We’re their parents, not their best friends

March 21, 2017

We adore our children—all ten of them. I would do whatever I can to help them grow up healthy, happy, well educated, talented, and capable. But there is one thing I won’t do: I refuse to raise tyrants. It seems the popular thing is to be your children’s friend, but that is not in their best interests. Someone needs to be in charge and it can’t be the kids.

Our home is not a democracy. The parents have final say. Oh, we counsel with our children, and we listen to what they have to say. But we are still in charge, and our children don’t get to tell us what to do.

There is one other thing that children sometimes forget. Mom and Dad are not the ones to blame for every little thing that goes wrong, and Mom is not the only person who can make everything better.

A child in another family stuffed a paper lantern into her backpack and then yelled at her mother when she got home from school that her lantern was ruined. Unfortunately, the mother yelled back and it escalated into a battle of wills that no one won.

I admit, we have had similar situations when I didn’t manage the situation as well as I should have. Fortunately, there weren’t many of them, but it’s easy to get pulled into an argument when there is tension and stress. However, I learned a better way of dealing with times like that. I learned that children need to take responsibility for their own actions. If I wasn’t the one that caused the problem, I don’t need to be the one to fix it. Sure, if I can make my child’s life better, I am all for that. But often getting involved in problems that I didn’t cause isn’t going to help.

The sympathetic route works much better. Here is a line to use at times such as that: “Oh, that’s too bad! That is such a pretty lantern too! What are you going to do now?” Or perhaps, “You did a great job on that lantern! Too bad it got bent. Do you think you can straighten it out, or would you like to make another one?”

The value of such a reply is two-fold. The child knows you care and you aren’t irritated with her for messing up the lantern. Second, it puts the responsibility for repairing the damage right where it should be—with the child.

I have fixed things that were my problem, such as an art shirt that wasn’t ready for a child to take to school. However, if their homework was left on the couch instead of being put into their backpack, I don’t always take the time to drive it to them. If I take away the consequences of their actions, our children will never learn to take responsibility for the choices they make.

One mother had this figured out long ago. When her rather free-spirited son kept missing the bus, she realized it was because he preferred driving the car to school. It irritated her that he would do that on purpose, so she decided to make sure he knew what would happen every time he missed the bus.

Sure enough, her son missed the bus the next day and expected to get to drive their car again, but his mom had other plans. He would be walking to school. Not only that, but she drove beside him all the way there to be sure no one else picked him up to give him a ride.

This was no small matter. They lived seven miles from the high school. I am sure she had better things to do with her time than drive at three miles per hour for much of the morning. But she knew the lesson needed to be learned. He never missed the bus again.

Parents aren’t here to run around fixing every problem that their children get themselves into. They will learn much more when they need to fix their own lantern, remember their homework, or catch the bus. They will learn more if they clean up the water they splashed from the tub, vacuum up the mess they made, or eat a dinner that they cooked and burned. Besides, suddenly the parents don’t have to get angry. They can be sympathetic, but let the child figure it out for themselves.

Remember the mom who yelled back at her child? Her stress level was through the roof. What was my stress level when my child called asking for her missing homework? Nonexistent. I could calmly say that I felt bad for her, but she could take it tomorrow. And when she got home, I could remind her to put it in her backpack right away so she wouldn’t forget it. And I could smile and praise her when she did just that.

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