Choices and Accountability

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1985, Katie and I

Children are great teachers. They remind us of how the grass tickles our toes or the joy of seeing white fluffy snowflakes falling from the sky. They are excited by the little things we often take for granted and their delight opens our eyes for viewing the world with more enthusiasm.

Children also test us to our limits, which teaches us where those limits are. I had several nieces and nephews before we had our two children. We loved each one of them and stayed involved in their lives as they grew. I thought I had child-raising all figured out, but by the time we had our own we handled things a lot different than we expected we would.

As the children grow into teenagers, they try our patience in a worrisome way by some of the choices they make. We have to learn how to let go so they gain independence and become responsible adults. Teenagers remind us of how exciting the adventures of adulthood appear without knowing the stress that comes with it. Their will to conquer the world is inspiring.

Although I miss our young children, I really wouldn’t go back in time. I love having adult children, where I no longer feel the weight of their daily care. I’m pleased with the good things they are accomplishing and appreciate their independent and productive lives. They still continue to teach me and help me see the world in a different light.

Yesterday I was talking to my daughter, Katie, about a new service project she is working on which involves the teenage girls in her church. She’s encouraging them to write two goals they want her to hold them accountable for. They’ll also choose their own reward upon success or punishment for failure.

As she related some of her creative ideas in helping the girls reach their goals, I associated it with some of the contracts I had with her when she was a teenager. The kids still enjoy giving me a hard time about them. I thought the contracts were a clever way of making them accountable for their choices. For example, my favorite contract written and signed December 1995 when they were eleven and thirteen:

It has been agreed by all parties that whoever complains about a meal will automatically by responsible for making the next healthy dinner. Complaints consist of any negative sigh or comment about the meal. We understand it’s best to appreciate what we are given. More than two negative comments will result in dismissal from the table without any more eating.

Another contract titled The School Agreement:

I, child’s name, hereby understand that if I have any incomplete or missing assignments I will not watch any television or visit with any friends or family by telephone or in person until my assignments are caught up.

I also understand that I am still responsible for my chores even though I got behind in my school work. I will stay focused and resist any temptation which would distract me from getting my school work done. I realize that good grades lead to a happy and successful adulthood. Therefore, I will take my schooling seriously.

I also realize that my parents are willing to help me any way they can to succeed in school and will let them know what kind of help I need. I know my parents love me or they wouldn’t do silly agreement forms or care if I do well or not in school. I plan on building their trust by showing them I can be responsible for my own school work. They will reward my efforts by the attached grade payment sheet.

Katie scoffed at my connection between her ideas of accountability and my contracts. She said, “Mom, the difference is we didn’t get to choose our goals and rewards or punishment.”

Sometimes the truth hurts and I realized for the first time the mistake I may have made with the contracts was that I didn’t get more of, or according to her, any input on the agreements.

I quickly remember my words from last week’s post, “A goal has to be something I truly desire and not what someone else thinks I should be doing.

Was I wrong to use this method in making my teenagers responsible? I don’t think so, but I could have done better by giving more consideration to their thoughts and opinions. I thought we discussed the goals and rewards before I typed up the contract, but Katie’s memory is very different. She remembers I wrote them and they had to sign it. It’s interesting how parents and children perceive the same situation in their own way.

I haven’t thought about contracts for a while, but I still think it’s a great idea to make a written promise with a reward and punishment linked to it for encouraging improvement. What I need to do now is write one for my own personal progress, which I intend to do and I’ll bet Katie will enjoy holding me accountable for it. Maybe I should even let her write it for me.

Just for laughs, I’ll share one more agreement from my old “Contracts” folder:

Barbara Wilson promises Kathryn Wilson that when she completes 312 hours of piano practicing she may terminate piano lessons. She also promises not to annoy Kathryn about quitting her piano lessons (in which she shows so much potential) after she’s completed the aforementioned 312 hours.

Barbara Wilson also promises to be thrilled as all get out if Kathryn Wilson chooses to continue with piano after the 312 hours are completed and will gladly (notice how gladly is underlined) pay for them until she decides it’s time to quit.

Katie & I

2014, Katie and I

Kathryn Wilson promises not to ask her mother to quit piano lessons until she has completed the 312 hours of piano practice previously stated. She also promises to keep track of her piano practicing hours on the sheet provided and only count those hours which have been initialed by parents or grandparents.

I appreciate Katie’s consent to share a few of our contracts. We may laugh about them now, but what a wonderful, responsible adult she became, possibly because of, or maybe in spite of those written agreements. I can’t imagine being more proud and grateful that she stayed true to those promises. I love my kids with all my heart and appreciate all they teach me. I recognize they are the better part of me.

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