“I don’t WANNA SAY I’m SORRY!” You stomp your feet and cross your arms in that universal signal of indignation. That particular stance must be some latent genetic memory because I can’t recall ever modeling that.
“But you have to,” we say, trying to enforce polite behavior.
“Fine,” you finally acquiesce, “I’M SORRY.” That phrase comes out of your mouth dripping with venom, and you barely look toward your sister, the supposed receiver of the apology.
Of course, that doesn’t mollify us. we continue to insist that you somehow say the apology “better”. Then it either happens (rarely) or (more likely) it escalates, punishments ensue, and everyone is grumpy for some time.
Do we really want you to apologize sincerely? Sure. But what we really want – what we’re really trying to accomplish if we were fully honest with ourselves – is not for you to apologize, but for you to feel apologetic. We want you to want to apologize because you recognize the harm that you’ve done to someone.
We all want something (multiple somethings, actually) out of life. A particular Result. It could be a great career. A healthy body. A family. The latest Katy Perry album. (Okay, not that.)
Whatever that result is, there are practices – multiple ones- that can lead to that particular result. Study hard, land a great job and work on a career. Exercise and eat right to get that body. Date interesting, like-minded people (not until you’re 25, natch) and you’ll start a family. All those are practices that could lead to the result that you want.
Seems relatively straightforward, doesn’t it? But as you acquire life experience, you’ll find the simplicity of that approach is inadequate. Notably, there are the normal vagaries of life and circumstance that enter into it. These are things you can’t control that can affect the results you achieve with a certain practice.
But there is something important that you can control that can dramatically change the effectiveness of whatever your practice is: Your own point of view.
So, you can eat “right” to improve your health. Eat your greens, moderate your fat, lay off the sugar – you can definitely improve your health with that practice. But suppose you looked at every meal as a challenge, every bite a grudging torture, a sacrifice? Sure, you might hit a particular result. But it’s doubtful whether you could maintain that, and that particular path is paved with pain.
Suppose another person did the same thing, but appreciated every bite? Who looked upon each meal as something to savor, instead of something to endure?
You and she would have the same practice, but the view that you each bring to your practice will lead to dramatically different results.
Imagine being slighted by someone. What would actually lead to your forgiveness – someone who simply mouthed the words, “I’m sorry”, or someone who genuinely apologized to you? You know and feel the difference between the two, despite the fact that the person doing the apologizing is “doing” the same thing.
Archimedes said with a long enough lever, he could move the world. If the movement is the desired result and the practice is the lever, the view that you bring to it is the fulcrum. With an appropriate view coupled with the appropriate practice, you’ll get a different result.
It’s not just what you do, but it’s the mind you bring to the doing that counts.
So how can that inform the way we’re parenting you?
Alas, we can’t control your mind directly. (Not yet at least, I’m waiting for a pill that would set your genetics to predispose you for certain traits.) So we do focus on your practice and your results. So we focus on the mechanics, the practice, the doing. Our hope is that doing so in some way affects your viewpoint, but it’s at best a mediocre proxy. We can enforce consequences of poor practices and ineffective points of view with the hope that your experience leads you to chose other points of view that might be more effective and moral. That’s the best we can do,
But too many parents focus on the mechanics of what the child does without regard to what the child’s view is. And while that approach might be “effective” during childhood when the child is in the parent’s home, what happens when the child reaches majority and they no longer have those external forces to hold those behaviors in place?
It’s easy for us to lose sight of the bigger picture when dealing with the day-to-day travails of raising children. We need to hold our view as to what’s most important as we practice our parenting.