The Advice That Changed My Parenting
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.
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.
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.
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]