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Consistency is Debilitating


A few people recently have been asking me about the value of consistency in child rearing, and, since I have strong feelings about this, I thought a blog post was in order.

What is consistency anyway?  By definition and action both, it means being bound by an idea, a should:  kids should eat dinner before dessert, they should go to bed at the same time, they should be treated the same so that they learn that this is the way things are.  Huh?  Does this really sound intelligent to you when wrapped up in a nutshell in this way?

What are we trying to teach our children, to think for themselves, to think like someone else, or, even worse, to not think at all and just do what they’re told?  Well, what are you teaching your kids about this?  They are watching you, their beloved role models, and learning every single minute.

Consistency is absolutely and horrifically stupid if your desire is to raise an intelligent, thoughtful child who grows up able to be responsible for his thoughts and actions.  Oh sure, we see adults all around us who were raised with consistency and are responsible by traditional cultural standards – they hold jobs (they don’t enjoy), they follow spiritual beliefs (they don’t feel powerful from), they have relationships with others (that they would prefer not to have), they treat their children the way they were treated (even though it makes them feel troubled), they go through all sorts of motions that make it appear that they are living the good life and doing the right things.  

When the mind is consistent, when actions are consistent, the person loses vitality, the radiant glow (yes! radiant! glow!) of thoughtful consideration of unique circumstances, the joy and richness and beauty of truly free action.  Consistency becomes a master, a god of sorts, leaned on to justify all sorts of crazy dysfunctional behavior.  Why on earth should my child go to bed at the same time every night if he is not tired?  Why do we eat meals at the same times every day?  Why do we think it’s important that everyone learn to read at age 6?  Why do I feel like I should punish my child if he does not behave in ways that are consistent with my views of the world?  EEEEEK!

As a mom, my dream is to raise children who feel confident, intelligent, capable, responsible, accountable and at one with the world.  It’s a tall order.  I have learned that the ONLY way this can happen authentically and have my child also love the process and the outcomes (this is key) is to give him maximum responsibility for EVERYTHING in his life:  the foods he eats, the hours he sleeps, the friends he chooses, the way he spends his time, the books he reads, the time he spends daydreaming …. everything.  With freedom to be, why would he ever choose something that was harmful or dysfunctional or rebellious or not in his best interest?  

fountain feet

photo by Sarah E. Parent


Consistency is one of the strongholds of traditional parenting.  We are told that it gives children a sense of security to know what to expect.  In reality, I think it gives adults who were parented this way a manual to follow like an off-hours telephone technical support representative.  If A then B then C.  Most adults do lack critical thinking as a result of an institutionalized upbringing- regimented parenting, school, (physical and/or psychological) cubicle…  They seek power and comfort in pre-determined answers and routines when it comes to parenting and life.  It is the security of the parents that is shaken when there is a lack of consistency- in the sense that they feel they are misaligning their children’s futures, altering the course of future interactions, or giving away their position of authority.  And, actually, these are all valid concerns. 

Though what a traditional parent might call ‘misalignment,’ I would call ‘true alignment.’  A child who is brought up to engage in conversation, trial and error, and active decision-making will be a more active critical thinker up to and through those all-important decisions as to what they will study and how they choose to spend their personal and professional time.  They are more likely to choose based on what is personally fulfilling versus what is expected.

A lack of consistency does change the parent-child dynamic; I would argue that it changes in the most positive of ways.  Rather than a one-way channel with periodic bucks and resistance, the parent-child relationship is enriched through the feeling-out of life on the part of the child with the support and guidance of the parent.  This guidance is received gladly on the part of the child when it is offered as information rather than forced as the only way.

And, yes (gulp), we give up our position of hierarchical authority when we encourage our children to be fully in their own experience.  But, do not mistake me; we do not give our power away.  Rather, we recognize the power in everyone.  It is the person who fears domination (and this is our issue, not our kids- and should be dealt with as such) who seeks control at the expense of others.  Given a relationship of support and facilitation, the child will seek the guidance of the parent as yet another reliable source of information to fuel their decision-making process.  Isn’t this what we want for our kids?  That they are confident, aware, and capable of navigating relationships and the world no matter the circumstances?

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27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amy #

    Let’s visit semantics again. 😉 I do agree that consistency in the way you’ve described can lead to control, force, and monotony … among other undesirable experiences.

