loss of his material possessions for the first time. He was aware of toys that were already loaded and clothes of his that were now gone. He was bummed out.
As a Dad and someone who as a kid had made some poor decisions of his own, I immediately knew that this was a teaching moment where I could help my kids better understand the emotions they were feeling in this moment. I knew where I could have easily gone with this. It would have been easy to talk bad about the people who robbed us. We could have spent the day calling them names, imagining what kind of people they were, and wondering what they were doing with our stuff. I didn’t allow that to happen. Instead, I explained a few key things to my kids, mainly my boys. My daughter is still a bit young to understand much of what happened. Some of these things I wish I knew when I was younger. I will continue to use this situation to teach my kids about loss, selfishness, and being content. In time, I will disclose my past in regards to dishonesty and theft with my children. It is important to me that they have a better connection to theft than I did as a kid so they can understand it on an emotional level.
Some People Don’t Know Any Better
I explained to my kids that some people steal because they don’t know any better. They didn’t have a good role model in their life that told them that taking things from other people was wrong. Even if they did, they probably had people in their life that thought it was ok. They might have believed that people who live in certain neighborhoods are rich and have more than they need. Taking from them is not a big deal because they can just go buy more stuff. Rich people have insurance and will get paid for the stuff that was stolen so it’s no big deal.
Some people were raised with the understanding that taking from others is ok. They didn’t have a mom or dad that taught them how to respect others and their property. Some people just simply don’t know.
As a child, I was told that stealing from others is wrong, but that was about it. It was never explained to me in a way that would help me understand what was really going on when you took from others. I don’t blame my parents for this, they didn’t know what to do with me and my behavior.
Some People Feel They Don’t Have A Choice
I explained to my kids that some people feel they have no choice but to steal from others. They might have had a bill to pay or needed money to put food in the mouths of their family. Some people choose to steal from others instead of working for an honest living. It’s easy to assume that people are stealing so they can buy drugs. That may be the case, but knowing the real reason is not important. I didn’t want my kids to dwell on the why of what happened.
Stealing is Selfish
Taking something from someone without their permission is one of the highest forms of selfishness. By taking something from someone else you are telling that person and the world that you deserve it more than the other person did. There are many reasons why this kind of selfishness might exist in someone and I didn’t go into that with my kids. I did, however, explain that selfishness is a disease. When we are selfish, we are robbing someone else of experiencing something.
When Someone Steals They Are Making a Choice to Disrespect Someone
I know that when I stole as a child, it was not for money to buy drugs. I didn’t steal to turn that item around for cash. I stole because I wanted something so bad that I was willing to take it from someone else instead of working hard to earn it myself. I am very thankful for the fact that I obviously sucked at it and was caught each time. I quickly learned that taking from others not only disrespects them but it cheated me out of the joy of ownership. I was able to understand this because each time I was forced to make amends.
Stealing is an empty shortcut
People who steal things that they want are taking an empty shortcut. As a young child, if we want something, we grab for it. I often see one of my kids take something from one of the others because they wanted it. It may have been their toy to begin with, or for some reason, they just wanted it in that moment. Regardless, the act of taking the item without using any words is a selfish shortcut that only causes hurt and pain to all parties involved.
As I grew up and started earning money I quickly realized the joy in legitimate ownership. Though I hated letting go of hard earned money, when I bought something with money I had earned, there was a real connection to that item. You don’t get that kind of connection when you take the item from someone else.
It Really Is No Big Deal
We need to protect our assets, but as an adult, I have never been someone that was so attached to their things that when something happened to those things, I would fall apart. I take measures to assure my investments don’t grow legs and walk away, but when they do, I get over it fast. I want my kids to understand that the things of this world are replaceable. What is not often replaceable are experiences and relationships.
Though we had planned to leave around eight that morning to head to our campsite, my wife and I purchased all new items from the store and we were on the road early that afternoon. We were not going to let this stop us from spending time together and from creating memories. I filed a police report online and contact my insurance company, and we left for the lake.
The bottom line is this: I want my kids to grow up understanding that bad things are going to happen in life, but when they do, we have a chance to grow. I am fortunate enough to have learned my lesson quickly as a kid and to have the self-awareness to see a situation like this as a teaching moment. We could have let something like this ruin our week, but we turned it into an opportunity to thrive and give the benefit of the doubt to those who wronged us. It’s easy to be cynical and play the victim card. Doing that gives the situation more power than it deserves.
I decided to write about this not to boast of this parenting moment, but to encourage other parents to look at every situation they go through with their kids as an opportunity to teach their kids something before they have to learn the hard way like I did. As parents, we have a finite amount of time to imprint on our kids. It’s easy to bark orders at our kids and give them short reasons why things are the way they are. When we do that, we are not giving them the information they need to understand and empathize.