How many times have you wished that there was a manual that came with your children, to tell you what to do in any given situation, and to have a guarantee to fall back on? We are so used to quick fixes with technology that this is what we begin to expect in other areas of our life as well. Unfortunately, or as it might be, in God’s good planning, there is no quick fix for our children, or for any relationship.
One of the traps we fall into when looking for a quick fix is to find someone who has gone before us, to study what they did and to do the same. This sounds like good advice, and to a degree it is. To a degree learning from older and wiser people is a good thing – but – we must understand why they did the things that they did, and not just copy what they actually did.
There is a difference between Principle and Practice
Remember the story of the lady who cut off the end of the roast. When asked by her daughter why she did that, she didn’t know the answer – she said my mum always did it – I wonder why. She phoned her mum and asked her why she always cut off the end of the roast – the answer was a surprise: she only had a small roasting pan and the roasts never fit without chopping off the ends. So here she was – with a big roasting pan, chopping off the ends of the roast. She didn’t need to, but she didn’t know that, she was just copying someone older and wiser than she was.
A friend coined a phrase that has been a big part of our parenting: If your why is broken, so too is your how. When it came to this lady cooking a roast her ‘how’ was broken, it had no sense, no purpose, it was wasteful, simply because she didn’t know why her mother did it for all those years.
We must know why we are doing what we are doing.
This is where understanding the difference between principle and practice comes into it.
Principle: a fundamental, primary or general law or truth
Practice: the action or process of performing or doing something
Most often there is a principle, a truth, a reason, behind the practice. A principle is true regardless of circumstances. A practice needs to be flexible to be appropriate in various circumstances. Are you aware of the principles behind the practices you have in your family?
Why do you sit up at the table for evening meal?
Why do you have your children share a bedroom?
Why do you have your children do chores?
Why do limit screen time?
Why do you let your older children set their own bedtimes?
If you just do something because someone you admire is doing it you are following the practice. This will create a sense of legalism in your family – just following good idea, or even worse, making good ideas the rules, something you and all your family must do. When we do this we have no inner conviction to help us over the hurdles, when things get hard we’ll give up.
Instead of mindlessly copying we need to consider the principles, the truths we want to build our family on, and then carefully think through the best practices for our family to learn and grow in that truth. I hope that there are older and wise parents around you that you can observe and learn from, but not copy. Use their example as a starting point for your thinking and planning for your own family.
For example: This week I posted on Live Life with your kids Facebook page, that our family was reviving our practice of Thinking Sundays by watching the Do Hard Things Conference DVDs. Someone could have read that and thought – hey that sounds like a great idea, they jump online, buy the DVDs and plan to sit down on Sundays. This is just copying. A thinking parent instead considers why we are doing that, and then looks at how we are achieving that ‘why’ and considers whether that ‘why’ and ‘how’ is appropriate for their family at this particular time. They may have early primary school kids, they may be dealing with a particular issue, or have a major happening going on in their family.
One practice won’t necessarily work for another family.
When we consider our family life we must know the difference. As you read blogs and books you will read about the things that work for other families – their practice. We need to see the principle behind the practice before we race off and imitate. The practice itself may or may not fit your family, but if there is a principle behind the practice you should be able to find someway to embrace the principle for your family. You may just need to find your own practice.
We need to be thinking parents. We need to know the difference between principle and practice. We need to think principle first and then find the practices that will help us live out that principle.
I feel to add to this blog post, that homeschooling is a practice, not a principle – Homeschooling is something we’ve chosen to do to help us, a tool, a practice, to help us teach, train, and guide our children, which is a principle.
Be a Thinking Parent: For us to be the best parents we can be we need to be a thinking parent. A parent who thinks about why, how and when.
Do you know why? When we know why we do things we find the motivation to carry through even when it gets hard.
10 Things we did as Intentional Parents: Looking back these 10 things have shaped our family – but we didn’t just fall into these practices – we were intentional about making them a part of our life.
10 Ways to make Parenting Hard: We can make parenting harder than it needs to be. Are you doing one of these 10 things?