“But I didn’t mean for it to happen!”
These words ring out on a consistent basis in my home. Somewhere along the line we’ve bought into a lie that says we are only responsible for the consequences of our behavior if we INTENDED for something to happen.
But that is not how life works. Just the opposite, we are responsible not only for the consequences of our poor choices but we can also be held accountable for those times when we did not make the good choice. For example, the car is parked but I forget to put it in park. I didn’t mean for it to roll into the street and hit the neighbor’s car, yet I’m still responsible when it does.
But isn’t life supposed to be fair? There’s that word again: FAIR. It’s a four-letter word and no matter what we do as a parent, it is often thrown in our faces as a power play.
If the home is supposed to be a training ground for life, it’s important to teach our kids the law of unintended consequences.
My son and I had an agreement. If his snowy clothes ended up on the floor behind his bed one more time, it was going to cost him. He looked me right in the eyes and said he understood that the next time it happened he would be disciplined. I have a rule that has helped me as a parent: ACTION, NOT WORDS. If I find myself nagging, yelling, whining about his actions, I am as much a part of the problem as he is. I tell him what to expect and he has to figure out how to make it happen.
Unfortunately, he didn’t think about the law of unintended consequences when the wet clothes FELL off the back of the bed and to the floor before he remembered to put them in the laundry room.
His argument? “But, Mom, I didn’t mean to do it, it was an accident!”
So suddenly the laws of life must change for his accident? Now, I have to confess, I did feel bad having to discipline him on this one. But it was a lesson we both needed to learn from. As much as he should not do something wrong, it is HIS responsibility to do the RIGHT thing first, so the wrong thing doesn’t happen, even if unintended! If he wants to make sure that he does not drop the wet hat and gloves on accident, perhaps the hat and gloves should never go into the bedroom? They should be put in the laundry room which, by the way, he walked right past before going to his room.
Teaching the law of unintended consequences helps develop the important character trait of foresight. All champions in life have foresight. Proverbs tells us that it is the wise person that sees trouble coming and prepares for it. To a generation that is living moment to moment this becomes a key item to have in their arsenal for life.
How does this translate in life?
“I didn’t mean for alcohol to show up at the party!”
“I didn’t mean to hit a car while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
“I didn’t mean to get pregnant, we were just messing around, we didn’t intend to go that far.”
On and on it will go, unless we do our part as parents to teach our teenagers that they are not privileged enough to escape the law of unintended consequences any more than we are. If they want to avoid being a victim of this law, it is not enough to just react. They should (and so should we) learn to have the foresight not to get themselves into circumstances where stupid things can happen.
If I want to minimize the car rolling into the street, maybe I should avoid parking it on a hill.
A functional adult must have foresight. Saving for emergencies, completing college, avoiding people of ill-repute, etc. All of these are traits of maturity our teens must learn. As hard as it may be to follow through, it is a lesson that will pay dividends in the years ahead.
And by the way, it’s ok that life isn’t always fair. While bad things do happen to good people, the opposite is also true. If I only got what I deserved, my life would be missing many wonderful people, things, and opportunities. And it leaves room for the beautiful aroma of GRACE. A much nicer word than fair.