The Advice That Changed My Parenting

awkward family

Disclaimer: Yesterday it was 55° (that’s cold to South Carolinians), and my girl rolled out the door for school in shorts and a short-sleeved tee. You may not wish to read any further…

I’ve been at this parenting gig for thirteen years now, and it’s a beast. Along the way I’ve snatched up tips like a rabid woman on Black Friday, throwing elbows and pressing in assertively. A mama needs all the help she can snag. I’m a generous rabid woman though, so here’s the goods (no throwing of elbows necessary):

1) As your children age, move from control to influence. This gem is from the teaching of Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, and it provides a truth we can break ourselves against or adjust ourselves to.

My oldest girl is 13, and the fastest way I can alienate her is to attempt to exercise the control over her I did when she was younger.

There are certainly decisions I still hand down that carry the weight and finality of the mama, but there are other dimensions of life where wielding influence is most protective of our relationship AND most effective in preparing her for post-mama life: classes, friends, extracurriculars, dress & style (she’s quite modest), schoolwork, social opportunities, room decor, and time management.

While our non-negotiables remain our bedrock, I have found a margin for independence buys me a lot of influence in this season.

2) Respect cannot be commanded. I learned this one from my Education degree. I began teaching high school English at twenty-two and looked like I was fresh off the school bus. True story, a fellow teacher asked for my hall pass during the beginning of my first year. I had to learn to walk in an authority that neither my age nor my inexperience commanded. Mutual respect and sincere apology were the tickets to looking up into the faces of grown boy-men, requiring them to toe the line.

I wasn’t a pushover. But I wasn’t a tyrant either.

Behavior can be marshaled, but respect rubs shoulders with trust and care. As a former teacher of adolescents, this truth is serving me well with my tween and middle school woman-child.

3) Laughter is relational glue. I have been so guilty of living in the serious. Of taking myself too seriously. Of making life too serious. Of chasing off fun to be responsible. And you know what? That’ll make you sharp and tired, friends. I extinguished there.

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas, says in his study Recovering Redemption, “I believe with all my heart that God delights in the laughter of Christian homes.”

I have really messed this one up, but my people and I, we are trying to make up for lost time.

We cackle on the regular.

cawthon humor

cawthon humor

cawthon humor

4) Don’t try to protect them from God. I snagged this one from the Big Guy Himself. God is always more concerned with who we are becoming than what we’re doing. Well, that’s true for our kiddos too, and it doesn’t start when they’re adults.

Unfortunately, adversity is a great character builder.

I have found myself standing before God with my gals metaphorically tucked behind me. As if to say, “I’ll tell them what You say, and I’ll help them grow into who You want them to be.” We only delude and terrify ourselves when we think we have the ability to protect them from the work He wants to do in them.

The great news is He loves them more than we do.

5) Be a student of your child. I first encountered this idea from a Sunday School class corporately studying The 5 Love Languages of Children. To me, learning my offspring – their passions, their personalities, their gifts, their wiring – is how I can be most efficient and effective in my parenting efforts.

Carson, my oldest, is an introvert whose love language is gifts. This summation informs a lot of my interactions with her. When I pick her up from cross country practice, she doesn’t want to talk. She’s been “on” all day and is ready to quiet and withdraw. But by dinner, she’s ready for questions about her day.

And buying her a new book or her favorite snack sends her into her own self-described love cocoon.

the fam.

Campbell is 10. She’s an extrovert whose love language is quality time. This past Friday she and I picked up a couple of birthday gifts, grabbed dinner, and carried it home to eat and watch a movie. I could give away all of her favorite possessions – bow and arrow, BB gun, legos, puzzles – and she would only notice if she realized they were missing.

Which she wouldn’t because she’s an extrovert and never spends time in her room.

6) Be guilty of being demonstrative. I recently read this in a book about raising teen daughters. Hug and say “I love you” a lot, even when they feel they have outgrown it. I’ve never heard an adult with parent issues complain, “My parents were too affectionate and harassed me with ‘I love you‘s.” And if mine do, I’m striving to be guilty as charged.

