Tuesday, December 06, 2011

You Don't Have to do Anything

I've had many parenting mantras in the past and this is my current one: You don't have to do anything.

I'm not advocating permissiveness in this mantra. I'm advocating a breather.

There have been times when I've intervened in an upset for the umpteenth time and I just don't know what to do. And nothing I done so far has solved it. And yes, it's probably because they didn't get enough sleep, but that doesn't help in the now? And every parenting book advocates consistency. My brain starts to think, "And so you've got to do something, anything, so you..."

You don't have to do anything.

I don't. Seriously. In fact, it is probably better to do nothing than to do what I really want to do, like sell the children on ebay.

You don't have to do anything.

If the choice is between doing anything and nothing, choose nothing. Because anything is vague. And often mean and violent and not something you're going to look back on with fondness. Take a breather, and come back with a solution on how to handle the situation in the future. It's ok if for a few times, you don't do anything.

Yes, kids thrive on routine and consistency, but consistency doesn't have to mean that there is a consequence every single time something happens. Frankly, in life there isn't always a consequence. Sometimes people do things, even "wrong" things and there's no one around to punish them. And it's not going to lead them into thinking they can "get away" with things.

Sometimes I don't do my chores. My bed goes unmade, the piano goes unpracticed, the dishes are dirty. No one comes and "makes" me do it. It happens and I try better in the future. I don't think I'm "getting away" with things just because I failed to do something and no one was around to punish me.

I've run stop signs. It's illegal. No one was around: no pedestrians, no other drivers, no police officers. Nothing happened. I didn't mean to and I've actually pulled off to the side of the road when I've done it to catch myself and re-focus. But no one came around to give me a ticket. It's dangerous and I don't think to myself, "I'm going to start running all kinds of stop signs because I can see I can get away with it!" I don't. I try harder NOT to do that again.

Sometimes I've said mean things to people (including my children) and no one comes to wash my mouth with soap or put me in time out.

The point is: sometimes nothing happens. And that's ok. I'm not a serial stop-sign runner. I'm not a serial non-dish-washing person. I try not to be mean.

So as the parent, there are times when you don't have to do anything. Consistency in breathing, patience, and mercy might be even better than consistency in consequences.


  1. Oh yeah! I try to make this my go-to parenting response when I can feel my patience is too thin to handle anything. I try to remind myself that this parenting thing is a learning process and I have to take baby steps. I can't expect myself (or any other parent I know) to make all the right choices all the time. I would do better to be more forgiving...of my kids, of my spouse, of well-meaning advice-givers, and especially of myself!

  2. I love this. I was talking to my mom the other day about gentle parenting, and she said, "But what do I DO? I have four kids under ten! I can't constantly be talking through every single issue. What if one kid has a grouchy tone of voice while another kid is asking me for a sandwich and another kid is whining for no reason?"

    I said, "You know, you don't HAVE to do anything." In other words, the small stuff (like a grouchy tone of voice) isn't something you need to leap all over every time. It will happen sometimes, and that's okay ... as you continue to model a better attitude, and discuss it with the kids, it will get better. The kid who wants a sandwich can wait two minutes while you deal with the whiner ... or the whiner can wait two minutes while you make the sandwich. Gentle discipline SOUNDS like it is only for the perfect, for those who have only one child and nothing else to do but talk through stuff. But a lot of times, it's for the busy mom who doesn't have time to nitpick. Instead we can just let the children grow.

    (It is funny that I give my mom advice about how to raise my siblings. But I taught kids their ages, and she likes to hear the tips I figured out with not four, but fifteen under-tens.)

  3. Just wanted to thank you for this post. I've been thinking a lot about it and today the baby was gassy and fussy and my toddler was having a major meltdown because she didn't get a nap (grrr for church right during nap time). Both were screaming and my head was pounding. When my toddler started to do some things that she shouldn't have been doing but weren't hurting her or anyone else, I reminded myself that at this moment, I didn't need to focus on discipline. I didn't need to do anything. We focused on breathing and calming down and then i was able to remind her of things that she could do and redirect her to another activity. Remembering this helped me keep my cool and treat my child in a way that I wouldn't later regret (yelling or talking disrespectfully to her)


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