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?
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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