Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rules vs. Principles

It's raining outside. It's dark. The owl is quiet, probably cursing the weather and her inability to hunt.

I love it when it rains. I love the sound of the rain falling, the sound of it rolling off of the roof or hitting our skylights. Growing up with the storms that rolled across the plains in Oklahoma, these rain storms are pitiful things, but pleasant still. Very relaxing.... as long as I don't think of the mud I'll have to slop through tomorrow.

All three kids are asleep, a rare occurence. Usually at this time of night I'm sitting here surfing the internet while Grayson nurses or needs to be held and jiggled while he digests.

A few minutes ago, while he nursed to sleep, I read an article by Danielle Conger, one of the unschooling movement's more noticeable advocates.

I've been meaning to read this article for awhile. Since bringing Hannah into our lives, both Matt's and my views on parenting have changed drastically. I was interested in how this distinction between rules and principles would fit into our parenting paradigm, which we're constantly - sometimes it seems daily - tweaking.

Hannah doesn't take well to rules. She's an easy-going girl who has a very developed sense of fair play. She readily accepts my apologies when I've over-reacted (read: yelled) - but she expects that apology. She knows if she's been treated unfairly and she will call both her daddy (who gets told he's being bossy) and me on it if needed. I'm glad Hannah was our first child. Ainsley is much less likely to take to rules. It's obvious in her as an 18 month old, so I can't imagine our lives if we were strict disciplinarians with her as she aged. It wouldn't be pretty for either her development or for a peaceful home.

Here are some excerpts from the article.

"Rules are all about authority, hierarchy, rigidity and absolutes. They tend to be top down, reinforcing a power structure that relies upon a "might makes right" mentality—"because I say so," "I'm the parent, that's why," "That's just the way it goes." Rules exist outside the person to whom they are applied. They are externally enforced and prohibit the possibility of question, adaptation or exception....

A parent both chooses the rules and chooses who must follow and when....

Principles, on the other hand, are about autonomy, mindful living, freedom and flexibility. Principles, rather than being absolute and automatic, demand careful thought and inquiry both to establish and apply. They represent a consensus about rightness, fairness and equity that once agreed upon provide an internal measure of conduct.

If after careful consideration we adopt a principle, we internalize it and thoughtfully apply it to countless situations throughout our life. There is no external threat demanding our adherence, only our own internal sense of right and wrong. Living by principles offers our children both the model of an ethical life and the opportunity to grow as ethical and just individuals within themselves.

Principles can also help simplify our lives. A single sound principle, fully explored and sincerely adopted, alleviates the need for a multitude of rules. Rules proliferate because they are isolated and specific while principles are few, simple and basic, cutting to the ethical origin or foundation of living in the world....

Principles apply to all, not just a few and not just those low down on the hierarchical ladder because they are based on careful thought and consent. As Ben Lovejoy pointed out in his seminar, rules are something to get around by clever thinking whereas principles are guidelines for life. Sound principles, unlike rules, apply to everyone regardless of age or position because they represent the foundation of what's right and fair for all. They demand thought and enable the flexibility necessary to ensure freedom for all family members, not just those “in charge.”

For parents, putting principles in place of rules provides the opportunity to model mindful living, problem solving and respect for others. Principles enable us to forge strong and thoughtful connections with our children as partners rather than adversaries, and they provide the ethical foundation for living mindfully in the world rather than in isolation, coercion or compliance."

Read the full article here.

I'm going to repeat this line - "For parents, putting principles in place of rules provides the opportunity to model mindful living, problem solving and respect for others."

That right there is one of the best things about parenting mindfully. You don't force children to live as you want them to live, to behave as you want them to behave. You work on being a better person yourself, every day. You work on respecting others, on being kind, on loving yourself. You follow your interests with passion, you help others do the same. You work every day on being a better person, and you let your child see you doing that work. You let them see you fail, get back up, make amends, try again and you see them mimicking that. They internalize that and they act from an inner desire instead of from an outward expectation. And you get to be a better person in the process.

Knowing full well that my babes are young and I have much more to see in the next twenty years, some of it behavior that I *won't* appreciate, I will say that watching Hannah tell her sister "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I'm just so *angry* that you're eating my paint." or watching her automatically get two bowls when she's getting ice cream out makes me just a wee bit proud. I haven't coached her to say these things or to do these things. She says them and does them because she sees us saying and doing these types of things.

1 comment:

green said...

The difference b/t rules and principles is the same as that b/t the old and new testament...

It is also how American's find comfort in breaking principles as long as they don't break laws - and that is the sickness we suffer from.

Great post Sarah!