Photo Credit: Amber Gehring
Last week on the blog, I asked you for a bit of parenting advice. Today, I’m going to share some. Because I had an epiphany when someone recently complimented the hubs and me on our ability to get our teenagers to church on Sunday mornings when most teens might prefer to sleep in.
In case you didn’t know, non-compliance doesn’t have to be an option, especially in matters you deem important. Yes, parenting is certainly a challenge since children, much like adults, usually have their own ideas about what they prefer to do with their time. But unlike life for adults in the wider world, life in our home is not a democracy. I like to tell my kids, with a smile of course, that I prefer the tyrannical dictatorship style of household governance. If you think you want to go this route, I suggest you begin early.
Don’t misunderstand. I can be as cuddly and gushy as the next person when it comes to being enamored with my own offspring. We often hug and kiss our children and tell them we love them. I’m usually not a yeller and I am, in my opinion, extremely tolerant of messes and mistakes. We’re open to hearing out any well-reasoned arguments. But I am rarely, actually never, open to extended debates with children. Because ultimately all Johnson asylum authority is centralized at the top of this house’s laundry pile. She who feeds and clothes the inmates deserves some modicum of respect.
I do not claim to be a parenting expert. And these tips are by no means exhaustive or meant to be the final word. Just some thoughts on what’s worked for us so far. So here goes…
Do not argue or debate with your kids. It should be clear from get-go street (as my mom used to say) that you are in charge and will not be lured or bated into defending your rules. Keep your cool. Simply state the reason for the rule and let that be the end of it. To me, it doesn’t matter if a child claims to not understand my reasoning. Because let’s be honest–most moms like to brag about how their kids are so brilliant or gifted, which to my mind means they probably do understand your reasoning. They just don’t agree. There’s a difference. And compliance does not require agreement.
Say yes when you can and no when you must. This has been some of the most beneficial parenting advice I’ve ever received. But it often requires me to not give immediate responses to my children’s requests. I sometimes pause and ask myself if there is any harm in saying yes even if my initial instinct is to say no. If your go-to response is “no” simply because you don’t want to think about a request or might be inconvenienced by a request, that’s unfair. Even dictators must let the masses have their way from time to time to avoid an all out revolt or worse, simmering resentment and strained relationships.
Your no must mean no. This is why you must think before you respond. Because once you establish a “no”, you must be willing to engage any defiance and endure any backlash with determined stoicism and resolve. So once you’ve said no to that toy in the store, DO NOT, relent to your toddler’s torture. Let ‘em scream bloody murder for all you care. You’ll get no evil eye roll from me. I’ll applaud and clap you on that steely spine of yours. I get it. You’re trying to establish authority and teach your youngster that no amount of squall can sink your ship. Stay strong sister! Because if you allow nagging, screaming or tantrum throwing to wear you down and make you buy that damned toy just to get your kid to shut up, you’re only teaching your kids to nag, scream and throw tantrums every time you say no. On the other hand, stick by your no, and after a while, sometimes a long while, kids do learn we mean business and will accept our rulings without the theatrics. An added benefit to not buying my kids stuff every time we ventured into a store is that today, they are thoughtful consumers who carefully consider whether an item is truly worth spending their (or my) resources on. Score one for the dictator!
Teach responsibility early on. If you do everything for others, they’ll let you. (This also applies to your career, volunteering, and probably your marriage. But let’s just focus on the kiddos for now.) We all remember the Barney “Clean Up” song and how we happily encouraged our kids to pick up their toys only for the little rug-rats to gleefully dump the toy bucket over again. But why stop when they’re little? I tell you the truth–I will leave an empty granola bar wrapper on the counter for an entire DAY while waiting for my teen son to get home from school so he can throw it away himself rather than throw it away for him. You must think that would drive a person insane. Yes, well… I’ve already alluded to living in an asylum. But in this asylum, the inmates clean up their own messes.
When you’re wrong, say you’re sorry. This is a tough one for dictators like me. But, apologizing when we’re wrong does not undermine our authority. It legitimizes it. So, if you overreact, get angry, apply too much pressure or inadvertently say something that hurts your child’s feelings, apologize. Be tender. Be humble. Always, always, always be loving. Loving does not equal weakness just as being weak does not equal love.