My dad was a huge believer in Cause and Effect. What you did or said (the first event) was followed by a predictable consequence (second event).
My parents were amazing parents. I wish there were more of them in the world today, it would certainly be a better place. They started my brother Ryan and I with a safe home where love and affection were normal and value was assumed and intentional. That should be enough to preface our topic today…
So separate Cause and Effect from Value right from the get-go. Your good or bad decision making never made you inherently worth more or less. It simply made you more or less useful. Now if you’re insecure or had a nasty childhood you probably thought I said “used” there. Not “used”, “useful”.
My parents’ job was to raise my brother and I to be useful to society. Responsible decision makers capable of protecting the weak, nurturing families, and righting some of the wrongs in the world. Too much emphasis is placed on “finding yourself” today. I agree that I needed to “find myself” or “find my voice”, but only when responsibility and Cause and Effect were part of that process. To excuse poor behaviour in order to “find myself” doesn’t help me or anybody else.
There. Foundation laid! So here we go…
Reward and discipline always took place around Cause and Effect. Always. Dad was so good at this! I guess it helped that he wasn’t overly given to emotion (to say the least) and was steady and dependable, but the cheese to the macaroni was that it always had to do with us. If we wanted reward or discipline (I really think children want both of those things at different times), we acted this way or that. I was certainly the “handful” kid and my brother the dirty rotten sneak who never seemed to get much discipline, but that was mostly because he was smarter than I was. My emotions and reactions had the run of a much larger field than his did. He was more self controlled. That’s the reason for my joking resentment today (he’s a really great guy). He would put a match to the tinder, but always when dad was in the room for some reason….
I had a very strong personality and thank God that my dad wasn’t afraid of that. I was that kid that always pushed, so dad pushed back. He set up very reasonable boundaries and I would push up to them, or slightly over, and Cause and Effect would take place. Then I did what kids with my kind of drive do… I happily set up shop inside that boundary, safe and secure. To allow children to “express themselves” by doing whatever they want isn’t smart, and it certainly is NOT love. Parents have a responsibility that takes priority over their children’s state of comfort. To be out of control is not a fun feeling for anybody, so dad took control of that for me until I could manage it myself. I’m grateful.
When Erin and I began to have our four girls, I found I had already been trained to be a decent father. Cause and Effect. We also are huge believers that it takes a village to raise a child. Why? Because when you have isolated your family under your roof and not allowed proper outside influences in, you reap a predictable reward when your child is around 16 years old. Sure you can hold it together til then and the problems, though small, can fester for some years in the dark while you put on a good show for the outside world… until the strong willed child comes of age (the more passive kids come of age in this regard in their twenties normally). Then everybody knows how good your parenting was!
We decided up front that, though we could pass our strengths on to our girls, we weren’t crazy about passing on our weaknesses, so a village raises our kids. Actually our church community is the largest part of that. I cannot say this too strongly: If you insist on isolating your kids with only your influence, your weaknesses will be magnified and passed on to them! There is nothing else that can happen. Then you can sit in my office like everyone else who thought they were smarter than the “entire village” and tell me “Everything was going along just fine, then little Susan turned into a monster! And it all happened in one day!” Oh please….
Back to our topic: there are certain people that help us with Cause and Effect when we’re not around our kids. If an adult pulled mom or dad aside and explained my poor behaviour to them, Cause and Effect! So we do the same thing.
Though this story may hurt my point about the village, I need to pull something out of it and remind you that village life (actually any life) is sometimes messy. Once I overheard an extended family member say to one of my girls “You need to stop doing that, I’m getting mad!” I immediately stepped in as graciously as I could. Getting mad when a child is misbehaving is not Cause and Effect. In fact, it has nothing to do with the child at all. It is your response to their behaviour and is unacceptable. I’m not saying we don’t get frustrated and angry sometimes but I am saying that their poor behaviour doesn’t legitimize ours. Nobody’s poor behaviour makes mine OK.
The last thing I want my girls to do is to learn to respond to other people’s anger. That person’s anger is their problem. I was taught to do the right thing no matter who got angry about it. Anger doesn’t move me, nor should it. There are times when it may indicate that we’ve made a mistake, but anger itself doesn’t make us do stuff. What if my girl marries an angry man (and God help that man!) who would use anger as a lever or a weapon against her ? Hopefully by then her self esteem and sense of worth is so ingrained that she would avoid that relationship altogether as it is simply unhealthy. Healthy people don’t hang out with unhealthy people.
Draw a very consistent and reasonable line in the sand for your kids. When they cross that line… you guessed it! Cause and Effect! Every single time. As they earn trust and responsible you expand their decision making and areas that they have more “say” in. Responsibility is rewarded with more room and more responsibility. Then when they leave your home they can actually stand on their own feet and do quite well.
Drawing no line will make them insecure and blend usefulness into self worth. That’s bad. They will “do things” to earn people’s love. It will break your heart to watch it.
Drawing a ridiculous line or one that never flexes with common sense or growth will make them hate you because they will eventually recognize that as the weakness or pride that it is. Then the risk is that they will cast off ALL of your values and lean more into “Only I decide what’s right for me!”. That normally results in them losing ten years of their lives doing stupid regrettable stuff that will break your heart to watch. The road back from there is not an easy one.
Finally, if anything I’ve said is new news, or not instinctive to you… GOOD! That means you’re normal. Do NOT try to raise your kids by yourself. Get help! Read books! Ask successful parents how they did it? When you are in the daily grind of not really knowing what you’re doing, ask them what they would do if they were you?
I could do a whole blog on that last sentence… That single question has given me more pain and success than any other:)