Monday, September 28, 2009

Consistent vs Reliable

Ahh consistency, the mark of a great parent, right? They are never pushovers, they do not give in to whining or wheedling. They set their rules and they stand by them. Once a consequence has been put in place, it will be enforced without exception. After all, children need consistency, they depend on it. They will push at the boundaries and if you, as the parent, give even a little then they will push harder and harder and get out of control.
We've all read this before, I'm sure.
All the parenting experts say it, and if the experts agree, then we should agree too, shouldn't we?

Well, I have realized that I disagree. (Yep, there's me, questioning the status quo again!)

I don't want to be a perfectly consistent parent. I want to be a reliable parent.

What is the difference? Well, a consistent parent is rigid, and unchanging. Once a rule is set then it is there and ne'er shall it budge. If we have a rule that you must eat your veggies before having any dessert then thus shall it be forever more! (so let it be written, so let it be done!!) Well, yes, good foods before treats is a general policy in our house...but every once in a great while isn't it fun to break that sort of rule? One night we took an idea from the disney channel and decided to have a "totally chocolate dinner." You should have seen the look on Wolf's eyes when we told him. It was a day that he reminded us of for months.

As a reliable parent my kids learn that it is ok to request making changes--this summer Wolf questioned his bedtime asked if we could move it a little later. We discussed that we had established it because he was in school and had to get up early, but concluded that since it was now summer we were willing to try out a later bedtime and see how it went. (Incidentally, we had tried that later bedtime a couple of times before, and it had not worked out, but just because something didn't work before doesn't mean it's not worth trying again.)

With a reliable parent my kids know that it's ok to ask questions about the status quo (hey, does that sound familiar?!) They know that I can be relied upon to make sure that there are always boundaries, but that sometimes the details are subject to change, and that is good. After all, each person is different, each age is different, and one of the most consistent things about parenting is change!


Lisa said...

I love this post! I've thought about that statement about needing to be consistent many times too, and disagreed also. First of all, I don't think it's possible to be completely consistent all of the time. And like you said, it would bring too much ridigity.

Recently I was at a birthday party for a neighbor child. A woman was there with her two children. I was sitting next to her, so I got to hear her running commentary on everything at the party, even though she wasn't talking to me. A little boy around age 2 was having a horrible time. He was obviously extremely tired and was melting down at every turn. He had been given a balloon, but his balloon flew away. So the host tried to get him to stop crying by offering him a new balloon. This woman sitting next to me was extremely critical of that. Someone pointed out that the little boy was obviously tired and it was not his fault that he was tantruming, and this lady said basically, "Well, yeah... but you NEVER give in to crying. He's gonna learn that he can get what he wants by crying."

I watched her interact with her own kids, and I believe that she probably falls into the category of an extremely consistent parent. She talked constantly about "behavior modification" and how it would solve everything. But she missed so much! She was so focused on sending a consistent message about behavior that she missed a little boy's distress; she was completely blind to his feelings and needs. Her own kids seemed like little robots. Yes, they were perfectly obedient, but they could barely move an inch. She was a very calm person, not yelling or spanking or anything like that. But also completely inflexible and missing the whole idea that dealing with a child is a human relationship. They are people, not animals.

Benson & Sarah Garner said...

I totally agree with both your post and the commenter above. The two best things a parent can do for their kids is teach them to think independently and trust in their parents.

Think about how that will help when they are older. They know that you are flexible, so if you say no, you mean it because you really know better and want what's best for them and that you're not just saying no because you're in charge.

Jessica said...

I agree with you. I also like the fact that allowing flexibility gives children the opportunity to learn how to present a disagreement in a rational, logical manner rather than whining or begging. The earlier they learn how to discuss rather than whine the happier everyone can be!

Kujo said...

I completely agree on this. Children crave consistency but as long as exceptions are the exception, I believe changing the rules can help kids grow into more adaptable, creative and responsible people.

Children need to learn that the world, including their own parents will be unpredictable or flexible once in a while. I remember being terrified that my father must have been in some terrible accident just because he was late getting home and that had never happened before. I never worried about my mother being late because sometimes she got stuck at work or in traffic or stopped to get us some ice cream. No panic, just see if there was meat thawed for dinner.

When a child's "No" is always ignored and mom's "No" is always absolute, you really can't blame the little one for getting a little frustrated. Yes, sometimes parents have to just lay down the law but it's sad that so many only see a power struggle when they deal with the children they love.

Threads of Light said...

My family knows that I am completely consistent in being - inconsistent!
Seriously though, I'm trying to not bend only on things I think are super vital. Everything else is open to negotiation at some point, and agree with your post Jenni and with the commenters here, that this is actually a really important thing.
The boundaries have to be there, but as you said, sometimes the details change.
I completely agree that working this way is really going a long way toward helping children learn to think for themselves.

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