We see it all the time. We hear it all the time. ‘If you give an inch, they will take a mile.’ If you give in this one time, they will push every time. It is the catchcry of parenting echoing around the corners of the internet, throughout your mothers groups and underpinning this drive for consistency.
And, it is no coincidence that this predictability is often centred around ‘no’.
No, you can’t stay up later than 8:00pm.
No, you cannot have cake for breakfast.
No, you can’t leave the house without a jacket.
No, you cannot eat food anywhere but the dining table.
No, we can’t stay any longer, I said we are leaving now.
Well, I want to give you permission to be inconsistent.
What are we afraid of here? It is so important to unpack fears that are restricting our lives, and in this case, the lives of our kids. There is a fear that if there is not a hard and fast answer to every situation that this will lead to conflict. If you say you can have cake for breakfast today, what is to stop them asking for cake EVERY day and then spiralling into despair because ONE time you said yes. Does this fear feel familiar?
If we open ourselves to flexibility, is this fear realised? What are we teaching our kids by being consistent?
We are communicating that no unique set of circumstances will be taken into account. We are teaching them that their opinion doesn’t matter. We are teaching them to accept boundaries without question.
These are not lessons we want our children to carry through their lives. It is time to be really inconsistent. Sometimes a yes, sometimes a no, sometimes an ‘I’m not sure.’
By being unpredictable, we are communicating something really important. We are communicating that every situation is nuanced and has a different set of facts. That their opinions are welcome and that a relationship is a partnership where different views are genuinely taken into account. And, interestingly, it helps us question our own boundaries to make sure they are still relevant.
So a discussion in a respectful situation might look like this.
‘Mum, can I eat my breakfast on the couch?’
‘I would prefer you to eat it at the table.’
‘But yesterday I ate on the couch.’
‘Yesterday you chose an apple for breakfast and this morning you have scrambled eggs. I am concerned that it might spill. Why would you like to sit on the couch?’
‘I am watching a movie and I don’t want to miss it.’
‘Maybe we could pause it while you eat so you don’t miss anything?’
Being flexible doesn’t mean the answer is always yes. In this situation, the result is essentially still a no. But if the answer here had been no without any discussion, an opportunity would have been lost to identify and address the child’s needs. Unmet needs can often lead to anger. I think a lot of parents are dismissing an unheard child as a child throwing a tantrum about not getting their way, when often these screams are the overflow of anger and frustration at not having a voice.
Being inconsistent opens up the door to connection, empathy and respect for everyone’s point of view.
Ditch the need for predictability and control. Be open to navigating the world with your child and exploring your comfort zones together.
And, like everything, this takes time. If your house has had strict boundaries around things you are starting to see with different eyes, it is ok to step back and relax this. When you know better, you do better. You might find in the beginning that there is a lot of push back and testing. Your child is not testing your patience. Your child is testing your resolve to respect their opinions. Once trust is there, the respect will flow both ways. Model the behaviour you want to receive.