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Tempting Shortcuts

Thin Ice signI recently read a devotional by Carol Knapp in which she told about all the cars that fell through the ice near her Alaska home.  The winter was unusually warm, yet many people were unwilling to adjust their shortcut based on the thin ice.  The easiest way to get supplies into the cabins around the lake was to drive on the ice; and the other option was a grueling, long trip by sled (not dogs, but snow-machine).  That winter, vehicle after vehicle was lost because people didn’t want to take the long way; and, instead, took a chance on the thin ice.

Carol’s point was that shortcuts aren’t bad; but, they should be tested first, to make sure failure isn’t catastrophic.

Parenting shortcuts are all about getting your kid to do what you want, in the shortest and easiest amount of time.  A great shortcut saves you both a bunch of hassle.  For example, paying a commission for unloading the dishwasher is a great way to get the dishwasher emptied, without having to do any nagging or too much work yourself. However, a bad shortcut ends up in your kids not helping around the house, unless they are bribed.  There are times in which it is really hard to know how things are going to turn out, until you head down the road.

A bad shortcut ends up looking really promising, but ends up taking more time and energy than you ever imagined.  For example, it may appear easier and faster to respond with a simple bribe (game on the phone) when your kid is whining. But, next thing you know, she is being even more demanding and whining even more.  I’ve seen little kids throw their parent’s smartphone during “whinny fits”.  This most likely wasn’t the destination the parent had in mind.

The point of this post isn’t to make you fearful when you have come up with a clever way to parent; but, hopefully, it will cause enough of a pause to keep you from “losing your car in the ice”.  While doing research for this post, I came across all sorts of parents who are feeling guilty because the shortcut they vowed to never take was: to allow their kid to eat at McDonald’s, and, to watch TV.  At Project PATCH, we not only teach the importance of being respectful and responsible, we also teach that risk is a normal part of living; and, we need to not necessarily avoid risk as much as make wise decisions about risk. Shortcuts are risky, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take them. It just means we should test, or study, them to make sure we are comfortable with the risk, and can limit the risk.

In keeping with a compulsion for making lists, the following are several things to keep in mind when testing and deciding about a shortcut:

  1. Stop and think.  Most decisions dealing with our kids don’t need to be made in a split second.  The bigger the decision, the more need of time and input from smart people.
  2. Figure out your options, and always try to end with at least one more than is easy to come up with.  One of the things I like about Dave Ramsey is that he pushes people for that one, extra option.
  3. Weigh the options.  What is the best case scenario for the shortcut?   What is the worst case scenario for the shortcut?  Is the benefit of the best case worth the risk of the worst case?
  4. Ask how your decision will affect others.  Consider not only your teen; but, your spouse, other kids, teachers, and if you are feeling really philosophical, their (your teen’s) future spouse.
  5. Is this a decision I would like to repeat, or make a pattern?
  6. Is my intuition encouraging or discouraging me?

It sounds kind of formal and I’m not recommending this decision process for every decision, just for those that could have a catastrophic failure, or that seem to be too good to be true.

At the end of the day, this, like most of my posts, is written for my benefit.  If you ever want to see frantic parenting, watch my wife and I try to keep one of my daughters from taking a nap.   If she even has a short nap, she has a horrible time falling asleep and will keep us up into the night.  Yesterday, on the drive home, she started to fall asleep. If I hadn’t been so panicked, it would have been funny to watch her strain to try to keep her eyes open.  She was really trying, but was losing the fight.  In desperation, I gave her my phone with a video game.  They played for about ten minutes and we were home.  I was ready to chalk it up as a win. But then, we got in the car again, and not before long, she was working the angles to get to play more of the game. I quickly discovered that I had set a precedent that took a lot of effort to get rid of.

Sure, it wasn’t a life or death situation, and the consequences of the shortcut aren’t major at all; but, it was a good reminder of the impact of shortcuts, and now I have a plan for next time she falls asleep.  I’m not ready to take the plan public, because I’m still working through the steps. I’ll just say that I did have an option for yelling: “Bear!” but, I took that option off the table during Step 4.

Question:  What are some great parenting shortcuts you’ve discovered?  What are some that you’ve learned to avoid?

2 Comments on “Tempting Shortcuts

  1. Great piece! I lived in Alaska from ages 6 to 9. I well remember taking a shortcut, the terrible break and drop, and wondering for several minutes if I would live or die. An experience I’ll never forget. Now, to apply to my parenting. Again, great article!

    • I remember my brother fell through the ice on a really cold Nebraska day. He was able flag down a car and get a ride home. If the water doesn’t get you, the windchill and hypothermia will try.

      I’m thankful you made it!