Friday, September 9, 2011

When Mommy met Sally...

When we last checked in on the bedtime tango of mother and child, Mom had failed to recognize Sally's foolish goal of Reward without Responsibility. As a result she had opted to pursue her own goal of getting Sally to obey, which led to a power struggle as Mom took responsibility to become the motivational force pushing Sally in the direction of obedience. A wee bit exhausting...

What is taking place in little Sally is not raw disobedience. Hers is not an outward defiance. Rather she's pursuing an underground strategy to manipulate her world so that she can get what she wants (to play) without having to take any accompanying responsibility (cleanup). Now keep in mind that this is natural to children. They're born this way... foolish - inclined to want their world to revolve around themselves and have someone else take on the duties of life.

But there is more than just a Machiavellian mindset of foolishness within our children. Made in the image of God, they are created to know the certainty of being valued by another... to be loved and to matter.  Just as foolishness in their hearts is a reality, there also exists a thirst for relational acceptance. Yet coupled with that thirst is the very real fear that they don't have what it takes to take things on.

Herein is the core philosophical dilemma of humanity.  As fallen creatures made in the image of God, how do we face a fallen world without God?  Given the challenge of that situation, children are understandably scared as they face life.  To a child, avoiding the responsibilities of childhood makes sense, "Mom and Dad, you take care of me... you take responsibility for making things work out well for me."  This fear combined with foolishness often directs children away from taking on their world.  And in those moments children wrongly think short-term, believing it is better to go for immediate gratification or to seek the safety of avoiding challenges.  It is through discipline and instruction in a loving relationship that parents seek to redirect those wrong beliefs and goals in order that their children would take on their world with responsible behavior towards others and the tasks of life.

Since Reward without Responsibility is the main foolish goal children pursue it is then essential that parents are able to recognize it.  As I've said before - become curious about what's behind your children's irresponsibility and misbehavior as it unfolds in different situations.  Take time to trouble-shoot and come up with some working hypotheses.  Again, there are no pat answers and formulas, but there are principles to guide.  Every child is different, so there's a variety of expressions to foolishness.  And every child will have multiple situations where RwR is in action.  It isn't necessary to find them all and discipline each occurrence.  Your purpose is not to eradicate foolishness or directly change your child's behavior, but to parent in a direction and have a family structure that reflects how this world works.  And one part of doing this is by identifying a few problem areas and bringing logical consequences to bear on a consistent basis.  Discipline (including natural consequences) is aimed at weakening foolishness, a wrong belief about how best to live life.  It is not the means by which parents produce obedient children.

So, how can a parent recognize that Reward without Responsibility is operating in their child?  Two questions to ask in order to think this through are:
  • Does your children seem casually indifferent to the consequences of their behavior?  If so, then your children are missing something they were meant to experience, i.e. the consequences of behavior actually has impact.    They are missing the joy or sorrow of knowing that what they decide to do really matters and makes a difference in their life and in the lives of others.
  • As a parent, do you feel like your children's servant?  If your routine is to give reminder after reminder, repeating instructions to be obeyed, and generally acting as the motivator and overseer to your children's obedience then you should step back and ask herself, "What's going on here?"... What am I doing?... Am I merely strengthening a fool with all my hovering, threats, etc.?"
Some examples of a child pursuing Reward without Responsibility would be things like:  leaving a bicycle out at the end of the day, being late for school, not picking up their toys or clothes, telling tall tales (wanting recognition without truthfulness), not eating their meals...  The list obviously goes on.  

Feel free to suggest other examples or to ask if a particular behavior falls under Reward without Responsibility. To be continued...  


    Z Mom said...

    What about not being able to keep their hands to themselves. Not so much a problem with other people, just inanimate objects....example, the store!

    Trying to wrap my mind around foolishness vs. defiance, that will be thought provoking for awhile. The questions to ask in the situation sure help, and also slow me down so that I may respond versus, react.

    What are your thoughts on spanking?

    Jack Miller said...

    Yes, not keeping their hands off of things in a store is another expression of RwR. Can it be outward defiance? Yes, it can be.

    Foolishness is not vs. defiance. Defiance is a "defiant outward expression of foolishness." I would generally restrict spanking to acts of outward defiance. That's not to say it must always be met with a spanking. Sometimes other consequences may be more effective at weakening the wrong belief and goal behind the defiance.

    Jack Miller said...

    I haven't addressed it yet, but it's important to have clear rules/do's and don't's (not too many) so that as parents we aren't disciplining according to our moods, our competing desires/goals or circumstances.

    Laura said...

    good. clear. thanks Dad.

    Z Mom said...

    Thanks, that clears up my confusion.
    Thankfully I have extroverts, and the outward defiance is pretty easy to spot. Children the Challenge, has been very helpful. I wish I had read it from the get go.

    Thanks, and blessings to you. Ginger