Thinking out loud, ok?

I read a funny piece about parenting classes the other day, and among all the funny (and obvious) tips in the article was the idea that you should never end a request to your child with "OK." The logic was that you were asking for your child's permission or if what you were telling them to do was OK with them, and that made your request ignorable.

That just made me laugh, because to me, ending a request with "OK?" (which I do often) means "Did you hear and understand what I just told you/asked you to do? Give me verbal confirmation that you received my message." It is not in any way, shape, or form asking permission of my kids to ask them to do something. How could two letters mean something so radically different to me and to the parenting expert quoted in the article? It had honestly never even occurred to me that "OK?" could mean anything other that what it means when I use it.

This reminds me a lot, actually, of the phrase "I'm sorry," which seems to mean one thing to men and another to woman. If a female friend told me she couldn't find her keys and was late to a meeting, and I said, "I'm sorry," she'd thank me for my sympathy. If a male friend told me he couldn't find his keys and was late to a meeting, and I said, "I'm sorry," he'd tell me it wasn't my fault his keys were lost. To women it's an expression of sympathy, whereas to men it's an apology.

I started wondering if maybe a lot of these ironclad rules of parenting are just style differences.

I mean, does it really matter the phraseology or tone of voice you use to ask your kids to do something if THEY know you expect them to do it? Yes, we've all seen the whiny suck-up parents who seem to be wheedling more than asking their children to do something and whose children don't fulfill the request. But isn't that more about lack of follow-through than tone of voice? They could be barking orders like a drill sergeant but if they didn't follow through to make sure the request was fulfilled that wouldn't be any more directive or useful than a wheedle. Conversely, haven't we seen parents who seem to say barely anything and their children do it cheerfully? It's because the kids know what to expect and know to fulfill the request.

It's not the words, it's the expectations you set and the follow-through.

I am absolutely not a perfect parent, and my children certainly do not comply with every request I make of them. In fact, it seems that they are less likely to comply when I'm at my worst, when I need them to just do it and not try to change the terms. But that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? When I'm at my worst they know I have no follow-through. I could whisper or roar like a lion, but my tone doesn't change the fact that I don't have my normal resources to calmly and kindly make sure they do whatever I need them to do. This may also be why things seem to turn out better when I'm low on resources if I enlist their help instead of making requests. And as they've gotten older, part of enlisting their help is about truly delegating and giving them autonomy in how they get the things done that I need them to do.

What if I'm getting better at this as they get older? What if we're all getting better at this as our kids get older? What if they'll turn out just fine whether we say "OK?" or not? What if "being effective" is more about learning each other than it is about doing things the right way?

Is there something you do that works just fine for you that you've been told is the wrong way to do things?