Working Hard at Not Working
Updated: Oct 15, 2021
I have been reading the book Parenting by Paul David Tripp. In my opinion, this is the best parenting book written from a Christian worldview I have ever read. On page 158, he describes something that struck me because it is so true, "The fact that [your children] fight so much, that they tend to work harder at getting out of work than doing work..."
Every parent knows this, and every parent has said something like, "You could have been done by now if you didn't argue and instead spent that time [doing homework, setting the table, feeding the dog]." I have certainly used this logic on my child. Parents are astonished at the intensity of the foolishness that drives their children's behavior. Most parents believe that eventually, their child will see it as they see it and just get to work. After all, getting right to work means more TV time. But what if the problem is not one of logic? What if your child is genuinely productive in their arguing and resistance? I think it is true that sometimes children need to learn some basic principles about organizing, planning, and focus. But most times, childrens' resistance seems to go well beyond the development of those skills.
What if your child's ultimate goal was not necessarily to get TV time ("Just do your homework so you can get TV time!"). What if your child's goal was something more profound and more fundamental than that? What if your child ultimately wants to be in control? How well does it fit the situation to believe that when your child is arguing with you instead of doing homework, they resist your authority over them and not just use bad logic? In that case, it is appropriate for them to say, at that moment, "You can't tell me what to do. Even if it costs me all my TV time, I will prove I am ultimately in charge, and you can't tell me what to do."
Perhaps we, the parents, are the ones struggling to use logic. But, unfortunately, we respond to these resistance situations the same way repeatedly, expecting a different outcome each time, and frustrated at our child when they just won't see it our way: the so-called path of logic. What would it sound like, however, if parents addressed the issue children are indeed arguing?
I am in control; you are not. If you want to sacrifice all your TV time to try to convince me you are in control, so be it. And then you will do your homework.
It seems like you believe that you will eventually not have to set the table if you argue hard enough. But, I assure you, you will set the table because I tell you to set the table.
TV time is there to help motivate you to do what I am telling you to do, but ultimately you will feed the dog because I am telling you to do so.
It doesn't make sense that day after day, you sacrifice your TV time to try to prove you are in control of me. Each day you eventually do your chores whether you get TV time or not.
It is good to come under authority. You see my parenting as oppressive, but I want to make sure you see it as the gift it truly is. I, your parent, benefit from being under authority, and I want you to benefit in the same way.