The Consistency Fallacy

In reply to Lisa Belkin’s excellent post on “Three Word Parenting” in today’s Motherlode: 

Hi Lisa,

I think you’ve hit on something critically important in the words you’ve garnered from those years in the parenting trenches: “Consistent. Flexible. (Yes, they are contradictory, but that’s part of the point.)

As a parent for nine years now, some of the worst advice I’ve read — and it seems to pop up everywhere in parenting guides and articles – is that we must ALWAYS be consistent in the rules and routines we set down for our kids.  That once we’ve established a rule for our kids to follow, we should stick with it regardless of the consequences, so that our kids will learn that we mean business.  Backtracking, or caving in, will only teach our children that they can manipulate us.

In practice, both with my toddlers and my tween, I’ve found this advice to be counterproductive and wrongheaded.  In fact, in retrospect, I’ve realized that it is just authoritarianism in sheep’s clothing.  “Consistency at all costs” is just a fancy way of saying that that our children have to follow our rules, whether or not they are good ones, simply because we made them. And I call this “the consistency fallacy.”

Don’t get me wrong. Consistency is extremely important in parenting, especially in teaching our kids values and how to approach problems.  But once we’ve elevated a rule over the consequences it may have – in the name of “consistency” – we’ve lost sight of the larger goal.

And that’s why flexibility is just another word for “love.”

Oh, and the “three words”? Empathy. Example. And yes, absolutely – Flexible Consistency.  We need them both in proper measure.