Parenting is not for the faint of heart.
It starts out with no sleep, lots of messes to clean up (including many dirty bottoms per day), fussy meal times, and plenty of time just trying to figure out what makes this new person tick!
Then you reach the mobile stage and it become exponentially harder. Naps—a parent’s best friend in the early years—become less frequent, until they cease altogether. Here, the very early stages of exerting one’s autonomy begin with practice and mastery of the word, “No!”
And then, Mom & Dad are tired.
But the persistent, caring parent will see it through. Being consistent with expectations and consequences will help the young child understand what is required, and with proper instruction, learn what is good and what is bad. It certainly takes effort and ridiculous amounts of repetition, but in the end, the goal is establishing a foundation of respect (even love) for what is good and a healthy fear of what is wrong.
Then come the teen years.
We have a great teenager. Honestly, though we butt heads so much with our confident, brash, gregarious young man, he is heads and shoulders above many of his peers in many ways. (Don’t worry, I also frequently address humility and pride with our young protégé…) 🙂
The biggest problem is this: when one is approaching adulthood, one begins to fancy himself as already sufficiently learned, thus shunning sage advice from elders. (Also, notably, one leans generally towards haste when of the male gender.)
And so, when I draw upon my nearly fifteen years of parenting experience, I often want to revert to previous parenting techniques—restrict! It’s very easy for me to observe and understand all the variables, and then establish the rules. “Don’t do that in response to this” or “Do this when …”
That’s easy, but is it really helpful?
The simple answer is, of course it’s not. The best way for anyone to learn is through experience, and even better, through failure. The natural consequences of our choices and actions (or inactions) will often teach us more than any lesson, speech, class, book, video, seminar… anything intended to train by instruction. Real life is nearly always superior.
Why then is it so difficult to allow natural consequences to instruct our older children? Not only would that be easier, in a way, it would also seemingly have better results, no? Is it maybe just me who struggles to allow poor choices to be the best teachers my son can have? Probably not.
Now, I’m certainly not advocating a complete relaxing of all rules. Surely there are some standards of behavior toward others in our home that must be upheld. But in regards to personal care, time management, taking care of personal possessions, work ethic, even money management, there may be more leeway. And, of course, aside from the general life skills—above all—we hope to instill in our children a good understanding of who Jesus is, and that they can trust Father with their whole lives. We won’t stop instruction, or offering advice, but might all be better off if Natural Consequences for choices and actions against that advice are allowed to teach rather than structured consequences, or stricter “rules”?
I really think that’s true. Difficult to put into action, but true.
Isn’t this a bit like grace? We are accepted—no, we were accepted before we even understood what grace is, and who Jesus is. We are sought out. Bought at an unfathomable price. The choice of the One who made all, owns and commands all … he pursues us. AND, he allows us full, unfettered freedom to choose to walk alongside him. We are not forced. So why do we persist in “forcing” our children?
I’m really not sure.
Honestly, this goes beyond parenting, doesn’t it? Why would we not want to allow more freedom—read: less judgment—toward others, if natural consequences are the best way to learn and grow? Rather than manipulative expectations of the others around us, perhaps grace and reasonable latitude are better for all—everyone; every time? At least, nearly every.
I intend to look for more ways to employ this philosophy. So look out—it might get a bit messy!
Somehow, though, experience has shown, the best things in life are often the messiest.