    I’ve redefined it for me to mean being consistent with myself, not in the outer relative sense necessarily – or at least not first. Being true and honest with myself and what I value and want and want to model. Then I can transfer that into our lives through consistency in actions that *work*.

    Chaos in between letting go or rote consistency and becoming consistent and true within one’s self sure does promote many potentially positive learning opportunities! Relaxing into life with consistency that works is neat also while recognizing there is value in re-evaluating at any point!

    February 3, 2012
  2. Amy #

    Chaos in between letting go *of* rote consistency and becoming consistent and true within one’s self sure does promote many potentially positive learning opportunities!

    February 3, 2012
    • The only consistency I resonate with with regard to myself is the desire to feel good. Feeling good gives me the opportunity, challenge and freedom to continue shifting, changing and responding in ever evolving ways. Being true and honest with myself is a great way of expressing this. As you pointed out however, that was not the subject of the post.

      February 3, 2012
      • Amy #

        Feeling good is important. 🙂

        I appreciate consistency as in being true to my word and goals also. Not in a heavy, power over way – a way that I *choose*. In terms of parenting, I find that consistency (once I am consistent within myself) is important. Doing what I say I will, working toward a consistent bed time that works for *everyone*, doing the dishes daily, etc. All of those things that we might do consistently while not feeling we have a choice but *with* choice and appreciation.

        Anyhow, my experience with consistency has come full circle and to me, that feels good. 🙂

        February 3, 2012
  3. Steen #

    I am not sure I could up all control. Kids can’t filter things we can as adults, so I can’t just give my 3 yr old son free range of the TV or the choice of eating whatever he wants especially when the food industry is so poorly regulated. I do believe in choices, I do believe in self-expression and not repressing them but I do also believe I am there to protect them.

    February 3, 2012
    • ah, now this is exactly the kind of consistency we are referring to in this post – the parental notion, belief even, that our children need us to set their limits and boundaries and that consistency will give us the tools to do that. Simply disagreeing with you won’t get us anywhere so, how about a few questions instead: 1. would your child really watch TV all day, every day if you did not tell him to? Have you experimented with this to see if it is true? If so, for how long? 2. Why do you have a TV? 3. do you realize that as a parent you are capable of creating an environment of rich options for him that will be much more appealing than a TV program? Why not do this instead of making rules? Rules that he will naturally want to rebel against? 4. Do you like the feeling of having another (who thinks they are smarter than you) tell you what to do? How do you respond to them? 5. How might your child grow if he knew he was in charge of his decisions and you supported them – all of them?

      February 3, 2012
      • Amy #

        I love questions!!!

        February 3, 2012
  4. Steen #

    oops meant to write: I am not sure I could give up all control.

    February 3, 2012
  5. Anne #

    I am currently struggling with what others are calling my “strong-willed” 3 year old. I go back and forth between wanting to let him lead on how much TV, what he eats, when he sleeps, etc. and then also wanting to ‘protect him’ (as Steen says above) by choosing these things for him. He is definitely ‘bucking’ and ‘resisting’ my guidance at times. Does anyone have advice on how and when to let a 3 yr. old lead the way?

    February 3, 2012
    • Hi Anne,

      In a word “now”. As Barb pointed out in her response above, give your children the freedom and watch how it unfolds. I can assure you there is no safety risk to letting your child watch TV longer than you might otherwise like them to. Our kids initially went crazy watching all the TV they could when we first let go and this is natural. They were given a freedom they hadn’t had previously. Shortly thereafter they stopped watching it all that much because they realized they had control over the things they wanted to do in their day. The best way to sometimes change what our children might spend their time on is to provide them with opportunities to see and do things. Certainly if a child is only left with the option of watching TV all day because they sit around the house with no engagement with anyone else, that is probably what they will want to do. I know many adults that do the same thing…. 🙂

      February 3, 2012
    • be grateful for your strong willed child! it’s a sign of his intelligence and drive to meet his needs. this should be very easy Anne. take his lead at every turn. experiment for one week: allow him, nurture him if you can – it will make a big difference – to do everything he wants, short of physically hurting another or physically injuring himself (if he is the type you think will do this, this is another conversation). This includes eating when he wants, what he wants, watching TV, sleeping, etc. of course, as parent, you can offer/prepare him foods and suggest any sort of activity you think he might be interested in. let him decide. treat him as if he was your trusted partner in life (he is). play, cuddle, talk to each other, have fun, ask him questions. let yourself go completely to being a resource for whatever he is asking for. tell me what happens in a week.. wanna try it?

