A Logic Lesson for Parents

There is a REALLY common logic fallacy that is very popular today (which is also another logic fallacy, but that is for another post).  The Latin name for it is post hoc ergo propter hoc. Literally, that means “After this (post hoc), therefore (ergo) because of this (propter hoc).”  It is essentially confusing chronology with causality.  In other words, just because something happened after something else, doesn’t mean that the first event caused the second (unless there really is a causal link).

A Couple of Examples

Johnny and the Cookie Jar 

Suppose little Johnny goes into the kitchen.  You hear a crash and investigate and find the cookie jar on the floor.  You may be tempted to conclude that it is Johnny’s fault that the cookie jar fell.  That would be a fallacy without other evidence.  It is also important to note that if it is his fault, shame on you for having a cookie jar out where little Johnny could reach it!  What we don’t  have here is a causal link.  What knocked the cookie jar over in this fictitious example was the cat, startled by Johnny entering the room.

Improving Schools

This is not a home example but it is a recent one for us, and alarmingly popular so I thought I would share it.  Schools want to boost their scores because that is how we measure how effective the learning is.  Toward that end they make their curriculum harder in order to achieve that result.  Low and behold, each year their scores do go up (and they will, by the way, but not for the expected reason).  It would be easy to conclude that the more difficult curriculum did the job.  The kids are learning more and it is showing on the tests. However, there is no causal link here just like in the cookie jar example.  More than likely the children that were pulling the test scores lower, left the school because it was crushing them. 

To truly measure the effectiveness of the teaching, you need to approach this much more scientifically: 

  1. Take an exam on a set of material. 
  2. Teach the material. 
  3. Take the same exam with the same kids. 

Viola! (how about that – 3 languages in one post!)  This way you can measure the knowledge of the students before they were taught and then measure the mastery afterward to be able to measure what new mastery they have after the teaching.  Those of you who are scientists, will no doubt have a dozen additions to improve the method, but this is sufficient for you to get the point.

The reality is, no school (that I know of) does that.  Instead they are measuring the mastery of the students annually and that only reflects the pace of the school.  In other words if I teach the material before the other schools, my students will score higher because they have been exposed to new material that the other students haven’t.  Therein lies the subtle and dangerous fallacy. 

I am not maligning hard work.  I would just rather see the schools do what they want the students to do:  THINK.  I can bail water out of a sinking boat with a cup, or a bucket.  I will work a lot harder with the cup, but that doesn’t mean it is more effective.  Yes, you can build character with hard work, but you can also crush spirits with too much of it.  More effective learning should be the goal, not more work.  We want to help them build a better boat, not bail faster!

Okay, enough examples, how is this relevant to parenting.

Think about our Children

Parents are always trying new things with their kids.  That is a good thing.  Don’t get complacent.  Your children are always changing and your parenting needs to mature with them.  Don’t conclude just because you tried something and received the immediate result you wanted, that the reason the child responded was because you did what you did.  Or more importantly, that the lesson you wanted to teach is the lesson the child actually learned.  If you getting angry at the child for some behavior, and you do something stupid as a parent, the lesson learned might not be, “don’t do that”, but rather, don’t make Mom or Dad mad.  Right result – behavior has changed, wrong lesson – you didn’t really change their hearts, you just showed them you are a hypocrite.

Children are complex little people and sometimes the lesson they are learning is not the one you wanted to teach.  I have had a couple of conversations with the older children (Coco and Princess) and they had a few stories about situations where Beautiful and I thought we were so clever in how we handled a situation and it turns out the lesson learned was utterly the wrong one.  Not because we got angry and did something stupid, but because they learned about how we operate, not the moral lesson we wanted to teach.

You cannot completely avoid the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy in parenting because we cannot see inside their heads or hearts to know exactly what is going on.  If we could the “whodunit” conversations would be a lot shorter!  Instead, we need to be vigilant to see if the children are growing and maturing and keep adapting to provide the right nutrients for their precious little hearts and minds.  Children learn how to “play” their parents early so don’t expect that to go away just because they got older.  Think and pray and ask good questions.  The children will help you help them if you give them that respect.

Things I Learned from My Mother

Mothers hands It is true that many people shape us into who we are.  Family and close friends are certainly some of the most influential.  I always understood that relationship, but as I get older, I understand more where some of the “me” came from.  It is easy to see some of “me” in my children.  What was less readily apparent to me was how I ended up with some of those traits to begin with.  I started to consider this some years ago and the analysis was surprising, exciting, and heartwarming.  This post is dedicated to some of the ways my mother helped make me into the person that I am.

Be myself

Yes, I am quirky.  Okay, I am really strange when it comes right down to it, and I thank God and my mother for that fact.  My mother used to listen to my ideas and stories with great enthusiasm.  While I cannot recall any of my bizarre ideas from my childhood, I know they were out in left field, way out.  The subtle support I received, even when my mother knew I had a history of “incorrect conclusions”, encouraged me to explore, dig and dream.  It became the foundation of all my more mature research and idea formulation.  In short, it allowed me to develop and grow into who I am.