7) Allow your children to make choices you disagree with. Okay, we’re gonna revisit why I allowed the 10 year old tadpole to wear shorts and a t-shirt to school when it was 55°.

My husband and I once attended a PTA meeting where a school administrator challenged us to allow our children to face the consequences of their choices. If they refuse a coat, allow them to be cold. If they forget their homework, don’t bring it.

I took his advice, recognizing school as a safe place to allow my girls to exert some independence and feel the consequences of their choices. We don’t return home for forgotten ID’s, and we don’t require coats. If they don’t do a homework assignment, they pay the piper. Did I try to convince my child to wear jeans instead of shorts? I did. But I didn’t mandate it. Luckily for her, Mother Nature was feeling gracious later in the day.

8) Resist settling conflict for your child. One day I was driving, listening to a parenting segment on the radio. The speaker lauded the value of allowing our children to navigate conflict, especially sibling clashes, on their own. Once a disagreement takes a trajectory of escalation, put the siblings in a confined space, she suggested, for a specified period of time to resolve the issue. If they have not reached resolution at the conclusion of the time frame, they are assigned another block of time for forced togetherness.

cawthon humor

cawthon humor

For years since, our girls are relegated to the bathroom for 15-minute intervals when they can’t tame the tongue or rein in the rage. They may paint their nails, scream, apply make-up, cry, play a game, but they aren’t allowed out until the altercation is no longer active. More than anything it removes me and my ire from the mix.

9) A family dog eradicates the food-on-the-floor impasse of parenthood. Speaks for itself, but yes and thank you. #ThreeCheersForObadiah

I would love to hear from you, fellow soldiers in the trenches. What has been the parenting advice that changed your parenting?

[Feature image: Kevin N. Murphy]
Does Fear Make Me a Bad Person?
The Smile of a Disposable Woman


  1. Cookie Cawthon
    November 19, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    The eldest progeny insists, “Mom, they need to know we’re hilarious.” So there’s that. 🙂 <3

  2. Martha David
    Martha DavidReply
    November 20, 2015 at 12:45 am

    This is such a hard lesson but we are not our child’s only influence and as they age, they sometimes pal up with the worst possible influence. First, you don’t criticize the other kid. Secondly, you minimize opportunities for your child to go to his house. Let the bad influence come to your house and turn the eyes in the back of your head to constant watchfulness. If you catch the bad influence and your child doing something you have made clear to your child we don’t do at our house, you tell them that because they have broken house rules, you will have to call the child’s mom. You will explain the improper behavior and ask her to come get her child because your child can’t have company when he breaks our family’s rules.

    Your child will get tired of getting in trouble and hopefully, the other child will learn that just because he’s seen his mom’s marijuana stash, he not his mom are cool and she is breaking the law. Hopefully, he will learn that from observing the rules at your house. However, you always run the risk that your child will rebel. One of mine sons did when something traumatic happened to him.

    He’s a grown man and he is still rebelling against me. Now, I have not only lost a relationship with my son but with my grandchildren. That’s when I lost all sense of what to do. That’s when I know God heard my ridiculous prayers and said, Martha, when’s the last time you read My Word? Remember me? I’m God! You ain’t gonna fix this!”

    I worried, prayed, and cried so much about this situation that I had made my son an idol. If the wrong person had told me that, I would have declared that mothers are different. But the truth is, we aren’t. When God sent one of the wisest, childless people I know to tond me that God said “thou shalt have no other godsbefore Me,” I got it! I realized the word “thou” included mothers.

    I didn’t want to believe it. But over and over, my son did things that he knew were hurtful to me. Many times, he lied about things of little consequence. It was almost as thought he thought he could make me stop loving him.

    When I turned off my ATM machine, he wanted nothing to do with me. He hung in there a little while but it wasn’t long before his wife informed me that she and my son were cutting the ties. I struggled for several years but when I realized that I had put my problems with my son before my relationship with God, I laid that huge wooly mammoth at the foot of the cross (again) and this time, I left it there.

