the behavior contract: in depth

Last week, after I posted the behavior contract, a very keen reader noticed and pointed out that the words I penned back in 2007 suspiciously skirted the topics of sex and dating.  While that may seem like a heinous oversight, rest assured that it wasn’t.  While I omitted that stuff from the ink, I certainly didn’t omit it from the discussion.  I will gladly tell you my reasoning, but first I have to give you a hint of background about the day that set this whole thing in motion.

Without going into detail, let me just say that on that day, I found something that shot like an arrow through my heart.  I read words that instantly grieved me because how could so treasured a child see herself without value?  {I apologize for the vagueness.  It’s necessary.}

And so, with the precipice of high school looming, I set out to drive home a message so important that missing it could make all the difference in the world.

Don’t mistake me for a moron; I knew full well that the existence of such a contract would not really bind anybody to anything.  What is was to do, though, was explain–in no uncertain terms–my expectations.  Too many times in this parenthood I’ve been handed the excuse of not knowing.  With my expectations listed and signed off on, the not knowing becomes a much tougher sell.

Still, in spite of having voiced squirm-worthy sex’ish words all the days leading up to this one, putting them on paper was a step I wasn’t willing to take.  Partly because I felt that by writing them down and making them off-limits, I was somehow posing a dare.  And that was the last thing I wanted to do.

When we sat across the table from one another, reading over this contract, there was much discussion.  Unlike the heart-to-hearts we’d had before, this one was far more formal.  Quite purposefully.  I’d meant for it to feel very business-like.  If the truths of my heart poured out in the past had fallen on forgetful ears, perhaps this signing on the dotted line would stick.

I wanted the words–the expectations on that paper–to convey a message.  That is: you matter.  The choices you make today will shape tomorrow.  Your choices matter.  You will have a curfew; you will contribute; you will be respectful.  You matter.  If the going gets tough I will not look the other way; I will press harder.  You matter.  I will not give up on you because you matter.  I expect a lot from you and I know you can rise to the occasion.  You matter more than you’ll ever know.

I hoped that that truth would permeate and that, in turn, she would value herself enough to make responsible choices with boys based on self-worth rather than a directive on some piece of paper her mom made her sign.  We talked then–and talk still-about what I expect of her in the dating department, but it’s easily one of the slipperiest slopes I’ve ever had to parent down.  On one hand I want her to know that sex isn’t okay right now, but on the other hand I need her to know that if she chooses otherwise, she can come to me, without repercussion.  How can you convey both without sending a mixed message?

I don’t know the answer to that.  All I know is that I’m doing my best.

Parenting has been hard since that very first contraction.  Seasons of hard.  The physical exhaustion slowly gives way to a weary one, and second-guessing comes battering like a downed tree at the heavy door of perseverance.  All I know for sure is that while I could be better, I’m doing my best.

I’ve got an eighth grader waiting in the wings; the behavior contract is about to make a second appearance.  With revisions, of course.  Because when you know better, you do better.

I can only hope–and pray without end–that my best is good enough.

6 Replies to “the behavior contract: in depth”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and process. I am also wondering how we will approach these years and the decisions and the please don’ts but please tell us if you dos, if that makes sense. Having gotten pregnant while engaged, I want to help my children see how difficult that was for all of us. But I don’t want my daughter to feel like a mistake or a regret or anything, and I don’t want our truth to keep her from talking to us. Our best, covered in a lot of prayer, is all we can offer in the end though.

    1. It makes total sense to me, Nicole. I walk that same fine line with regard to the mistake/regret thing, only I was far from engaged. Your last sentence couldn’t be more true…

  2. I am catching up on blogs this morning and LOVE this post. I’ve gone and looked at your contract and may be stealing it from you in the near future!

    You are doing a great job… and, as always, I love your transparency in parenting and life!

  3. Thanks so much for doing a follow-up post about the contract, Darcie. Your posts always make me think about the future – especially parenting into the teens.

    I, too, am doing my best (while knowing that I could be better…praying that grace will cover my flaws).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.