      February 3, 2012
      • Anne #

        It sounds so liberating! I’ll give it try and see what happens. Thanks for the suggestion.

        February 3, 2012
      • Amy #

        Love this especially, Barb.

        “Treat him as if he was your trusted partner in life (he is).”

        It feels as if this is at the heart of your message, it warms mine. Thank you. 🙂

        February 3, 2012
  6. Amy #

    Barb and Sarah, are you familiar with the Continuum Concept? I re-read this article today and for those who are familiar it seems to fit in here quite a bit (to me, at least and I admit my sphere of awareness gathers puzzle pieces that others may not think fit together… LOL).

    Anyhow, it’s titled ‘Who’s in Control?’ and it speaks to the benefits of the parent feeling calm, confident, and competent for the times when the child really does need effective leadership – not dictatorship, nor doormat. I find that when I’m grounded and centered in who I am many of the mentioned issues sift away… That’s not to say the process is always easy or doesn’t take some intense rethinking. In my experience diligence is necessary although not necessarily arduous.

    February 3, 2012
    • The Continuum Concept was an earth shattering book for me 30 years ago when I first read it and I have been grateful for Liedloff’s wisdom in writing it ever since. I absolutely agree that a parent’s job is not to be a slave to their child, and I do think many people misunderstand this about a freedom based life. When talking about control, what is critical is that EACH PERSON feel in control of their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. That is always the best we can do and we can NEVER actually be in control of another, even a child. We can bribe or coerce or threaten them to conform and have it APPEAR that we have gained the “upper hand” but in reality the child is only plotting how to get what they want and learn how to get it without your knowing. A parent SHOULD be in control – of themselves – and not a victim of their child’s actions. For example, if your child is tantrumming because you won’t play matchbox cars with him RIGHT NOW (you’re in the middle of chopping vegetables or on the phone or….), dropping whatever you’re doing as if it was life or death and playing with him teaches him… what? that tantrumming pays off and whatever you are doing is not very important. instead, you calmly assert yourself and say something like “I can see you want me to play with you. I want to play with you to, but I cannot right now. I will play with you as soon as I have dinner ready.” If he continues to tantrum, it’s ok! No one is getting hurt, he is releasing his anxiety or boredom or frustration or desire to control you. When he is ready he will get up and either wait for you or find something else to occupy him until later.

      now, as always, there are so many limitations to reading a few words on a page, as we’re doing here. none of this applies to infants, for example, for whom we should be in near constant and continuous touch/communication with. a 3 year old is at a very different stage of life where drive for independence, self control, understanding how the world works, getting one’s needs met, are all developing very quickly.

      February 3, 2012
      • Amy #

        It’s a journey for sure. I appreciate your example and it’s taken a while for me to experience what you described. I used to drop everything… then eventually resent it (when it was me choosing to do it, silly), then feel guilt for resenting it… blah, blah, blah. Like the article outlines. LOL

        I appreciate these points especially, Barb…

        When talking about control, what is critical is that EACH PERSON feel in control of their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. That is always the best we can do and we can NEVER actually be in control of another, even a child.

        now, as always, there are so many limitations to reading a few words on a page, as we’re doing here.

        Lovely we’re having conversations about it all, though, creates understanding… and more options… and opportunities. 🙂

        February 3, 2012
        • it makes it easier, doesn’t it, when seeing that our child WANTS to be in control of their own life. of course he does, just like I want to be in control of MINE.

          February 4, 2012
      • Rachel #

        I love how you all are framing this stuff for me. I’m really struggling because I love the Continuum Concept and love the idea of non-coercive parenting. However, my son is 14 months old and I’m really at my wits end. I live with my parents (I was going through a financial crisis when I unexpectedly found myself pregnant and single), so I have to enforce some basic rules (that honestly, if we lived on our own I wouldn’t care too much about, but it’s their house and it affords me the ability to be a stay at home at this time, which I think is imperative) – such as: no sippy cup (unless only water) in the rooms with carpet, no climbing on the tables (this only bothers me when he starts trying to grab my food or laptop when I’m trying to relax), no climbing the couch (the one that meets the kitchen counter is a danger, not sure how to stop him, now I just calmly pick him up and put him back on the floor over and over and over).

