As you continue your parenting journey, how do you want that to go? Will it be trial and error? Just repeat how you were parented? Leave it up to somebody else? My preference is for you to fill every moment of your parenting journey, every interaction with your child, with grace.
“Billy, you careless blankity-blank, spilling your glass of milk again! Go get me that hickory stick. You need a whuppin’” Not much grace there. Billy was careless, but not likely on purpose. Accidents happen. Where’s the grace?
“Cassandra, again? What’s with you and milk? Can we get through one meal without you spilling something? Here, let me clean it up.” Not much grace there either. Shaming is just internal punishment.
“Maggie, come on. Don’t just look at the mess. Go get paper towels and help my clean it up. What am I gonna do with you, girl?” Now that’s grace in action.
Grace is a quality of calm understanding, a safe haven for your children in their storms of life. It involves gentle guidance and meaningful direction. It involves strategic firmness and clear understanding of choices, providing reward for good choices and consequence for bad choices. It results in a very meaningful teachable moment.
Billy’s dad showed anger, power, and control, not grace. Cassandra’s mom showed exasperation, burden, and frustration. Maggie’s mom was purposeful but calm. She involved her daughter in the clean-up, demonstrating meaningful consequences to Maggie’s actions. After the mess was cleaned up and dinner completed, she likely sat Maggie down to go over what had happened, active listen her feelings, and prompt her daughter to identify ways to be more careful in the future. The responses from Billy’s dad and Cassandra’s mom were about them and their feelings. The response from Maggie’s mom was about Maggie, getting the mess cleaned up, and making a teachable moment for her daughter. This is the heart of grace-filled parenting.
Every parent wants their children to get a good night’s rest. Our sleeping time is when our body’s immune system is most efficient. It’s when our body’s physically grow and heal from injury. Sleep is the best form of stress management. But, for moms and dads, as you are putting your children to bed, there’s an art to the process.
Five year old Mandy wants to stay up as late as her 10 year old sister, with whom she shares a bedroom. Daddy cuddles her as she tearfully protests going to bed before sissy. He active listens her feelings and she calms. He asks, “Can I share some things with you that I know because I’m so smart and you don’t because you’re just a squirt?” Mandy giggles and agrees to hear him out.
Dismissing your child’s protest, yelling at her, and demanding in bed, lights out, no talking, is the worst way to put a child to bed. Their adrenaline spikes, stress levels elevate, fear sets in, and the absolute last thing they can do is fall asleep. They will eventually fatigue and their eyes will close, but this is not a restful sleep.
Studies show that newborns will sleep upwards from 15 hours/day. Toddlers up to age 5 need at least 12 hours for growth and calm mood. School-age children benefit most from at least 10 hours of sleep a night. Teens and adults are recommended to have at least 8 hours/night. The average sleep time nationally for teens and adults, however is 7 hours, 28 minutes. So, as a whole, we are sleep deprived.
To give your child the best bedtime routine, focus on routine and look for teachable moments. Usually, a rule of thumb is allowing 30 minutes of calming activity before lights out. Calming activity includes, depending on age, rocking, bedtime stories, singing lullabyes, and talking about day’s events. These are all teachable moments and emotional bonding time. Multiple requests for more drink, multiple bathroom breaks, forgetting to brush teeth, one more, pleaaase requests are all excuses and stalls, which need to be firmly shut down. Consistent routines and creative, personalized rituals make for pleasant childhood memories and sweet dreams.
You remember the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This little girl was playfully skipping through the woods when she came upon a cabin. She looked through the windows and around the cabin, finding no one to be at home. The door was unlocked, so she went inside. It was about lunchtime and she found bowls of porridge on the kitchen table. Since no one was there to stop her, she helped herself. Of the three bowls she tasted, one was too hot, one too cold, and one just right.
The process of setting boundaries for your child has a bit of the Goldilocks story in it. They need to be just right in order for your child to grow in security, worth, and responsibility.
