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It's the number one rule of parenting. But what if it isn't?

If you ask anyone what one of the golden rules of parenting is, they’ll say this. But really, it’s impossible.

I think I’ve read it in every parenting book.

Heard it from the lips of all the parenting experts.

“Consistency is the key to good parenting,” they say, and, ”there are few principles more important.” And I bought that message for years. Like all my friends, I was a hook, line and sinker Consistency Believer. Because OF COURSE consistency is the key to good parenting, I thought. Duh.

Now that I’m 16 years and 5 kids into this parenting gig, though, I gotta say, where the rubber meets my parenting road?

Beth Woolsey

Consistency is overrated, friends. Way, way overrated. And mostly impossible. And pretty much a set-up for feeling like failure.

Consistency for me, it turned out, meant consistently falling short of the Consistency Goal. Every time I let them have a cookie for snack instead of fresh fruit because I was too tired to cut another apple, INCONSISTENT.

Every time I let them watch just one more show or talk me into a late bedtime or delay a chore, INCONSISTENT. Every time Greg and I didn’t agree on the rules. Every time I was merciful instead of swiftly just. Every time I let them skip that mandatory bite of veggies at dinner.

INCONSISTENT, and a Parenting Failure, and my kids were certain to grow up to be rule breakers, authority shunners, and probably, in the end, serial killers. Or worse; serial killers who’d refuse to eat their vegetables.

I spent a lot of my early parenting years beating myself up for my lack of consistency. It didn’t occur to me then that the unrealistic Consistency Ideal was more of a problem than my abject failure to be consistent in all things.

It didn’t occur to me that I might even be teaching my kids better things than consistency. More important things. Things that might prepare them more completely for a life that’s full of change. Things like flexibility and adaptability.

Mercy and understanding. Grace and kindness. And the fact that Who People Are and What They Need are always more important than strict adherence to the rules.

It’s just that the Consistency Argument is so compelling, so universally understood as the Way and the Truth, that even though there was always a twinge in my gut, something that made me feel uncertain and unsure, I clung to Consistency like it was the Answer. An answer I kept getting wrong.

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You have to consistently communicate well with your partner, the experts would say. Parents have to be on the same page! Present a united front! Never have different opinions or – God forbid – different rules in front of the kids.

Is it REALLY so terrible if your kids don't eat their vegetables once in a while?

Except this isn’t war, with parents on one side against kids on the other. This is a family, and we’re learning how to be a family together. Out loud. Where it’s messy and muddy and we’re neck deep in the muck. We’re all on same team – not rushing away to make plans behind closed doors or regrouping in secret to launch a new offensive – and it turns out our kids learn more about teamwork from watching us have our conflicts (with each other and them) and resolve them well (and poorly), as they do from our easy, peaceful exchanges.

We’re teaching them to be human, after all; flawed and still fabulous. Messy and still magnificent. Weird and still wonderful, and always deeply, deeply worthy of love.

Now, listen. I’m not against rules. I’m really not. But as our parenting has evolved, and as I’ve released the Consistency Ideal, our rules have changed to better reflect our parenting values and our family goals, and they are these:

  • Choose Kindness.
  • Show Love.
  • Give Grace.
  • Act Fair.
  • Be Merciful.

and also

  • Make Sure Mummy Knows Where You Are!

and

  • Make Safe Choices; I mean it.

And my kids, whether they follow the rules or not, have the right to expect to be consistently loved. Consistently cherished. Consistently safe. Consistently respected. But the rest of the rules? Those things are fluid. And, let’s be honest; we’re making them up as we go, anyway.

I’d love to know; what do you think? Do you agree? Or am I off my rocker?

This post orginally published on Beth's blog Five Kids is a Lot of Kids and has been republished with full permission.

Want more? Try these:

The 15 parenting skills you won’t learn from any baby book.

5 parenting ‘rules’ that should be ignored (or laughed at)