I agree with J. Budziszewski when he says that love is the commitment of the will to the true good of another person. We are called to love our children, so that means we’re to be committed to what’s truly good for them.
Principle #1: When you are responsible for someone’s well-being, your efforts may not be understood or appreciated by the object of your efforts. Or: your kids are still childish, so they might not get what you’re doing for them. Or: if your kids think you’re great and nice all the time, you probably aren’t doing the parent thing right.
When you are a mom or a dad, the overarching long term goal is to cultivate and maintain healthy relationship with your kids–for life. Love, love, love them. And the reason you do this is to guide the young people toward the development of their own loving relationships–in healthy, purposeful, functional adulthood–because you’re committed to their long-term good.
Your best efforts, on your side of the relationship, should promote harmony, health and happiness. But a lot of your time as a parent is spent doing things for your kids which they don’t like and don’t understand.
Like discipline. Human beings start out helpless, self-oriented and without any self-control whatsoever. As we develop, we gradually acquire more and more other-awareness, impulse control and independence. But we need help. Does anyone deny this (she asks, remembering blog conversations in which a consensus even on this was not reached)?
One of the first things to make understood, after your child reaches an age of accountability, is that there is a line. The line is what your child must not cross without expecting to receive unpleasant consequences. Your message: these items are not tolerated and are not negotiable. If you cross that line, I will enact consequences which are designed to be just unpleasant enough to deter you from doing that item again.
Let us not substitute virtue-signaling for realistic discernment concerning what form those consequences should take. Know your child, know your own limits, and with humility do what is really best for your children. I don’t ascribe to a rigid formula here. People are all the same, but also people are very different.
When your child has truly repented of that thing and wants forgiveness (which is how you know the discipline actually worked), he will receive it immediately , along with happy and healthy restoration of your relationship and a warm hug. Thing will be completely forgiven and he will never be reminded of it again.
Principle #2: If your kid doesn’t repent, your correction didn’t correct. He hasn’t learned anything yet.
Non-toleration should be reserved for acts of true intentional disobedience or rebellion, or acts of malicious intent, and other items which you will designate yourself. In our house, striking or physically hurting a sibling was one act which was under the no tolerance rule.
Non-tolerated items must include acts which would be dangerous to the child, such as running into the street before the age of learning to cross safely, or playing with the stove or the electrical sockets.
Childish mistakes and impulsive foolishness should be teaching opportunities.
Principle #3: All consequences must only be performed while you, the parent, are calm and cool, and always with the goal of quick restoration and the long-term goal of teaching the child to have self-discipline.
One of the embedded premises in your correction is that you are the authority. It makes a lot of us uncomfortable to assume that role but it is one of the difficult things which we do for our child’s benefit. You do your child no favors to teach him that there isn’t anyone to whom he is accountable, or that there is no one whose moral standing can be trusted. If the person who is teaching him the difference between right and wrong isn’t a moral authority to be trusted, then it’s not too difficult for him to decide that right and wrong are subjective opinions.
Principle #4: You must own the role of unqualified authority to your child. This role is not a thing that you lead with; it is to be a premise underlying your pleasant and affectionate parenting. But it must be real when the rubber meets the road. For the sake of your child, you cannot be inconsistent here.
The line is important. All kinds of kids from all kinds of raising might rebel one day. But the kids who grew up with a line and an authority understand the context better. They know who and what they’re dissing and do it with some understanding. It’s possible that they will think through their choices, with the critical thinking skills you have taught them, and that they will find their way back, as thinking persons with an understood moral paradigm.
Kids who grew up without a moral authority in their lives, who found it hard to understand what was expected of them, with an amorphous moral context, will rebel mindlessly, emotionally driven by they know not what, with no purpose. They are truly blind and lost in their rebellion, and that makes it so much harder for them to find their own way back to responsible maturity.
What else would I tell parental-advice-seekers, if I were to be asked?
Thicken your skin and cultivate peace in your spirit. When you are holding the line against some unwise course your kid wants to take, do not expect back-up from other adults. Expect to stand alone. The world is chock-full of bad advice for you and your kid.
Principle #5: Being a conscientious parent is not for the faint of heart.
Everything you have in you will be stretched and challenged. I’m not referring to obvious items like patience and physical stamina but your integrity, your self-esteem, your emotional stamina and your convictions or lack thereof.
When you have toddlers or several children under, say, eight, you think life’s as challenging as it can get. Oh you poor fool.
Sometimes I wish I had a house FULL of toddlers. It would be easier.
Those little people grow up and become self-directed young adults whom you can no longer contain in your home, who don’t have bedtimes, who drive automobiles, who can go here and there and do whatever they choose for goodness sakes. Whom you can no longer control. And you become a mere advisor–that is, if you’re blessed and fortunate enough to have young adults who choose to listen to you at all.
And no, you can’t guarantee that by how well you parent them. That’s just the point. They become people with free will. Hopefully the seeds of your good teaching fell on fertile ground and your mistakes were forgotten; but even if so, we can never guarantee clear critical thinking and mature forgiveness.
Anything can happen with human beings! They can decide to cut you out of their lives even though you loved them, provided for them, watched over them every minute of their lives and cared about their future more than anyone, including their current drinking buddies.
Principle #6: Expect your older teens and young adults to hurt you more than anyone else will ever be able to.
Even when you and your young people are on the same side, they can hit you right where it hurts just exactly when you were expecting reciprocal consideration. When thought you were doing all the right stuff. That’s why intimate relationships are so risky–we can love powerfully, we can hate powerfully, and we feel both most from those we love and trust.
When your toddler hates you, you can laugh it off. But when your 20 year old only speaks to you to ridicule you, that hurts a lot. You’ve cultivated a vulnerable relationship with this thinking person who is making a decision to dismiss you. So it’s helpful to remember he still has a lot of growing up to do, i.e. think of him as a toddler. That frontal lobe isn’t complete til about 25.
Those teens and twenties don’t have a lock on their self-control yet. Especially since the young in our culture never stop hearing that it’s suspect to control themselves, and that their emotions are Absolute Truth.
Principle #7: Watching quietly while your children make their own decisions is a lifelong commitment to worry and impotence, or it is a lifelong commitment to hope and fervent prayer. Your choice.
Hopefully your young will make wise decisions. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes it’s a good time for you to say something. Sometimes it is a good time to be quiet even though you have the answer. Sometimes you don’t know how there can even be an answer. I have it on good authority that knowing the difference is an art I have not mastered.
Principle #8: As a parent, you never arrive at a place where you can look back and say, “There–I did it and I’m satisfied with the job I did.” It’s a task for life, and you have to keep ahead of the learning curve for life.