Mom meant well when she dressed 7 year old Jody to go outside and play. She layered her clothes, lathered her with sunscreen, and gave her a laundry list of what she could do and not do in the yard with her friends. As soon as Jody wiggled from her mama’s grasp and ran outside, she jumped into a mud puddle, got wet and filthy, and ruined her play clothes. That earned her a spanking, a bath, and quiet time in her room.
Mom’s boundaries for Jody were too strict. At Jody’s age, mom could have asked what she thought she should wear and do outside today. Take her suggestions, active listen her feelings, and problem-solve with wise counsel. Jody may have known what to do, but with her mom’s overparenting, Jody’s response was a resounding “I’ll show you!!”
Seven year old Tim’s mom handled the same situation differently. “Mom, I’m going outside to play with my friends.” “Okay, son,” his mom called out from her computer where she was paying bills. “Just be careful and be back for dinner.” Tim’s mom’s boundaries were too lenient, giving him too much responsibility and putting him in charge of his actions. This underparenting is a recipe for anxiety, insecurity, and limit-testing.
You are expecting, or just had, a newborn baby. From my own experience, I can tell you that I was equal parts thrilled and terrified, excited and overwhelmed. Even with extended family around, there’s a feeling that the buck stops with me and that I’d better get this right. Do we always get it right? No. Do we understand all of our child’s baby talk? We try, but, no. What’s a new parent to do?
Despite the best intentions of those who’ve been there, done that, first born parenting is by definition a task of learning on the job. Our first borns are always our experimental child, because we are just trying out what we think is the right way to parent, without really knowing what the heck we are doing.
With our first born, I was determined to be the best dad ever. That meant rocking her each night until she was fast asleep in my arms. Then I would transfer her to her crib. Within 30 seconds of putting her down, she would let out a scream that would curl the paint on the walls.
After many nights of rocking her for over 3 hours to no avail, my wise and lovely wife challenged me. She suggested I take the stopwatch out of my testing kit, put our daughter down after 15 minutes of rocking her, and time how long it would take for her to fall asleep. I was aghast! How could I let her cry in her bed for hours on end until she fell asleep? Well, the time is embedded in my brain to this day. 6’36” and she was fast asleep for the night. I learned my lesson. What I thought was her cry of protest was a cry for attention. The more attention I gave her, the longer she stayed awake.
Take heart, new parents. You will soon learn the difference between your child’s “I’m hungry,” “I’m poopy,” I want attention,” “I’m mad,” and the most used, “I’m just messin’ with you” cries. If both parents are available, take turns both to help your child respond to each of you and also to spell each other on the job. And especially, if at all possible, when newborn is down for a nap, so should you be as well. Ask for help. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Learn to translate your child’s baby talk to tailor your response for both your needs and those of your child.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory? I have three. As a small child, I would get up early on Saturday morning. My dad got up with me and made some breakfast. Then, magically, he would ask, “Wanna go for a walk?” That was a special dad time for talking, walking, and exploring. Also, we would usually find some wild flowers to bring back to my mom.
I also remember spending two weeks at a summer YMCA camp as I got older. I think I was 7 when it began. Being a “big boy” on my own, meeting new friends, and learning new skills was all great. One time, after camp, my mom helped me unpack my trunk and discovered that none of the clothes I had brought home were mine. “Where are all your clothes, Jonny?” “Well, Mom, I traded them with the guys, you know…” She was put out and fussed at me, but at least my trades all fit me.
Finally, summer vacations at the beach were super family fun. We all pitched in, planned stuff, and saved up so we could all have a great time.
Usually, good times roll to the extent that you include your children in the planning and preparation for them. Ask your child if she wants to do the activity. If not, have a talk about options. If it is a family activity, include her in the planning and talk up the parts that would be fun for her. Get her input. Active listen her feelings. As your children get older, ages 8 and beyond, think about their inviting a friend to come along on the vacation. Two kids who get along great are usually easier to handle than one, because they tend to occupy each other.
