Principled living

29 Dec

Whenever I write an article or a facebook update about some parenting principle I have just learned about (from experience or research), I invariably receive warnings about how this may not work for all children, and I should just “wait and see” what it’s like to have 2 children etc. The assumption seems to be that the lessons I am learning about parenting can only apply to Joshua, our 2-year-old son, and to no one else. If I were discussing specific rules and techniques, then this reasoning might be true. However, I’m talking about principles, not techniques.

Principles vs. techniques

A principle is a general idea that can guide decision-making for specific problems. A technique can be thought of as a set of steps or a procedure for addressing a range of problems, and may or may not be based on principles.

When principles are used in daily parenting, they require much thinking, evaluating, reasoning and judging, because they do not offer a clear-cut answer to each problem. However, they are essential for ensuring consistency, order and predictability in family relationships. Principles inform parents about why something should or should not be done, not how it should be done.

Techniques, on the other hand, are packaged kits that promise to resolve a host of problems (e.g., time out). When a parenting problem arises (e.g., a temper tantrum), one can simply summon the power of the technique without having to wonder whether it is appropriate for this particular case (not all temper tantrums have the same cause). They tend to focus on how something is done, not why.

I’m talking about principles

When I share ideas about parenting, I am always talking about principles, never about techniques. Principles cannot be reduced to a simple sentence like “rewards are harmful”. They are always tightly related to a host of other principles, and are infinitely complex. In fact, in attempting to model reality, principles can never be “complete”, because reality is infinitely complex. This means that we can always learn more about the principles behind good parenting, and behind everything else for that matter. We may also need to “unlearn” some things we have accepted as principles, but that are not accurate.

If we refuse to learn or unlearn, we are doing ourselves and our children a great disservice. It is not good enough to keep doing what has always been done, even if we “have turned out alright, haven’t we?”. Learning that something we used to believe is not true is not a statement about our intelligence, our abilities, or our fitness to be a parent: it is a natural and welcome step on the way to self-improvement. Of course it is never comfortable to question our beliefs and assumptions, because they have become our familiar companions. Thankfully, our worth is not measured by what we know or believe, or even by what we do, so we don’t need to feel inferior if someone points out that one of our long-cherished assumptions is inaccurate. Who knows, we may even end up feeling grateful that they had the decency and courage to say something respectfully when it was needed.


Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Life, Musings, Psychology and Sociology



2 responses to “Principled living

  1. Becca

    January 15, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Just stumbled on your blog while searching terms that have led people to my blog in the past. Anyway, I enjoyed your post on “Waiting on the Road to Damascus” and thought I would check out some other posts. I really like this post. I am a BIG fan of “parenting principles” and so I agree with everything you have said. My parenting “techniques” change each day, and are different between my two children – they have different personalities, and are at different stages developmentally, so what works for one doesn’t always work for another, and what is appropriate in one situation is not appropriate in another situation.

    I am excited to add your blog to my blog reader and see what wisdom I can glean from your posts in the future. I especially loved this part: “Learning that something we used to believe is not true is not a statement about our intelligence, our abilities, or our fitness to be a parent: it is a natural and welcome step on the way to self-improvement.”

    My family members accuse me of being horribly stubborn (which I am) – but I think it is crucial that I believe in what I am doing – and I am not ashamed to “change my mind” (i.e., be convinced that I was wrong and there is something better than what I am doing) – even though sometimes it takes a lot for me to finally admit that I was wrong, and sometimes it is uncomfortable.

    Sorry to leave such a long comment – it’s just that so much of what you said resonates with me. Thanks for the excellent post.

    • nicolasconnault

      January 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Becca, it’s nice to know someone reads my blog from time to time 🙂

      What people rarely realize is that all the lessons and principles I share have required me to unlearn previous beliefs. I am simply inviting people to join me on a fascinating journey of self-assessment and critical thinking. Just last week I questioned my use of the phrase “happy birthday”, because it seems silly to celebrate someone’s life by just wishing them to have a nice day. Why not just say that we appreciate the person instead of hiding our feelings behind conventional phrases?


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