This may sound trivial, but you cannot understand how liberating this lesson is.  Once a person “gets it” they can block out the noise of others and begin to hear the inner voice of their soul.  It is this lesson that freed me to ignore the voices of skepticism that seem to tear down all that is beautiful in our world.  It is this lesson that allowed me to listen with ears of faith and see our world with eyes of hope.

Loyalty

My Mother is a Red Sox fan.  You cannot begin to understand loyalty unless you have been part of the drought that plagued Red Sox Nation for almost a century.  Even so, my mother is not just any Red Sox fan.  A few years ago we met with her and an old friend.  It was at that dinner that I learned just how deep that fandom goes and some of the things she did as a fan.  It was a day that I saw my mother in a new light.  I was able to appreciate more of her personality and unique charm.  It was also the point that I realized my fierce loyalty streak was inculcated by mother.  Even though I only endured the “Curse” for 39 years, I believe I will go to my grave a Red Sox fan.  It is true that loyalty in sports is superficial and often misguided, but it is also true that it is a basis for exercising loyalty in far more weighty things.

We knew that while the Red Sox enjoyed my mother’s unconditional loyalty, her loyalty for us was even deeper.  When you grow up with that kind of devotion, you come to appreciate the value of it, and it rubs off on you.  I am a fiercely loyal person because my mother is, and she showed me how glorious it is.

Make a Difference

My mother has been a life long homemaker.  Many people would consider that an ignoble task and beneath them.  My mother embraced it, reveled in it, and made it beautiful.  That does not mean our house was prepared to be on the cover of HGTV magazine all of the time.  It means that she made our house a home, and she poured her hours into the things that mattered most: her family.

And this woman, whose occupational choice is viewed by many with disdain, made a huge difference.  My father is a great man.  My siblings are great people.  Every one of my family members is dedicated to making the world a better place (even if we have different ideas about what that looks like).  Every one of us has had the courage to pursue our dreams because we learned from our mother that life is not a spectator sport.  More importantly, we had the courage to continue on, when the dream got really hard.

We are who we are in part because she made a difference. I think back over the years and remember the many crazy things I have wanted to pursue.  My mother would worry that I might get hurt along the way, but she always knew that I could accomplish it and make a difference.  She knew because she knew what it meant to make a difference and she had taught us well.

Love all God’s Creatures

My mother is a very compassionate woman.  I know every one probably thinks that about their mother because they are supposed to be.  However, I think back over the many ways in which she demonstrated that compassion to any creature (yes, I mean humans too) that our Lord created, and taught us to value and respect every one of them.

When you respect someone for who they are, and not what they can accomplish, you inherently have a greater deal of compassion for them.  My mother loved people and she loved every stray animal that seemed to land at our home.  Loving the “least of these” is something she still does.  It is a ministry of compassion and speaks volumes about her heart.

It is heartwarming to see that same trait growing in my children.  It would be fun to see how many generations that kind of compassion can go.

Family Matters

My mother was adamant that family is important, even for someone like me with a very independent streak.  Friends will come and go, no matter how good those friends may be. Family is part of who you are, and they have helped shape and define you.  It doesn’t mean that if you had a bad family you are a bad person, or if you had a good family, you are a good person.  It means that many of the ways you look at life was learned at home through interaction with your family (even if you don’t realize it).

I am not the greatest  at reaching out and checking in with my siblings or my parents.  Okay, to be honest I am really bad at that.  That is part of my independent streak at work, but is also part of a deep seated comfort that they provided.  My family provided me a kind of sturdiness that has the feel of permanence.  That steady foundation is part of what allows me serve my wife and children so far from where I grew up.  They are there.  Out there, ready to talk or do whatever to give me that little something if I need it.

Family matters because the foundation they provide gives us the platform from which we can do what we are called to do.  I have the blessing of having a lot of children, just like my parents did.  While the manner in which they came into the family is different, the lessons are the same:  You are family.  You matter.  You belong.

A Woman’s Wisdom

Being an independent person, this was a hard lesson for me to learn.  But I am grateful that I did.  You see, my mother showed me how much a woman’s wisdom can be a blessing.  Sometimes it was frustrating. Sometimes it was uplifting.  Always it was a blessing.  The best part is, she was able to teach me that young enough that I had a very good idea about what a good wife would be like.  She would build and not tear down.  She would encourage and support, but still feel free to ask the hard questions and offer her own ideas without hesitation.

When the Lord brought Beautiful into my life, I knew what a blessing she was and continues to be because I saw that in my mother.  I am grateful that I have been blessed by these two great women.  My mother, and the mother of my children have provided an almost continuous stream of blessing in my life.

My Mother

There are many more things that I am sure my siblings would add to this list.  They are different people and the lessons they learned will be different.  That is part of what makes our mother so special.  She was able to impart gifts to all of us that vary in kind and scope according to how we were being shaped, and who we would become.  These are some of the lessons that I learned from my mother.  She was not perfect, just as none of us are perfect, but she is one of the rare and precious women that our world needs more of.  I know I don’t say it often enough, so I will say it again.

Thank you Mom.  I will always love you.