Thursday, February 23, 2012

Natural Consequences

I may possibly be willing to whisper under my breath that Caroline is finally potty trained. I whisper because if I dare to speak out loud, the Gods of Bodily Evacuation will surely smite me with a #2 in the middle of Target. So, we'll speak softly about this.

Caroline was so very different from Sam on this count. With Sam, he basically woke up one day and decided he was done with diapers. Ok, maybe it wasn't quite that smooth, but there was no doubt that he drove the bus on that one. Did I mention he was a few months past his second birthday? I will definitely say that there are good points about having a stubborn kid.

Caroline, however, approached the entire venture with suspicion and fear. I knew that she knew when she had to go, and she would even tell me when she was about to go but would insist on going in her diaper (thanks for telling me, kid?), turning her nose up entirely at the idea of sitting on the potty.

I kept expecting that she'd let me know when she was ready, like Sam did. But the thing about Caroline is that sometimes she needs a little push out of the nest, and I have to know when to give it.

I made up my mind about three weeks ago on a Wednesday morning. We'd run out of diapers and I was frankly too lazy to go out to the store and get some with both kids, and I couldn't find any of our diaper covers for the cloth ones that would fit her. So I took a deep breath, set up the potty and some strategically placed towels, and decided she'd bare-bottom it for the morning.

Maybe I need to interject here that there are two things I struggle with in parenting (and life) more than most, it seems - messes and natural consequences. And it hardly seems fair how often those two things seem to go together. Allow your kids to play with play-doh and they don't clean it up, and the play-doh is dried out and no more play-doh. At least, that's the way it should go. What usually happens is that my sanity is slowly chipped away at by the sticky floor, the unavailability of my kitchen table and the general clutter, so I either make the kids clean it up or do it myself.

I hang my head in shame. I always said I'd be a stickler for letting my kids experience natural consequences, but it is so, so much harder in practice than it is in theory. And in looking back, it's hardly surprising. I've never been good myself about connecting my actions to their consequences. It's so much easier to eat that fourth cookie and then feign surprise when the number on the scale doesn't move, or kick yourself for delaying and staying up late writing that term paper, even when it's exactly what you did last time and the time before, or run on that injury, instead of exercising a little patience and temperance, and make it worse. I am terrible at that stuff. And I'm probably not the only one. It often seems that our entire world is not really all that concerned with natural consequences, either. No matter what you did to lead to the jam you're in, there's a quick fix for it, often at a price. Entire industries are built upon our inability to pay attention to and learn from natural consequences.

So, with the entire world and all my self-worth riding on it (I kid!) I resolved to at least give this a whole-hearted try for a few days in relation to Caroline's potty training. And it was messy, and time-consuming, and required me to constantly be on alert in a way that slowly fried my brain over the course of the day. There were all the pee-soaked clothes and, inevitably, the urine-filled boots and shoes. Each short errand or run to the store felt like some sort of human waste Russian Roulette.

But you know what? She learned. When she had an accident, I said, "Oops! That's ok. Let's clean it up together." And we did. When she was bare bottomed on the second day and asked me for a diaper so she could poop, I shrugged and said, "Sorry! No diapers available!" and let her make a decision about what she was going to do with that information (she eventually went on her little potty). When we were out and about and she balked at the large, scary public toilet, I said, "Well, this is the only potty available right now, so you let me know what you want to do." At first she chose to hold it until we got home, but will now use almost any potty anywhere.

I'm very proud of both of us for sticking with it, even when it wasn't comfortable. Frankly, it was a daily (heck, hourly!) struggle to bite back "you don't want to have an accident, do you?" or just take her bodily and PUT her on the darn potty when I knew she had to go. And this was just one small part of parenting, one small cornered-off area of the vast expanse of decisions and consequences my kids make every day that I help them with. I had to remind myself that Caroline wasn't the only one making a behavior change, here.

But the whole experience got me thinking about how this relates to my faith life. I believe that part of we humans' relationship with God is very much based on this idea of natural consequences. We have pretty much as much rope as we want. Free will and all that stuff. God very much wants us to choose the path that leads to Him, but He gives us that choice. He doesn't make us, although I suppose if that's what He wanted He could have made us to do so. But he would have had robots instead of loving, amazing, smart, impulsive, demanding, questioning human beings. I have to think that there is some pleasure for God in who we are, since He made us in his image.

