A couple of months ago, within a couple of days I had three separate conversations with three different moms in which I was asked for suggestions on how to deal with parenting challenges they were having. The ages ranged from toddlers through adolescence, but my parenting philosophy is the same for everyone, it’s just the specifics that change.
Afterwards I was concerned that these parents might take my suggestions and apply them without the inner love towards their child that makes the crucial difference in how the rules are perceived. Parenting isn’t black and white, though when listening to specific parenting suggestions, it’s easy to think it’s just a matter of following a formula and then you’ll get results. But it’s not – it’s a matter of the heart. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just following the instructions on how to raise your child, but when we do, we risk damaging our relationships as we place rules above people’s feelings and needs. I was afraid these parents were going to take a hard line approach with their children as a result of our conversations (I stressed with them the importance of clarifying limits and expectations) but that shouldn’t include a hard line attitude (though I repeatedly stressed this, I didn’t feel that it was absorbed the way the action suggestions were).
There are steps that I suggest parents take to get back on track with their children, to turn things around in the right direction (and they are the things that I would do, too), but I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that it’s all orders and strictness around here. It’s not, and I wouldn’t want it to be for anyone else either. When the boundaries are clarified with love, it leaves most of the time together with our children available for enjoyable and loving interactions.
I’ve fallen into the trap of leaning too heavily on my authority and not having enough understanding of the individual child while insisting things be done a certain way, and it’s damaging in the long and short term to interact with our children like this. Actually, what prompted this post now is that a couple of weeks ago I realized that I was doing that with a particular child. I noticed lessening receptiveness to what I said and increasing friction in our interactions. After a few days, I realized this negativity was becoming somewhat regular, and it made me sit back and think about where it was coming from and why it was happening. Though it was unpleasant to realize, I had to honestly admit to myself that I was being too demanding in certain situations with this child.
I then made the conscious effort to get myself back into a good space, speaking from love and not speaking at all unless there was love in my heart, and almost immediately, the friction faded away. Parenting is more than barking orders and expecting immediate compliance from our children. Parenting isn’t mainly about the rules, it’s about the spirit and attitude that we apply them with, as well as the relationships we build with our children when we interact with them.
Remember: we can’t insist on our children showing respect for us and forget that we need to show them respect, too.