Choices and Accountability


1985, Katie and I

Children are great teachers. They remind us of how the grass tickles our toes or the joy of seeing white fluffy snowflakes falling from the sky. They are excited by the little things we often take for granted and their delight opens our eyes for viewing the world with more enthusiasm.

Children also test us to our limits, which teaches us where those limits are. I had several nieces and nephews before we had our two children. We loved each one of them and stayed involved in their lives as they grew. I thought I had child-raising all figured out, but by the time we had our own we handled things a lot different than we expected we would.

As the children grow into teenagers, they try our patience in a worrisome way by some of the choices they make. We have to learn how to let go so they gain independence and become responsible adults. Teenagers remind us of how exciting the adventures of adulthood appear without knowing the stress that comes with it. Their will to conquer the world is inspiring.

Although I miss our young children, I really wouldn’t go back in time. I love having adult children, where I no longer feel the weight of their daily care. I’m pleased with the good things they are accomplishing and appreciate their independent and productive lives. They still continue to teach me and help me see the world in a different light.

Yesterday I was talking to my daughter, Katie, about a new service project she is working on which involves the teenage girls in her church. She’s encouraging them to write two goals they want her to hold them accountable for. They’ll also choose their own reward upon success or punishment for failure.

As she related some of her creative ideas in helping the girls reach their goals, I associated it with some of the contracts I had with her when she was a teenager. The kids still enjoy giving me a hard time about them. I thought the contracts were a clever way of making them accountable for their choices. For example, my favorite contract written and signed December 1995 when they were eleven and thirteen:

It has been agreed by all parties that whoever complains about a meal will automatically by responsible for making the next healthy dinner. Complaints consist of any negative sigh or comment about the meal. We understand it’s best to appreciate what we are given. More than two negative comments will result in dismissal from the table without any more eating.

Another contract titled The School Agreement:

I, child’s name, hereby understand that if I have any incomplete or missing assignments I will not watch any television or visit with any friends or family by telephone or in person until my assignments are caught up.

I also understand that I am still responsible for my chores even though I got behind in my school work. I will stay focused and resist any temptation which would distract me from getting my school work done. I realize that good grades lead to a happy and successful adulthood. Therefore, I will take my schooling seriously.

I also realize that my parents are willing to help me any way they can to succeed in school and will let them know what kind of help I need. I know my parents love me or they wouldn’t do silly agreement forms or care if I do well or not in school. I plan on building their trust by showing them I can be responsible for my own school work. They will reward my efforts by the attached grade payment sheet.

Katie scoffed at my connection between her ideas of accountability and my contracts. She said, “Mom, the difference is we didn’t get to choose our goals and rewards or punishment.”

Sometimes the truth hurts and I realized for the first time the mistake I may have made with the contracts was that I didn’t get more of, or according to her, any input on the agreements.

I quickly remember my words from last week’s post, “A goal has to be something I truly desire and not what someone else thinks I should be doing.

Was I wrong to use this method in making my teenagers responsible? I don’t think so, but I could have done better by giving more consideration to their thoughts and opinions. I thought we discussed the goals and rewards before I typed up the contract, but Katie’s memory is very different. She remembers I wrote them and they had to sign it. It’s interesting how parents and children perceive the same situation in their own way.

I haven’t thought about contracts for a while, but I still think it’s a great idea to make a written promise with a reward and punishment linked to it for encouraging improvement. What I need to do now is write one for my own personal progress, which I intend to do and I’ll bet Katie will enjoy holding me accountable for it. Maybe I should even let her write it for me.

Just for laughs, I’ll share one more agreement from my old “Contracts” folder:

Barbara Wilson promises Kathryn Wilson that when she completes 312 hours of piano practicing she may terminate piano lessons. She also promises not to annoy Kathryn about quitting her piano lessons (in which she shows so much potential) after she’s completed the aforementioned 312 hours.

Barbara Wilson also promises to be thrilled as all get out if Kathryn Wilson chooses to continue with piano after the 312 hours are completed and will gladly (notice how gladly is underlined) pay for them until she decides it’s time to quit.

Katie & I

2014, Katie and I

Kathryn Wilson promises not to ask her mother to quit piano lessons until she has completed the 312 hours of piano practice previously stated. She also promises to keep track of her piano practicing hours on the sheet provided and only count those hours which have been initialed by parents or grandparents.

I appreciate Katie’s consent to share a few of our contracts. We may laugh about them now, but what a wonderful, responsible adult she became, possibly because of, or maybe in spite of those written agreements. I can’t imagine being more proud and grateful that she stayed true to those promises. I love my kids with all my heart and appreciate all they teach me. I recognize they are the better part of me.

Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy – Part II

Continuation from June 15, 2014, Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy.

Written by, Katie Wilson Ferguson

1997 – Katie & Mark in Jamestown, VA.