And I believe that we parents who believe in this God are called to reflect our relationship with Him in our relationship with our own children. Doing so allows them to know Him through us, and to grow in their own faith as they get older. So, with this in mind, perhaps the best thing I can do as a parent is just to say,

I'm here, and I love you. If you make a mess, I'm always here to help you clean it up. If you leave your play-doh out and it dries out and you are sad, I'll listen to you. If you don't do your homework and have to stay up late or get a bad grade, I'll bring you a snack. And I hope you learn from all of that. But if you don't, I'll be here the next time, and the time after that, as long as I'm alive. Because I know you. I know you so well. And I know you can learn, I always hope that you will.

Make no mistake, I'm sure I have some spleen-filled cleaning binges and frantic calls to teachers in my future along with "I told you so" escaping from my lips more often than not, but I hope and pray very hard that I can let go of the controls and let my kids experience the natural consequences of their actions. In the end, they will be far better and more lasting teachers than I.


The Freewaydiva said...

I am loathe to engage in religious discussion on Teh Intarwebz, but this phrase stuck right out at me:

I believe that part of we humans' relationship with God is very much based on this idea of natural consequences. We have pretty much as much rope as we want. Free will and all that stuff. God very much wants us to choose the path that leads to Him, but He gives us that choice.

I believe this with my whole heart. Which is why I get my knickers in a giant, uncomfortable twist when others try to legislate for a diverse society based on their own faith path.

As you said, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to let others figure things out for themselves, but, ultimately, the lesson that they learn will stick with them. But THEY have to learn it.

Kate said...

Good point, T, and I think it highlights a common difference of views. I had a lot of time to contemplate this while swimming laps, and here's what my waterlogged brain came up with:

To me, "everyone has free will to follow their own path to God" can easily become "All paths to God, no matter what they contain, are good because they lead to God." But there are some problems with that.

Say someone robs a store and shoots the clerk with a shotgun and kills them. Very bad. Instantly or years later, he experiences a conversion surrounding this act. Wonderful. But that would not be a valid reason to say that what he did is acceptable, change murder laws, start buying everyone a shotgun, or requiring that everyone buy a shotgun. The ends never justify the means, no matter how great the ends are.

Perhaps if we find ourselves living in a society where it gradually becomes ok to shoot people with shotguns, we might have people who also experience this on their path to God and are converted either directly or indirectly because of their experience. But at what cost? We'd also have a lot more people killed by shotguns, and a gradual coarsening of what it means when you kill someone with a shotgun, which gradually bleeds over into other decisions people make when they contemplate important things like the value of life and what it means to take the life of another person. Is it worth it?

I know that's a dramatic example, but I think it lines up with what a lot of religious people, including me, see when they look at our society and head to the voting booths. Obviously everyone's mileage varies on how this plays out. But I'd posit that it mostly boils down to "We should make people's paths to God easier, not harder."

Free will and people following their own paths - I do believe that's how we were designed. But I also think we all should not be required to groom, tend, and celebrate every single path because of its ultimate destination.

I have no idea if this makes any sense because it's 5:00 on a Friday, but thanks for the comment, and for giving me something to contemplate on my swim. : ) I'll leave it to any other commenters on here to take up this discussion from here. Beer me!

Mark said...

Its always uncomfortable to hear someone question a strongly held belief. Nevertheless, I think it is too easy to speak about "legislat[ing] for a diverse society" without facing the implications of the statement. Should the government provide free, universal healthcare? Should the government force someone to pay for someone else's abortion? Should the government provide tax benefits based upon two people wanting to live together? If someone is a true libertarian/anarchist that believes the government should stay out of everything, then I guess the argument can be made with a degree of intellectual consistency. But, once someone believes the government should be able to force people to act for the common good, then the argument loses much of its intellectual force and the question becomes what is the common good. Of course, people of good faith can have very different views of what constitutes the "common good" :)

The Freewaydiva said...

I <3 Civil Discourse.