Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Newton's law of parenting

It's a little known fact that Newton's third law of nature was first coined as the first law of parenting. Newton's contemporaries thought it would more appropriate to lump it with the other two laws of nature instead of having a separate category. Not being a parent himself, Newton eventually bowed to peer pressure.

Let's go back to science class and review what the first, um, the third law of nature is: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. To form the law of nature, it was edited from it's original law of parenting script that clarified "every negative action."

Without the law, an interaction with your child may look something like this. Your child throws the mother-of-all-tantrums because she was given the green cup and orange plate, when everyone knows that for lunch on Tuesday she is to have orange cup and the green plate. This is compounded by the fact you gave her the food she asked for, not the food she wanted, and then you had the nerve to look at her and call her Darling. Your reaction? Explaining that the orange cup is dirty in the dishwasher and you verified this was the meal she wanted on four separate occasions through gritted teeth—and that's the G-rated version of your reaction, hypothetically of course.

Since that would be a similar, not opposite, reaction to the initial negative action, you would have broken Newton's law. Inconceivable!

Following the law of parenting, your reaction to the nagging, talking back, incessant crying, complaining, ungratefulness, anxiety, anger, frustration and outright ornery behaviour needs to be opposite—compassion, understanding, patience, kindness, guidance, reassurance, comfort, security. In a word, love.

Fr. Robert Barron, in his book Catholicism, summarizes this concept exceptionally well when writing about the notion of turning the other cheek. Instead of a vengeful eye-for-an-eye attitude when someone—especially someone little who is in our care—wrongs us, Jesus teaches us we need to respond with kindness and love. Fr. Barron points out we don't become passive and let people walk all over us. We respond in a way that prompts true conversion of heart for others.

For our children, that means we don't engage in their devious mind games or power struggles. Parents respond in a way that prompts conversion. We ensure boundaries and expectations are well-defined, and we lovingly teach them positive behaviour trumps negative. 

Yes, I am fully aware of how challenging that is, but all virtue is challenging. And all virtue is reinforced when, by grace, practiced over time. One encounter at a time, your loving reaction will result in conversion—maybe for more than our children.

St. Joseph, protector of families and patron of fathers, pray for us.

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