        Anyway, MY biggest struggle is diaper changes. He hates them. And he doesn’t stay laying down long enough for me to finish it all. I usually have to place him back on his back 2-3 times per change. He gets on his knees and reaches over to the counter beside the changing table to grab items (items that are plugged in and this is the only convenient place to keep them for changing – a small lamp and a clothe warmer), he also stands up on the table, squirms/twists, cries/screams. I found myself changing him less and less and he started to get a rash, guilt! So, I’m trying to keep on top of his diapers, but it’s so draining. Any ideas? I know I’m thinking about it clearly because I get so frustrated, so other people’s perspectives are very welcome. Thank you!!!

        February 17, 2012
        • barblundgren #

          Hi Rachel. Energetically your son is struggling because you are struggling. Energetically, you will find the greatest degree of success, improvement and upgrade in both of your lives, and his struggling, if you can focus on you: what is required for you to arrive at a comfortable place of ease, flow and joy? It can be done anywhere because it is 99% a state of mind. What are you grateful for? What do you dream about? What is working in your life right now?

          Demonstrably, does your son have a potty seat yet? If not, get one and show him and talk to him about it. He will begin experimenting. Talk to him for a few minutes as diaper change times approach to prepare him: ok, baby, mama’s going to change you diaper again in a few minutes because it is all wet or your butt is covered in poop. won’t it feel good to change it and feel dry again? If you are with him 24 hours a day, have you considered EC (elimination communication)? With EC, he is bare butt most of the time as you learn his natural cues for elimination readiness and get him to a toilet or a bush to pee and poo. There’s lots of info on this via the internet. Or, how about learning how to change him while he is standing up?

          Does any of this feel helpful to you?

          February 17, 2012
  7. Hmmm….. I totally hear what you’re saying here But (lol) consistency is inevitable in anyone’s life. My interesting turn to a more unconventional life lead me to the place of ‘loosing’ of who I really am, my purpose etc. only now -since being more consistent with my thoughts, feelings and some doings am I creating success for me and my family ‘rhythm’ . Here for instance you lovely women are consistent with this blog and ever expanding and growing – which is a great model for your own children 🙂 I guess the point I’m trying to get at is consistency is a very good thing ONLY when it’s aligned with who we really are 🙂

    February 4, 2012
    • hmmm, you actually didn’t hear what we were saying at all because this post is very specifically about the use of consistency in child rearing. I know when you read it again you see that there are a great many other worthwhile and valuable consistencies with which we would all agree on, including the ones you describe.

      February 4, 2012
  8. Steen #

    I think for me its thinking if he watches something that I feel is too graphic or a content is maybe too adult related, such as news, people fighting, violence etc, it might lead to him feeling as though the outside world is a scary, evil place. I do not want to place him a bubble and think its all lovey-dovey and copacetic. I mean look at our great leaders, they saw war, terror, catastrophe and they turned out to be amazing people. I do not feel that taking away TV is the answer. I bought that TV into the house, the TV is not the enemy. However, what I expose him to, is what I have internal issues with. I do not think that what people see on TV or video games, movies is how the child will turn out. I am not saying that. My concern is because children cannot filter things, I do not want him to then have images in his mind that he cannot erase. If I allowed him to watch that violent cartoon is that me being reckless as a parent? Am I making sense Barb? Through-out the day we have activities, creative play, independent play, its whatever the day brings. We do not have assigned slots of time to do things. No its whatever we want to do. We don’t have consistency in our house which is what I am grateful for. My mother always had dinner on the table at 5:00 pm sharp and us kids i bed by 7:00 pm. Ack! Well I am not my mother – our family life is real life. Things happen as life happens….we sleep when we want to sleep, bath time is when bath time happens, we eat when dinner is ready, not when the clock tell us to eat. I don’t even wear a watch. So I can definitely appreciate this blog, but let me know your thoughts, feelings with my other concerns. I am relatively new mom – just 3.5 years (and no offense to my own parents but I just want things different for my kids, my family, my life), so when you have second, let me know what you think – thanks much love!

