At some point a few years ago, a friend of mine asked me something about spanking (I think that was the trigger), and we got to talking about making choices in parenting that reduce the chance your kids are going to outgrow the solution.
Spanking is one of those - regardless of how you feel about it, or what you believe, at some point it will cease being an effective tool. Eventually they will hit you back, or make it clear that hitting them is ineffective. :shrug: I was spanked, by the way, by my step-dad. Pretty much a total failure as far as effectiveness was concerned. I hit the data points smack in the middle - I learned to avoid being punished, I learned that power was through force and that authority was to be reviled. And I resisted doing what he wanted even more. I don't recall how long they tried the spanking routine, but I do know that it stopped eventually - it sure as heck didn't work. So why keep doing it? I'd outgrown the solution the first time they tried it (or perhaps before then).
Even if it had worked (and they were pretty close to the 'ideal' version of spanking in one sense - it wasn't usually 'out of anger' but 'the consequence for this action is to be spanked, advance warning, fair warning, notification, and consequence'), I'd still have outgrown it.
So, why not start with something that they won't outgrow? Dialog, communication, preventive action, connection, empathy, problem-solving, they'll all grow right along with the kid, and with the relationship.
So, we had that conversation, my friend and I. And then I forgot it. I don't recall if it was during the early months of having twins, when my brain was pretty foggy. Or later, or earlier. No matter - I forgot it, and then she remembered, and mentioned passing the advice on to another mom.
It sounded pretty darn brilliant. Wish I'd remembered saying it. Makes me wonder how many other smart things I've said and forgotten. And makes me glad I can't remember the stupid sh*t I've said, too.
I do definitely try to parent for the long-term, though. My mom (her, again) tends to say she was raising adults, not children. Anything she tried to give was for us to use as adults, and sometimes it would be useful as kids, and sometimes it would be problematic as kids. Certainly, it can be really frustrating to have kids who know how to and insist upon handling certain things themselves. It would be so much faster if I helped. Less messy. I'd never have to feel embarrassed about how you look if you let me choose for you what to wear (I say to myself having watched Mr B march off to the movies in shortie PJs and cowboy boots... it's the shorts and cowboy boots thing that just made me wince... but he likes them, and he gets to choose). I'd certainly never wonder if there was a possibility that the wedding dresses I'm making will be rejected, if we were all used to me saying and them just jumping.
But I don't want them to jump when someone else says jump later, either. Yes, consider authority, but maybe not submission to it.
That's kind of where the Effective, Prudent, True thing comes in.
When we started with Safe Respectful Kind, it was one of those momentary flashes of insight that was triggered by the child I had at that moment (I'm a proponent of 'they will teach you to be the parent they need'). Mr G isn't typical. He worked on principles and rules and order, with a mind like a lawyer's crossed with a scientists', crossed with a poet's. It was when I was working through the Nth variation on a theme for the 'rule challenge of the day' (his, of mine) that I suddenly GOT this. Granted, the wedding vows were already in there ('Loving and Faithful' - principles-based), but this was an expansion beyond. I probably could have started with Loving and Faithful with the kids, too. But what I was struggling with each day were matters of safety, matters of respect, and matters of empathy. Physical order, social order, interpersonal order. Physical integrity, personal integrity, social integrity. They all end up lining up under Safe, Respectful, Kind.
But if I'm teaching them to be adults, that's not all there is to life. There's principles, yes. But there's also the filters through which we measure our own decisions in more complex ways. I knew that Safe Respectful Kind was great for that concrete early thinking stage, the first few years of Montessori education, that solid, direct, and to some degree, kind of un-subtle phase that starts to fade out around 1st grade. Or rather, is layered onto at that point.
There's further development past that stage. There's more depth, perspective, and thoughtfulness coming. There's implications, autonomy, and separateness. There's the development of own values, the assessment and acceptance or rejection of values that one was raised with. There's the seeking for ideals, for chinks in parental armor, for integrity and inconsistency in the humans you call parent(s).
I spent a good week trying to figure out the filters for the next stage. Effective was easy. The things they do, the actions they take, the decision paths have to fit somewhere in the concept that one's responsibility ends where one's effectiveness ends. And not because I think striving for the impossible is wrong at all - but because guilt sneaks in needlessly where people believe that they are responsible beyond what they can effectively change. One cannot change the past, so action has to be based on where we go from here - effective, not just dreams. Concrete reality has a place in our choices. Beyond that, 'effective' implies not just 'successful' but successful in a trim, lean, honed manner. The most effective solution doesn't leave stuff hanging over the edges, half-done. It doesn't also waste energy trying to achieve results. It implies that there are many possible routes, that can be more or less effective. And that one can always look for a more effective solution. There's no one true path (necessarily), but there are effective ones.
But Effective alone, like Safe alone, is an emergency response situation. There are times when it is absolutely appropriate to ignore Respectful and Kind, and stick with Safe. If someone attacks you, kick them, bite them, hurt them, any way you can - Safe is getting away. Safe doesn't care if you respected their autonomy or dignity, or if you hurt their feelings. Safe is screaming when your child runs into the street, and scaring them so bad they come back bawling. Respectful and Kind can do some cleanup duty, and they're in there to set things up after that incident so you don't always respond with the Safe (solo/crisis/scary) reaction. But it's forgivable to be Safe without any followup, where it's considered reprehensible to pat the injured person on the hand and comfort them but refuse to call 911.
