Parenting: 7 Steps to Success
1. In a two parent structure, consistency is key
Kids need structure! And the firmer and sounder the structure- the easier it is for them to thrive. When a child can look at Mom and Dad and know they are a working team it is the foundation they stand on to begin their own work of figuring out who they are. If the child can prey upon the discord between parents, they gain power that will not serve them well in this identity quest.
Likewise, if the parent is struggling with their own identity issues or leans on the child in this process, the child’s identity quest becomes harder.
This remains true even with single parents. The child needs to see an autonomous parent. It is ideal if divorced parents can come together and co-parent but that is not always possible. If it is not then you must put effort into doing your own work and setting up a consistent structure for the kids regardless of how your ex does it. This is called parallel parenting. Kids will learn quickly that there are two sets of rules in their lives. We see this over and over where one parent offers structure and the other does not. Initially the kid favors the no structure but long term they will find a more peaceful satisfying life in the house that is predictable.
2. Work out the values you hold to be true.
One of the greatest intimacies available to a couple is the exploration of the values they want to teach the kids. Unfortunately a lot of this is done with presumption (“cause that’s how my parents did it…”) and on the fly. Ideally we approach these situations with each other before one dogmatically proclaims to the child how things will be.
Are we going to be a family that goes together to church? Work this out ahead of time.
What ages are the kids learning different responsibilities?
If one parent wants the 10 year old to learn to do laundry or help clean the kitchen and one parent refuses to help there is going to be very mixed messages. Invariably when a child signs up and commits to an event there will be some level of buyer’s remorse and the child may end up wanting to stop the event prematurely. If one parent says it’s ok to quit the soccer team 3 weeks into a 10 week season and the other parent balks there is a conflict that is best resolved with the parents first before the kid ends up hosting the conflict on their turf.
We don’t have to agree on everything but it provides a better structure for the kid if we can support each other.
3. Support each other with discipline.
You will teach manipulation if you don’t support each other. When one parent takes away tv and xbox time and the other parent sits down to play games with the child, the kid will learn a different game to play with the parents. Likewise, it’s not useful for one person to be the disciplinarian. Just wait till your mother gets home is not fair to mom.
Life as a parent becomes easier if you will move to using consequences for behavior change instead of using punishment. It is a subtle difference but think of discipline as the overall structure and environment you are trying to create for the child to learn and grow it.
The consequences for stepping off of this path within the environment should invite an awareness by the kid that the consequence and the stepping off are related. This invites a different choice the next time (or within the next few times in the case of my daughter!).
The markers of a healthy consequence are as follows: They are best if they are related, the consequence needs to be reasonable and the consequence needs to keep everyone safe. If the child’s job is to feed the family pet, the natural consequence to them not doing it is the dog goes hungry. Not reasonable- but if the consequence is that the child does not get to eat until Fido is fed, then all end up safe. If the 16 year old is drinking and driving we don’t wait for the wreck or the DWI, we take away the car keys.
Parents need to put some time into a discussion and get on the same page about consequences or the game playing will start. We used to use grounding (of some sort) as a consequence. After a particularly long weekend my wife spent with the child I had grounded (I was off hunting) we agreed on a new idea she developed and was quite enthusiastic about. If you ground ‘em, you stay with ‘em. It did help us to evaluate exactly how long that next ‘grounding’ needed to be!
4. Do not confuse normal with healthy.
Everyone had a normal childhood. Of course you did, it was the only one you had. And how you were raised, disciplined, spoken to and treated is also your normal. That does not necessarily mean it was healthy. I regularly hear parents defend their parenting actions with this coarse idea that “it was how I was raised and I turned out fine.”
There is a defensiveness in that statement that is worth challenging. Our children deserve to be nurtured. To get less than that is not ideal. Be curious how your family of origin may have limited your perceptions. For example- If sarcasm was the primary language of correction, it will probably show up in how you address your kids, and ultimately how they address you (and others).
Most of us carry our parents communication style forward with us, it was what we were taught (our ‘normal’).
- Is there a healthier way to communicate?
- How did we feel when spoken to that way when we were young?
- Are we respecting other’s boundaries? (I assure you that your boundary system was taught you, not chosen by you).
- Could you grow in how you speak respectfully to others and show your kids a better normal?
Do your own work and move up the scale in a healthier direction. Read a book, take a class. Sign up for the Love and Logic emails. Check out the website to see when one of us is speaking or teaching on parenting.
5. Take care of yourself and the Coupleship.
Self care is not selfish. Neither can we ignore the health of the relationship. Carve out some time for you. Carve out some time for the relationship. Try a seminar, go to a lecture.
D2 Counseling host a 1 day marriage event that focuses on improving Intimacy As A Couple. They have it listed on their website or call us and we can give you info on it. They host the Dallas Free Lecture Series once a month at a church down in Dallas.
Find a topic that interests you and find child-care and come listen and learn.
Most of us change our oil in the car every few thousand miles and get our teeth cleaned every six months. When was the last time you went to a marriage tune up?
If we treated our teeth or our car like most of us treat our relationships they would fall apart pretty soon. The coupleship deserves more attention.
6. Model the behavior you hope the kids will have.
Look around, what your kids see you doing is their normal. I had no idea I was talking to other drivers on the road until my son started saying things to other drivers before I did. I had taught him to criticize drivers who changed lanes without a signal. He was 4, and in a baby seat.
The coup de grace that forced me to immediately change my behavior was when, after an afternoon of observing Plano from the back seat, we arrived home and he asked me, “Daddy, what’s a gashole.”
I had no idea that the minister’s son was listening that closely.
If I am going to model sarcasm towards my spouse, my kids will believe that is how we are supposed to communicate.
When we see the behavior in them, that we do not like, we best change it in ourselves if we expect them to be different. The positive of this is when I see my daughter express sincere gratitude to her brother or vice versa as they have witnessed their parents do for one of them or for each other.
They are watching, what are you teaching?
7. Affirm, Nurture and Set Limits
Dr. Hijazi calls these the 3 competencies of parenting.
The pneumonic we use to remember it is A.N.S.-R (Answer)
We affirm, we nurture and set limits, then repeat. At a high level, parenting is as simple as that (but not always simple).
My wife and I have 2 kids, a friend of mine has 4. He told me one time that life was easier with two kids cause they could use a man-man defense. Now they have had to go to a zone defense. It is easier to do if we keep an eye on these three tasks. It helps move us back to center at the end of a day that has been consumed by soccer practice, choir, and a teacher conference, and “I thought YOU were getting the dry cleaning.”
To be a parent has been the most honorable thing I have ever done. Probably the most important. Certainly one of the most frustrating. And clearly, hands down, has been the most rewarding. Take a breath and notice the journey along the way.
Guest post written by:
Rev. Daniel Gowan, LPC, LCDC, CSAT
Co-Founder D2 Counseling
Email me or call: 972-267-2800