Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Declaration of Independence or, Common Sense, Baby!
by Judy Merrill Larsen
Don't worry, this isn't going to be a little history lesson. Or a quiz about who signed what and when. Uh uh. It's about the power of natural consequences and how letting those consequences take their natural course can lead everybody--parents and kids--to the independence that we all want. It's necessary, but sometimes it can be a painful struggle. Just ask the British.
As adults, we get this. If I eat less and move more I'll lose weight. Doesn't always make me do so, but that's a natural consequence I understand. Same with, oh, say, paying bills so the electricity stays on. In my fifteen years of teaching, I often found myself preaching this to my students. Especially when they'd ask about extra-credit. I'd launch into my song and dance about "Well, if you'd done the assigned work you wouldn't need extra-credit. now, would you, so why should I give you a chance to make more work for me?" That always brought them around, yes indeedy.
But as a mom, it was often much harder for me to hold to this. For a few years, when my sons were in elementary school, I was on a first-name basis with the night janitor at their school because we seemed to need to ask him to unlock a classroom door at least once a week to fetch something we needed to complete a homework assignment. Part of me knew I should let them deal with the consequences of not remembering. But it seemed so cold. Harsh.
No more. One thing teenagers teach you (and the sooner, the better) is that they often only respond to natural consequences. For example: (and I need to make a disclaimer here. Not all of these examples come from the children living under my roof. Some come from their friends. I swear. But they're all instructive.)
~If, when you are "assigned" community service by a judge because of some hi-jinks you were caught participating in, "forgetting" to perform said hours will cause those hours to be doubled. Plus you'll be fined. So maybe next time you shouldn't ignore your mom's nagging.
~If you keep calling in sick to a job you no longer like, you'll get fired. And the company who sends you your cell phone bill doesn't care the reason, they'll stop your service. And, no, they don't have to warn you in advance.
~If you blow through all your lunch money/allowance by noon on Tuesday, you're going to be hungry (or brown-bagging it) for the rest of the week. Not to mention that you can forget about any extra-curricular fun.
~If you buy clothes that scream "Skanky crack ho" to your parents, but "sneak-wear" them under your t-shirt, the school will likely call your parents to explain they don't mesh with the dress code and you'll be assigned a detention. Also, said clothes will likely disappear the next time your mom does the laundry.
~Speaking of which, if your mom tells you to put all your dirty clothes in the laundry basket outside your door so she can get the laundry done and you don't, there will be no clean clothes for you. Deal with it. Ha.
~And, if you decide your mom isn't all that bright and why can't you just put all your dirty clothes in the wash together (because she is no longer willing to do your laundry (see above)), don't expect that same stupid mom to replace your now pink underwear. But you can expect her to laugh at you when you make your request. And, if you've blown through your lunch money/allowance this week, you'll be wearing the pink underwear to school.
~If your economics professor has told you that your homework is all to be done on-line, and you sign up for the wrong on-line program, and then notice that your classmates have homework, but miraculously you don't, that doesn't mean you're off the hook; it means you'll be retaking the class in summer school. At 8 a.m. if your mom has anything to say about it.
~If the bank explains that if you bounce a check there will be fees assessed--which will deplete your checking account even more, they really mean it. It's not like when your mom used to tell you she'd fine you for having to go up to the elementary school at night to pick up your geography book. She remembers how cute you were at age 4. The bank doesn't, and even if they did, they wouldn't care.
Natural consequences. They rock. In part because your kids can't be mad at you or blame you. Not that they won't try, but even they have to realize that they brought it on themselves. And that's where the real power comes in--they have to take responsibility.
That's a pretty powerful lesson. And it leads to independence. Possibly even adult behaviors. And all you've had to do is sit back, watch it unfold and bite your tongue. And maybe sacrifice some tea tossed into a harbor.