Back in 1968, at a very young age, I had a terrific learning experience based squarely on consequences. The shear fact that I still remember this after almost five decades makes it even more salient. The musical “Oliver!” had recently been released at the movie theaters, and a promise had been made by my mother to take me and my brother Will to the movies. Back in the day, there were no videos, DVDs or On Demand movies, so this was a special treat… after all, if we didn’t see the “Oliver!” in the theater, when would we ever get to experience it? Happiness all around, yes? Well, yes, until Will and I began to misbehave ( I can’t remember what it was that we were doing, however, the consequence is seared into my memory like grill marks on a steak). After several requests from mom for us to pleeeeaaase stop whatever it was that we were doing, the order came down, “Stop this, or there will be no movie!”. Yep, you guessed it… we didn’t stop and there was no “Oliver!”. To this day, I have not seen it.
What about that day has relevance for me as a parent now? Two things stand out; first, at some moment in the above scenario, my mother had the good sense to step out of the power struggle and change her role. Once she made the decision to no longer engage with us with appeals and requests, she became the adult. She took back her role as “parent and adult”, and was now no longer “screaming”. Second, and what is most important, is that she very simply and calmly gave my brother and me a consequence… if you continue to “A” then a logical consequence will be “B”. We had a clear choice to either discontinue squabbling and carrying on, and “Oliver!” would be enjoyed in all of its Technicolor splendor, or we could choose “B”, and remain at home on that inauspicious day. We chose “B”, and my mother was able to let the consequences do the disciplining for her. Job well done mom!
Was this easy for her? Of course not… not only was she looking forward to some quiet time, and perhaps a Milk Dud or two at the movie theater, she was now at home with two excessively unhappy children, and as parents, we all know what that looks like. She loves her children, and now is perceived by them as the “bad guy”… another uncomfortable parenting moment. So why was this an important day for my much younger self? Because I learned that for every one of my actions, there is a logical consequence. Not such a big deal at a young age, but as I have grown, this little lesson has stuck with me, and much to my children’s dismay, consequence-based parenting is part of our daily life. They know that they have full control to make their own decisions, and that there will be logical consequences… this takes me out of the “bad guy” role, and gives them full responsibility for their choices. Is this difficult to watch? Yes. Would I step in if I felt it necessary for their safety? Of course. Are there certain consequence-based lessons that I would like for them to learn before they become full-on adults? Yes.
I realize that I cannot, nor do I desire to, follow them around, helicoptering over them and micromanaging their decisions. I am able however to say to them, “You know that I don’t approve of (fill in the blank), and that I also am certain that should you choose to (fill in the blank), that there will be logical consequences to your decisions and actions. Are you willing to accept that consequence and all that it means?”. Done… no arguing or gnashing of teeth.
And would you like to know what? Most of the time, they surprise me… I am able to see the wheels turning in their teenager heads, and just like that, we are able to experience a connected moment, one in which I am no longer the “bad guy”… this role now belongs to the logical consequence, and that “pesky consequence” does the dirty work for me.
What consequences are you willing to let into your home to be the “bad guy”?
For more reading on this, check out ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel, chapter nine… happy parenting!