If it works, it's legal

The local swimming pool in our little town is the summer hang-out place for families. Whenever we go down, there's always someone there we know from school or preschool or playgroup. The kids get to swim and play, I get to chat and everyone has a good afternoon.

That's assuming that no-one's child is too over-tired, over-hungry or just plain grumpy. Which is what happened today while we were there. A harried friend of mine and mother of many, was having a stoush with her preschooler. From the other end of the pool I could hear tears and screams from the child and a raised voice from the mother.

When I made it down to the shallow end I, my friend and another lady all had a little bit of a grin about what happened. "Bribery works wonders," said my friend. "Yes," said the other woman. "Whatever works is legal, I say."

Her words stuck in my head all day and made me think.

My first reaction was to say that a lot of things can 'work' that are definitely not legal. A friend of mine was abused as a child. I'm sure she had 'perfect' behaviour but the way her father got her to do what he wanted was to beat, torture, rape and emotionally degrade her.  

My second reaction was to ask, well, what do we really mean by 'whatever works'? What am I aiming for in the way I bring up my children? My friend obviously wanted her child to get out of the pool today. Yesterday I wanted my little boy to get into bed and to stay there. Tonight, I'd quite like the baby to stop crying and just go to sleep happily. But these are all short term answers.

Long-term, I want these things for my children.

- to be able to think

- to have true consideration and empathy for others

- to feel secure and sure of their identity

- to want to enjoy and use their talents for the benefit of themselves and others

- to be self-motivated

- to be problem-solvers

- to find opportunities and to take them

- to express themselves with a gentle assertiveness and respect

- to be followers of truth

I'm sure there are more. You get the idea. I don't want them to be bound by shame and negativity or to be held back emotionally and motivationally by 'musts' and 'shoulds' and 'can'ts'. I don't want them to do what other people tell them without being able to think it through for themselves. I don't want them to be scared of speaking up.

In my every day parenting, my ambition is (and I have to say I don't always follow my own advice) to keep my end goals in mind when I'm trying to do 'whatever works'. I want to find and model respectful words and actions that help me get the short term result I want and need for my child (going to bed, or getting out of the pool) with the long term result of helping my child practise and discover the qualities that will stand him or her in good stead as an adult.