Age fourteen was an especially rough year for me. Dad had been in a wheelchair for half my life due to a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. He started having seizures, which always scared me. His memory was getting worse. I felt frustrated when he couldn’t remember the name of the school play I’d been rehearsing for and talking about, but he could describe the swing he had as a child in detail.

My parents always talked and acted as if Dad would regain all his abilities, but at age fourteen I started realizing life wouldn’t go back to the way it was before the car accident. I was angry with God and felt He abandoned us. I was grateful He spared my dad’s life, but I didn’t understand why He didn’t make Dad all better. He was working hard to regain all the abilities he once enjoyed. I felt my dad deserved more.

Mark  Katie in Zions National Park

1998 – Mark &  Katie in Zions National Park

About this same year, my family was driving to my cousins wedding reception and got lost. The stress of trying to find the venue and running late led us to argue. We finally arrived at the destination feeling tired and ornery. We were just in time to join the other guests in watching the bride dance with her dad. I looked at my dad sitting in his wheelchair and was overcome with jealousy. My heart broke as I thought I wouldn’t be dancing with my dad at my wedding. Emotion flooded my eyes with tears and I ran out of the room and into an empty elevator. As soon as the elevator doors closed, I lost all control and sobbed. I escaped back to my family’s van and hid there for the rest of the reception.

I regularly babysat two neighbor girls ages seven and ten. While babysitting one summer afternoon, we walked to my house to get something and they met my dad for the first time. While walking back to their house, the girls asked me the same questions I often heard. “What happened to your dad?” they asked. I thought back to when I was seven, and explained my dad’s brain injury the same way adults had explained it to me back then. “My parents were in a car accident, and now his brain has a hard time telling his muscles what to do. That’s why it’s difficult for him to walk and talk and do the things most of us get to do without much effort.”

The girls asked how old I was when the car accident happened. The seven-year-old became especially intrigued when she realized I was her age when it happened. She asked, “What happened to you?”

“I wasn’t in the car accident. I was home with my brother and babysitter.”

“No. I mean what happened to you after?” She wanted to know how the car accident affected me.

I don’t remember how I responded, but her question caused me to reflect on how my family had been served by so many people. I thought of how my brother and I stayed with our grandparents and extended family often while my dad was in the hospital. I had my own toothbrush at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and at my aunt and uncle’s house. My toothbrushes at both houses had my name written on with nail polish. This was a small thing which helped me feel at home in someone else’s house. When we stayed with my aunt and uncle, my cousins read to me from the book “Charlotte’s Webb.” This also helped me feel at home since I was use to my dad reading me bedtime stories.

I have seen so much goodness in people because of my family’s experience. Some of my parents’ neighbors have generously given their time to help my dad with exercises on a regular basis – some of which have been doing it for more than seventeen years.

Twenty-three years after their car accident, we are still blessed to have love and support from family and friends. I’ve been surrounded by angels my entire life, many are disguised as human beings.

The biggest angel of all is my Mom. She has been my dad’s full-time caregiver and his biggest advocate. At one point during my childhood, she had three jobs to support our family while raising two kids and caring for my dad. I’m so proud of my mom. I used to say I wanted to be like her when I grew up. If I ever do grow up, I can only hope to have the strength and determination she has. I am grateful for all the years she has served and loved my dad. I don’t think any person can truly understand all the sacrifices she has made over the years. She has prayerfully fought her battles with grace and wisdom. I think my parents’ relationship is far more impressive than anything I’ve heard from a fairytale or seen in a movie.

2003-Katie  Eldin with Mark and I

2003 – Katie & Eldin’s Wedding Reception with Mark and I

After I had been married for about a year, my parents met me for lunch at a restaurant. We were quietly eating when I looked around the crowded room and realized my dad was the only person there in a wheelchair. I wondered if that ever bothered him. My thoughts were interrupted when my dad sat up in his chair with a big smile on his face and declared, “I’m the luckiest guy here!”

“Why?” I asked.

He replied, “Because I’m sitting next to the two most beautiful women in this room.” Dad’s so busy looking for the good in every situation he doesn’t have time to notice the bad.

DadAndMe 2013

2013 – Katie and Mark

My dad has taught me the keys to happiness through his example. He chooses to be happy by having a sense of humor, being productive, forgiving, grateful and maintaining hope. My dad once said, “Adversity is the exercise that strengthens the muscle of character.” I think my dad’s muscle of character has Hercules strength.

Thank you Katie for sharing more of your story. Teenage years are hard under the best circumstances. I’m sure your dad’s health and your mom being overwhelmed with responsibilities added to your stress. I’m grateful we all survived those hard years. From this article I learned a lot about your feelings and appreciated your honesty. I am proud of the resilient person you are and the sunshine you bring into my life as well as others. I’m so lucky you’re my daughter!