    February 4, 2012
    • I completely empathize with your intent to create the best possible environment for your child and and to improve on your own childhood experiences. I disagree strongly however that children don’t have filters. In fact, I think their filters are very fine at young ages because everything is a new experience, a new kind of stimulation, etc. What allows the filter to work, to flow magically with the capacity of his brain development, is having a relationship with him that nurtures his ability to always be honest, clear, straight with you. When he is confused or inquisitive or fearful or angry, he can express it and you won’t deny it or assuage it or explain it away. You will listen to him and honor what he is feeling and thinking and give him or help him to find the information he is looking for.

      I remember when my kids were very young they had great interest in “bad men,” having learned about thieves and murderers from story books, occasional TV news, friends and newspaper headlines. It gave us lots of opportunity, which took years, to talk about why people do “bad” things, whether we were at risk, about death and quality of life. We immersed ourselves in death, easily, with their questions, mourning dead pets, creating funerals for them and ceremony. Children are enormously intelligent, in many ways way more so than we are, because they have not been conditioned in the ways we have been. Information is always a good thing, on any and all subjects. They are ready for the information when they ask – and asking is the key. Also key is giving them the information they are ready for and no more. Being a full time parent in tune with our child helps us learn how much information they are wanting.

      If your son is paying attention to the violence and curious, angry or confused by it, he is ready for information. If he’s not ready it will just go over his head and won’t register. If ready, he will want to talk about it because he trusts you for truthful information. He is capable of handling it in an honest atmosphere. Energetically he knows whether you are being honest or dishonest (which might be tempting in an effort to “protect” him).

      February 4, 2012
  9. Steen #

    Hmm!! Ok…ok…this is good stuff and it’s totally making sense. Yeah, I totally had an ah-ha moment. Ha-ha!!

    If I may digress for a second. So your response makes sense b/c I remember when we put our dog to sleep, Some people said don’t bring him, it’s too much for him. What was the alternative? Saying the dog ran away?? This was real life, we were euthanizing her. He and the dog were best friends, they were family. Why would he not be there and why would she not want him there. So we had him say goodbye and we explained to him. Kodi is going to heaven. She passed away. He patted her head – it was peaceful. It was real life.

    And the other day my son asked me where his whistle train went and I said to him “Remember we gave that to another child’s home for Christmas?” I did tell him at the time (as he help me prepare the toy bag that we were donating) but he must have forgotten. So I reminded him and took the information very well. He actually “Oh, ok”. Acknowledged, moved on. Maybe it jogged his memory or whatever it was, but he was okay with it. This made me feel good that I did not lie to him, amy mother may have to me. In fact she may have just given that toy away without even telling me first. Which I think that once you lie to a child, it gives them permission to lie to you.

    Also, what I am gathering from your blog is: I need to chill out!!
    So what if there is something on the news, or TV, or anything that he might see, it’s real life and if he asks, we talk about it and if he doesn’t then we don’t. I do not need to whisk him out of the room or distract him if its eyes do fall towards the TV. Not be so guarded with the information that’s out there. I feel some liberation setting in as I read your response (twice). I am here to teach him about life and to be honest.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience & stories – it gave me a clearer description; it’s invaluable. Much love!!

    February 4, 2012
    • yay! I feel good!!

      February 4, 2012
    • Yes, Steen! We’re not here to shelter our kids but support them. Even in my kids’ food choices, it is the knowledge we share through academic research and (more importantly) as a result of the feelings we get from what we’ve eaten that facilitates future choices. It’s all about going TOWARD what feels good. Food issues are rampant in our society and most people’s issues are fueled by resistance and disconnect from our body’s signals. So, if we are facilitating that connection and open communication in all areas, we dramatically decrease the propensity to use food for control and see it is a means of feel-good fuel, right?

      Control begets rebellion. That’s not what we want for ourselves or our kids. Many adults are still rebelling- trying to achieve some false sense of control they were led to believe would happen when they grew up. It’s dysfunctional. I believe in honesty, reality, a true sense of connection, and (when I screw those up) even more communication with my kids to understand their compass and, in so doing, my own.

      February 6, 2012
  10. Steen #

    ps. I can’t type for sh** so please excuse all grammatical errors! LOL

    February 4, 2012

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