Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

Based on the Effectiveness of your decisions, efficiency is only relative.


I find that being a parent has brought on so many competitive and controversial subjects that I am always asking myself if I am doing the right thing. I am often observing other parenting strategies while looking back on my college education in childhood development to formulate a customized parenting strategy for my family situation. It sometimes ends with self-doubt and disappointment in my inability to achieve a high standard that I am coming to see isn’t entirely possible for anyone.
However, one piece of solace or direction comes from a trick I learned from one of my college professors while we discussed parenting techniques. While this is most often used in the parenting aspect in my life, I have been able to spread this principle to other often-challenging parts of my life, as well.
Efficiency is the ability to get as much done as possible with as little work as possible.

Effectiveness has a much longer scope.
With effectiveness, a person is looking ahead, even if it’s vaguely, and making decisions now based on how well that decision will fit in with the desired result. There isn’t necessarily a time limit or even a “goal” per se.

This principle of weighing decisions based on efficiency vs. effectiveness occurred to me most recently when my 14-month-old daughter was showing some of her first signs of wanting to feed herself with a spoon. To my husband’s chagrin, I have allowed her to do it almost every time she shows interest. It is messy, inefficient, and ultimately a failure every time. She has mastered dropping food, not even getting food onto the spoon, and ending the night with yogurt and other sticky things matting her hair. At least, it seems like a failure, now. You see, because of my background and training regarding children, I understand that this strategy of giving her independence at this age is really important for many different developmental reasons:

First of all, she is learning to be independent. If I don’t allow her some independence in this area while she is interested in it, she may let go of her desire to feed herself and rely on me for a much longer period than is necessary.

Second of all, if I continue to spoon feed her constantly, I will be forcing her to stop progression with her dexterity. Self-feeding is one of the most efficient ways for a child to learn fine motor skills that will benefit them the rest of their lives. Think of all of the things with which you need to use your fingers. She will learn how to handle a spoon and fork more quickly when she is using those muscles more often, which will help her with many other things.

Lastly, spoon-feeding also limits exploration of the sensory in her mouth. If I don’t allow her to experience eating the way she wants to (biting the spoon, licking the food, playing with it in her mouth, etc.) it can lead to severe sensory issues when she is eating later on, which then can lead to poor eating habits and even speech impediments.

While it would be more efficient to disallow her to feed herself- the short-term consequences being a clean table/baby and less wasted food- it is significantly more effective to her well-being if I not interfere so much with her natural development. Don’t get me wrong; there are times when I will feed her. Otherwise, many of my friends would not have us over for dinner, anymore. But, ultimately, I am more concerned about where this behavior is headed than what is happening right now.

I like to think that this is a similar concept when it comes to rehabilitation in its many complex forms. We all have the ability within us to recover from addiction. We all have an inner voice that tells us what is working for us and what isn’t. However, it may start out messy, frustrating, and seemingly a failure. Over time, as we come to trust and believe in our ability we will observe the concrete and effective nature of that voice.

I hear all the time from people about how she “just can’t do it, ” and even some people cringe at how frustrating, and even disgusting, it is to watch my daughter eat. But when I start to doubt my strategy, I look to my 3-year-old son who is the product of a similar strategy. He enjoys a much wider variety of foods than many kids his age and takes a little issue with different textures and tastes. He is still a toddler and eats like one most of the time (he would live off of Goldfish crackers if I let him), but many people marvel at the positive comparison he is to his peers. So it is with life. It’s easy to become disenchanted when we don’t see the immediate results that come from our actions. But with a little trust in ourselves and little faith in the process, there are many, many fruits that we can enjoy our hard work.


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