    Does it hurt not to hear my son’s voice? Absolutely! Does it break my heart that I am
    not allowed to see my grandchildren grow up or even have a picture of them? More than you can imagine.

    Last week, I called my son at work to invite him to our family Christmas celebration. When the receptionist answered the phone and I asked for my son, she told me he no longer worked there. For about 30 minutes, I had a meltdown. When he blocked me on Facebook, I took it like a champ. But now, I’m not even sure where he’s living. His brother knows but I can’t put him in the middle of all this. It would be so unfair for me to pressure him to do what his brother doesn’t want him to do. So, if I know he’s seen his big brother, I just ask him if everybody is okay. The boundaries end there.

    I know this was a long comment but it’s important that you know parenting adult children is so much harder than being a parent at any other stage of their lives. But there’s a Savior who loves my children a gazillions times more than I do. Moms, I know that’s hard to believe but if we put them first, we’ve made them an idol and we’re saying we don’t trust God to handle our problems or to take care of our children.

    There are thousands of mothers who raised their children to honor God and took them to church and prayed for their futures. Yet, somehow, God has allowed us to go through this trial to teach us that He is God. He’s got this!

    I thought I would never have peace about if but I do. I’ve given my son to God and trained my heart to love my son, his wife, and his children through God. In His time and His way, God will send my son back to me. But I know that I talked to my son about his salvation I’m the not too distant past. And if I don’t see him again on this earth, I will see him again I’m heaven. That’s that one thing I’ve done as a parent that helps me hold it together when the times bring the tears. As a mom, that’s the best I can do.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      November 20, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Martha, so much hard stuff here. I think we as mamas can easily make our children idols. I recently heard in a study by Matt Chandler – “If you hold too tightly to things that shouldn’t be held too tightly to, fear and anxiety will mark your life.” Which pointed me to my girls. I worry over their safety in a way that points to idolatry and a distrust of God’s goodness. I can only imagine when my little people are out of the house and the new difficulties that will bring. Thank you for sharing and being honest here.

  3. Becky Manning
    Becky ManningReply
    November 20, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Something that I have learned from having 3 girls and a boy that I try to prepare my younger friends with daughters for is that there will come a time (not 100% guaranteed, but pretty close) when your precious daughter that you have laughed with, talked with, held hands with, loved on like crazy, and enjoyed being the mom to will suddenly see you as not cool, not fun, annoying, intrusive, overbearing, nosy and you even breathe wrong. You are still a great mom who loves her unconditionally! You haven’t done anything wrong and are now a failure. She NEEDS to do this in one way, shape or form. It is not fun. It is heartbreaking. It feels devastating. It is ok. All three of my daughters did this to varying degrees, some more chill than others. Some more angry than others.
    Ok. Here is the good part……..they do come back around. Really. They do. I have gotten to see each of them grow and mature and become less self-absorbed. It is a beautiful thing. I even had the privilege of hearing from my mom that one of them actually said to her ‘ I have been such a jerk to my mom’. Now that is a child who is growing up!!! Stay strong young moms. Love them even when they hate you. Never stop believing in them. They need you even though they don’t want you to know that.

    As for the only boy I have, he mostly just pulled inward a bit. No drama, no anger, no rage, no hate. However, this does not exclude boys from the ‘mama hatin’, I just happen to give birth to a more chill variety. Maybe being a twin to a girl had something to do with it or the fact that he was the only boy with three sisters. He didn’t need to cause drama. They did enough of that for everyone! 🙂
    The term parenting is not for sissies is the real deal. Lots of work, but immense joy!!!! Hang tough moms and give them to God daily!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      November 20, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Friend, this is gold. Thank you for speaking to our hearts as many of us have this road ahead… I certainly remember my own self-absorption as a sullen daughter, figuring out how to be me as an emerging young lady. Makes my stomach hurt, but there is the hope of the returning, right?

Leave a Reply

Your message*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>