Friday, September 11, 2009


Human beings are hard wired to search for loopholes. It’s in our nature to painstakingly seek out shortcuts. Webster defines a loophole as “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or set of rules.” My children are forever testing the household rules, searching for the perfect ambiguity to exploit.

For example, we have a rule that the kids may only play video games if they have done their homework and then their daily reading. They are awarded video game and computer time based on how long they have spent reading. It’s a minute for minute exchange. Twenty minutes of reading can be redeemed for 20 minutes of Wii or DS time. Simple enough, right? As I crafted this rule, I was proud of its straightforwardness and confident in its clarity.

I had no idea just how complicated this system could become. My kids, who love to read, immediately started trying to poke holes in my rule. They peppered me with questions. Can you read in front of the Wii while someone else is playing? Do you get reading time if you read signs while riding in the car? Does it count if someone reads to you? Do you get extra Wii time on birthdays and holidays? Can you borrow your brother’s reading minutes if you promise to lend him some next time? Does daddy have the power to override this rule when mom’s gone? What happens if you “accidentally” play for too long on the Wii? Are there any times where your reading can count for double?

We have had long discussions about the Reading/ Gaming exchange rule. So much, that

I am considering hiring an attorney to draft a legal contract so that all parties are clear on the terms of the agreement. My children have no idea how much Wii time they’ve missed because of time spent discussing procedures and parameters.

I find myself searching for loopholes as well. My kids learned from the best. Just how important is it for me to meet that deadline? Do I technically have to pay that bill on that date, or is it just a suggestion? Do I have to do that tempo run, or can I just run easy? I find myself wondering if the time I spend searching for shortcuts ends up being more time consuming that just getting the job done.

I have often used my own fears and insecurities as a loophole.

“I feel called to go to Africa, but I can’t afford it.”

“I really want to be a writer, but I’m too afraid of rejection.”

“I want to work out but, I’ll never stick with it.”

“I’d like to start my own business, but it’s just too risky.”

My fears let me off the hook but, they prevent me from really living. I wonder what a life without loopholes, without fear and excuses, would look like. I'm willing to give it a try.

Somehow, though, I don't think my children will quit searching for ambiguities or inadequacies in the laws of this house anytime soon.


  1. I love the connection you make between loopholes and fear. I guess we trick ourselves into actually thinking we have accomplished something when we settle for the technical bare minimum - "Even though I didn't run as fast as I wanted, I still ran!" OR (for Al and Cabs) "Even though I didn't read for the 20 min. I was supposed to, I read a little so I can play the Wii". All the time tricking ourselves into some faux satisfaction, deadening our ability to challenge ourselves and do the hard thing, and cheapening the reward of real satisfaction in what we do. Thanks for this post, Jod. It has sparked a lot of thought and conviction for me. :)

  2. Excellent points! We've implimented the reading = games this year and I find myself annoyed having to keep track of the time for my kids (but it's worth it - I just need to quit being stubborn). I set up a timer for my 9yr old, which seems to help.

    P.S. I came over to your blog from Lisa Stookey's :)


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