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Inconsistency

Guest Post by Meagan Francis:

Lately, I’ve noticed an aspect of my parenting style that would probably elicit disapproval from child psychologists. While I’m almost always empathetic, usually firm and try very hard to be fair, I change my mind a lot.

We parents are told again and again (and again) that consistency is the key to well-behaved children. Whatever decree I pass down—whether it be “No way,” “Only one cookie,” or “We aren’t leaving here until you’ve put on your coat!”—must be carried through, unswervingly, to the bitter end. Tears, pleas and tantrums must have no effect on my resolve. Once something has been said, it has to be a done deal. Otherwise, my children will learn to see through my idle threats, to prey on my weaknesses. Basically, they’ll turn into defiant, ill-mannered monsters.

Which is unfortunate for me, since consistency isn’t really something I excel at. I changed my college major four times and have switched career paths at least five thus far. I alter my views on political and social issues as often as I change my socks (at least once a day, in case you were wondering). And when it comes to sticking with something I’ve told my kids, no matter how much I meant it when the words came out of my mouth … well, sometimes I’m not very good at it. Sometimes I realize that the order I gave wasn’t very reasonable to begin with. Occasionally, I outright forget my original rule.

Case in point, this exchange between my 9-year-old son Jacob and I:

Day one:

Jacob: “Mom, can I have a fruit snack?”

Me: “No, they’re for lunches.”

Day two:

Jacob: “Mom, can I have a fruit snack?”

Me: “No, they’re for lunches.”

Day three:

Jacob: “Mom, can I have a fruit snack?”

Me: “No! I’ve told you, they’re for lunches, and if you keep bugging me about them I’m not going to buy them at all anymore!”

Day four:

Jacob: “Mom, can I have a fruit snack?”

Me: (forgetting days one to three entirely) “OK, but get one for your brother too.”

I can only hope that this lack of rigidity in my mothering rule book is not going to be what sticks out in his brain next time I tell him he can’t have something. I can practically hear him lecturing his little brothers on Ways To Get Around Mom now:

Jacob: “Mom sometimes says ‘No,’ but really, it just means ‘If you annoy me about it enough, I’ll eventually give in.'”

Isaac: (taking notes furiously on his Magna-Doodle) “Will this be on the test?”

I’m consistent with certain messages: “I love you,” “No, you can’t have BubbleTape for dinner” and “Yes, you have to wear your seat belt.”

Others, I’m not so good with: “One treat a day is enough,” “No eating in the living room,” and “No staying up past 9.”

I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t fool my kids into thinking I do. Hopefully, through example, they’ll learn that life is all about options. It’s never too late to change your mind, whether you were wrong to begin with or just want to try something new. After all, isn’t that what having a mind of your own is all about?

The way I see it, by sometimes being inconsistent I’m sending my kids a very consistent message: I love you, I’m trying to do the right thing, and I’m human.

But don’t get the wrong idea about me. I’m not a total pushover. I unswervingly maintain that BubbleTape is never an acceptable dinner.

And I’m not budging.

-Meagan

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