In my last post, I wrote about the pitfalls of compliant employees – they don’t have the chance to develop the good judgment needed to be effective in the unpredictable and rapidly changing business environments that we currently live in. The same dynamic shows up with our children as with our employees.
There is a popular parenting approach, Love and Logic, that provides some truly insightful parenting advice. The fundamental premise is that as a parent, you set the rules and boundaries for your family, which frees you up to be on your child’s side when she makes a mistake or crosses a line. The transgression leads to “natural consequences” where the system is to blame. For instance, if the child doesn’t put away his toys, they get taken away (permanently or temporarily). The parent can delegate the punitive aspect of this to the “system” and enforce the consequence with warmth and empathy for the child. “I know, it’s really sad that you are losing this toy, but that is our rule.” With genuine empathy and lots of hugs, enforcing the rule becomes about teaching, not punishment.
T0 me, the most valuable aspect of the Love and Logic perspective is the shift from seeing a child as somehow broken and in need of fixing to seeing her as inexperienced and in need of learning. It’s a small, subtle shift, but when parents see their children as wonderful and their job as helping them learn, then children are likely to see themselves the same way.
There is, however, one striking contradiction to this wisdom in the Love and Logic literature – an advocacy for obedience. Why not teach your child to do as you say the first time rather than after repeated requests? In other words, why not raise obedient children?
Although obedience can certainly eliminate undesirable behaviors such as nagging and whining, it also eliminates negotiation and judgment. In some households, negotiation is referred to as “backtalk”, but I like to think of it as family problem solving. Negotiation is a response to a parental “no”. As parents we say no for any number of reasons from “It’s not safe” to “I’m too tired.” Pragmatically, what that means is there is some sort of obstacle preventing the child from being able to have what he wants. There are three real options at this point: the child doesn’t get what he wants; the parent solves the problem; or the child solves the problem.
I confess that my personal bias is to always look for the “yes”. As in, “yes, after you finish your homework,” or “yes, if you can do it independently.” A no means that I don’t see a reasonable way to yes on my own. How wonderful is it, then, when a child is able to understand and accept the constraints but find a way to work around them. Not only is he happier, he has now had yet another experience of getting what he wants in an effective way while respecting the wants, needs, and constraints of the rest of the family. He also has yet another experience to ground and expand his good judgment.
A nice side effect of this kind of cooperative problem solving is that every family member learns more about the wants, needs, and constraints of every other family member, making everyone more competent at continually increasing family harmony and happiness. It increases everyone’s ability to be respectful, including ourselves as parents. When our kids can articulate to us the difference between a mundane want and one that is surprisingly important to them, we have the opportunity to respect those things that matter the most to our children in the same way we expect them to respect the things that matter most to us.
How sad if we never had the chance to experience the richness of family cooperation because it is short-circuited by unquestioning obedience.