I found myself reading and reflecting on the “18 point contract” that’s being circulated on Twitter and the web: http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2012/12/31/mom-presents-18-point-contract-with-rules-of-use-to-teenage-son-would-you-be-tempted/
Frankly, it didn’t sit right with me – even though lots of people are sharing it and seem to really like it. Not that I thought it was a bad contract or that the points were unreasonable. I liked it overall – but I’d also never do that kind of thing to my kids.
Why? I had to ponder that for a bit. Here’s what I’ve been thinking:
I don’t believe in “rules.” I don’t want to teach my children how to “follow rules” blindly.
Instead, I want them to understand and engage with our various societal contracts (written or unwritten) and their own developing values/ethics. I want them to do/think/say the “right” things because they are the right things to do, not because someone told them to do something. And by someone, I include myself – even as their parent, I don’t expect them to unthinkingly do as I say.
And yes, I understand that sometimes, there are rules that need to be followed. If you want to go to (and continue to go to) school, then you follow their rules. Or risk being kicked out. If you want to drive a car in Canada, you have to have a license and drive on the right side of the road and stop at red lights and follow all the other rules of the road – not just make up your own as you go along.
At the same time, there are some rules that are unfair or wrong or unjust or out-dated, and I want my children to respectfully question those rules. I want them to be able to understand why something should be questioned and be able to articulate when something needs to be changed. I want them to know why and how to stand up and use their voices to change things for the better and for everyone, not just for themselves.
Being able to meaningfully engage as involved citizens in our society requires, in my opinion, deep understanding and clear purpose/values. If you don’t know what you’re doing and why, then you risk knee-jerk reactions, shallow (and ultimately useless) policies/procedures/laws and generally a lack of coherence. At best, this is expensive and demoralizing.
And if you haven’t practiced and become comfortable with asking questions, debating, being wrong or standing up for what you believe in (even if no one else agrees), then you can’t master the art of being a fully participating, whole and healthy human being.
I believe this is the case whether you’re talking about being involved with a government or a family, a small business, a non-profit organization or a huge corporation (or anything in between). We need thoughtful, reflective and knowledgeable citizens and leaders in this complicated world.
And we’re not going to get such citizens/leaders by handing kids contracts.
Over the last year or so, I’ve come to a place where I have no “rules” in my house –only two questions:
1) are you being kind?
2) are you being respectful to yourself, others and the world around you?
I’ve come to think of these as my “compass questions” – since they provide in-the-moment assessment of whether I’m heading in the right direction or not.
These questions don’t tell me what to do or what not to do – they push me to continuously and consciously consider if and how my words/thoughts/actions are supporting the sort of person I want to be, and the kind of world I want to live in. Similarly, I use these questions to challenge my children to consider their everyday actions – to think and question and check how they feel about themselves and their choices.
Now, using these questions isn’t easy. It would be much easier, in fact, for me to post a list of rules on the fridge and dole out punishment/rewards as I deem they’re deserved. It takes much more thought and energy to stop, consider, ask questions and think about what we’re doing.
But I want each of my children to not only know but also to practice all that it means to be an ethical, caring person in today’s world. If it’s true that it takes some 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, then there are many conversations I need to make room for in my home, to allow my children to become experts at being responsible, thoughtful and engaged citizens by the time they move out.
The asking is also only the beginning – I (and my children) then need to decide what to do next. Do I have to do something differently? If so, then what? How do I know this new course of action is more appropriate? And what things do I need to consider?
This is where the real learning happens, in my opinion. Even as adults, it’s extremely difficult to move from “knowing” what we want to be to “doing” that on a consistent basis. I’ve worked so hard to work on this shift, personally. My children may as well benefit from my hard-won wisdom. I can and will coach/teach/model the everyday logistics and challenges of living a values-based life.
So, will I be handing my children a “contract”? Definitely not. I’m going to make them work much harder than just sitting back and “obeying.”
And I expect them to learn about being good human beings in the process.