Theirs to Lose
May 3rd, 2012

So far I’d say most of our parenting strategies have developed organically.  We didn’t make conscious decisions ahead of time about many aspects of our parenting.  Rather, we dealt with situations as they arose and a methodology of sorts naturally emerged.  By and large, I think this approach has served us well.  It’s interesting, though, because only in retrospect could I really tell you what our parenting philosophy has been at any step of the way.

Given that, I always find it interesting to hear older parents – people who’ve traveled more of this road than I have – talk about their perspective on parenting.  Last week I was sitting in a  conference room waiting for a meeting to start.  I got to chatting with a colleague and she offered some commentary on one of her parenting philosophies regarding her now-college-aged kids and it struck me as interesting.

She said, “We assumed the privileges were a given.  We didn’t make the kids earn them.  They were going to get video games, cars, clothes, and so on.  But all of those privileges were theirs to lose.  We made it clear to them that their number one job was to get good grades and be good citizens at school.  And the moment those things (and others) started to suffer the privileges would be revoked until they were earned back.”

I hadn’t really thought about the chicken and egg nature of parenting before, but in this arena I think I like her tack.  I like the idea of telling a kid that the basic assumption is that his behavior will be good; that he uses good judgment and makes good decisions; that his default setting is one that entitles him to certain privileges.  I think it sends a good message.  By comparison the alternative seems to me a bit harsh.  That is, “You have to earn your privileges because it is our assumption that you might not do so.  And until you prove us wrong you have to do without.”  In the world of self-fulfilling prophecies I’d much prefer to set the former into motion than the latter.

I’m sure my parents made plenty of mistakes in their parenting, just like anyone else.  But one thing I think they did right was to impress upon me that they trusted me.  If they told me once they told me 800,000 times that I had good judgment.  I suspect that they hoped that if and when I ever found myself in a situation where I had to choose between a smart and a stupid decision that I would think to myself at some unconscious level, “I am a person with good judgment, so I will not make the stupid decision.”  I can’t say for sure if it worked, but I can say for sure that I was one of the least rebellious kids I’ve ever met.

I have wonderful kids.  That’s easy to say at this point because they’ve had very few opportunities to let me down.  And while I’m quite sure that at some point down the road they will do just that, I like the idea of parenting from a position of faith in my kids.  I like the idea that they would know that, unless they give me a reason to think otherwise, I will believe in their goodness, patience, tolerance, kindness, intelligence, work ethic, and sound judgment.  Because to whatever extent I have the ability to shape their perception of themselves, that is the perception I want to create.

2 Responses to “Theirs to Lose”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    I have to say, this is how I like to parent as well, by faith. And I’m sure my parents had no organized parenting philosophy either, but just like yours, they seemed to instill a lot of trust in me, that I would make good decisions. I think it worked for sure, because not only was I basically a good kid (minus this small run in with the security at Six Flags for underaged drinking!), but the idea of violating their trust definitely weighed on my conscious whenever I was confronted by a less-than-savory situation. So I see myself parenting this way too, and my daughter is just beginning to learn to hang her head in shame (literally) when she’s done something naughty or to disappoint us. Not that this is the behavior I’m seeking, but I guess it makes me think she seeks our approval.

  2. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I think this sort of approach follows one’s approach to people and relationships in general. If you’re an “earn it and you get it” type in life, you may be more likely to parent in the same way. If you’re a “yours to lose” person in terms of friendships, respectful working relationships, etc., it seems to me you’d approach parenting in a similar fashion.

    But speaking of “losing” things, I would say that even you approach with the glass virtually full, for many of us – those privileges aren’t remotely about “stuff” – gadgets, toys, cars, video games. Rather, they are about trust, the child’s judgement and ability to make their own decisions, time without parental supervision (or with less), and so on.

    In the world in which we live – “entitlement” to anything isn’t something I care to teach, nor have I. Entitlement to “stuff” or even opportunities is elusive and a concept that seems off – to me.

    But the jobs of my kids? Very much in keeping with this colleague of yours – do well in school, be an honest and reliable person in your relationships, work hard – and I’ll be there to support you any way possible.