At times, the same is true of Effective. It's the emergency response. It's not providing access to the funds that were mis-spent before, not even buying the junk food, it's ignoring the social pressure and bringing the illegal activity the attention of the law.
But then there's also the other two layers. When choosing our own actions, the immediate issue is "what's going to work" - work without wasted energy, especially. There's not much excess laying around in the parental economy. But there's also the long term external consequences - Prudent. Are the repercussions of this choice going to carry enough negative implication that it would be better to go back to step one and find another solution, something still effective, but not quite so potentially risky? If you punch out the bully, that might be effective, but the negative risks can be substantial - suspension or expulsion for you, legal action, peer issues, escalating or passing on of the violence... maybe not prudent.
And then there's True. That's the internal measure. It's not 'how does this affect the outside world', and it's not 'how does this affect me in the eyes of the world', it's 'how does this affect me in my own eyes?' This is the self-check on what kind of person do I see myself being, now and in the future? Am I the kind of person who is comfortable with this? Does it fit my model of right and wrong? Does it inform my model of right and wrong in such a way that I need to re-assess my ideas of right and wrong?
My niece punching out the guy at school for harassing her sister... Effective. Though not Prudent, definitely. Luckily, the teacher who saw the event decided to go outside school rules and decline to report it on the grounds that it was clearly deserved and if it came to a lawsuit, the repeated sexual harassment likely would have weighed more against the boy than the single (solid, Judo-trained) shot to the jaw (after having been asked and told to lay off) might. Maybe not, but... And luckily, the boy didn't take the public take-down as a reason to get a gun or otherwise escalate the violence. Yeah, guilty pleasure still exists there - love it when a guy evades the rules to play predator, and the prey evades the rules to take him down. Still imprudent? Absolutely. Likely there were other, less satisfying, but functionally more prudent responses, and possibly also more effective, especially if they involved getting the kid into counseling. I love the event, and I won't teach my kids to follow that lead. There are other ways.
Still, note that prudence is not an excuse to become ineffective. Effective still comes first.
And then True. The shot to the jaw was about as true as one could get, there. True to her belief in herself, her love of her sister, her understanding of women as worthy of dignity and respect, her faith, the whole thing. Likely, she also could have carried another route in True, too.
The thing with the principles is they're open to interpretation. They're individual, not absolute. They're not legal, they're poetic. They adjust with the situation, with the players, with the culture. There are many holes in the mesh as the layers filter down (picture an archaeological dig, perhaps), and a lot of things could go through.
I have thought about the order (sequence) as well - shouldn't True be first? Honestly, I think that it depends on your personal philosophy, personality, and likely, your theology. For me, True is the final measure, but one starts with Effective. Too easy to discard the unusual but effective approach out of hand based on True before thinking it through. Best to save that gut self-test, the 'do I feel good about this choice?' as the last thing to do before acting. It's too easy to just knee-jerk the 'True' and ignore effective - this is the mistake that so many people make when trying to help someone else. It's true to ourselves to help others. It's often an utter waste of time, energy, and resources, because we go with what resonates with the gut first, and consider the effective use of our resources as an afterthought. We're easily seduced by what seems the most True, and fritter away our passion and dedication on actions that impact little or nothing of what we truly want.
If I put Effective first, I also often have to go against my training, think things through, and ... change. We put our charitable giving through this filter - we have only a little money to give, we want the maximum bang for the buck, the least waste, the fewest unforeseen losses (Prudent), the greatest depth and breadth of positive impact... and still want it to be true to our values. Funny, when we took that route, we found that there were people out there doing great work more quietly than the people we'd supported before. It felt disloyal to pass up a previously supported agency to join on with another, but... it also felt right. It was actually more embarrassing to have not done the real thinking, to have just jumped on the nearest bandwagon headed generally in our direction. Not a complete waste of our money, but... not the best use of it, either.
So, Effective, Prudent, True. Will this work well? Will it cause more trouble than good down the line? Is it congruent with my values?
Teaching this is a long long road, too. We've only just begun the process. Just pointed out when something was ineffective. When the implications were worse than the immediate gain. When the action wasn't even in line with the self-image. Say, dumping your brother backwards into the bookshelf when he climbs on your back unasked (and unwanted). A) Not effective - he just yells at you and does it again, only this time harder. He doesn't stop doing it. Seriously didn't work. B) Not Prudent - he not only tries harder to get you back, but he also finds other ways to annoy you that stay outside your reach. And C) Not True - you really do love him, you just want some peace and some physical quiet. Think about it. If trying to get him to stop yourself isn't effective, maybe come and ask for help figuring out a solution. Yes, we want you to solve the problems yourself, but if you haven't solved it, come in for some coaching. Touch down. Walk through the thinking. Put it through the filter. And then try again.