Good times roll because of good planning, including and delegating, and having something each family member is looking forward to. It’s summertime somewhere. Let the good times roll.
Mr. Adams heard a crash in the next room and got up to investigate. As he got to the door, he caught a look from his 10 year old son, Alex. “Boy! What did you do?” he bellowed. “It was an accident. I was going to watch TV and just touched it for a second as I came around the couch, Papa.” His dad began to take his belt out from the loops in his pants, steam seemingly swirling up from his ears.
Alex began to back away and he started to cry. “Papa, it was an accident.” “All accidents are preventable, Son. You weren’t careful.” Alex got to the door to the back yard and paused. He looked back at his angry dad approaching him. “Don’t you run from me, boy. You’ll just get more licks if you do. Take your punishment and learn your lesson. Be more careful.” Alex thought a moment and retreated back into the room, resigned to the licking.
I hope that is not a scene from the story unfolding in your house. Alex’ dad chose to parent by fear and power, under the guise of teaching his son a lesson in being more careful. But who benefitted from this punishment? Not Alex. Oh, Alex may have chosen to be more careful in the future, to avoid another beating. But that’s not a teachable moment. That’s survival.
A mindful parent, whose focus is on relationship, as well as accountability, would have handled this situation differently.
Mr. Adams heard a crash in the next room and got up to investigate. He found his son, Alex, standing over a broken vase on the floor. “What happened, Son?” “It was an accident, Dad.” “You didn’t mean to knock the vase off the table?” “No, of course not.” “Okay, what needs to be done now?” Dad then got a dust mop and a broom from the closet and handed them to Alex. As Alex cleaned up the mess, Dad noted that the vase needed to be replaced and asked how that was going to happen. He also noted that the vase was his mom’s favorite, in that it came from grandma’s home and matched the room’s décor so well. Alex and his dad agreed to dig into Alex’ savings account and dad would take him to the store to find a replacement vase. When mom got home that evening, Alex agreed to explain to her what happened, present her with the replacement vase, and apologize for his carelessness. That series of natural consequences not only captures a teachable moment between dad and Alex, it is way better than punishment.
God’s marching orders to parents come in Proverbs 22:6. There, He tells us to “raise your children in the ways of the Lord so that, when they grow old, He will not depart from them.” A popular version of Scripture elsewhere cautions us not to “spare the rod and spoil the child.” So, my question to you is this. Is your parenting style power-oriented or relationship-oriented.?
“My kid toes the line,” one parent told me gruffly. “If he doesn’t, I smack him. That’s what God says to do.”
“Well, Joe,” I responded, “That’s one way of looking at it. But tell me, how’s that working for you and your son?”
The rod can be a source of discipline in the home, but the outcome for your child is fear. Fear of being punished is a deterrent to being bad, but do you want your child to fear you? What about his behavior, choices, and relationship does your child learn from a good whipping?
If you are choosing physical punishment for your child’s misbehavior, never whip him while you are angry. Give both of you a time out of up to 30 minutes before the punishment, so that you can calm down. Some parents say, “You know, son, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” While such comment might help you feel less guilty, your child still feels the sting of the whipping.
When you choose power, it most likely comes at the expense of relationship. I choose relationship.
“Joey, what in the world were you thinking? Go to your room and think about what you did, and how you could have avoided this trouble by choosing something different. I’ll be by to talk to you in 30 minutes.”
When you talk with him, use your active listening to understand his feelings and actions. Prompt him to discover other, healthier options to his bad behavior. Find a natural consequence, rather than punishment, that fits the crime. Hitting your son because he hit your daughter just teaches him about payback. Having him apologize to her and do her chores for a week teaches him that actions have consequences. Instead of a whipping, where everybody feels bad, you have the opportunity for a teachable moment. Do you want power or healthy relationship in your home?
Let me take you on a ride. A space launch to be exact. Ever been on one? I didn’t think so, as there have only been about a hundred or so American astronauts. This space launch is a metaphor for how your teens become adults.
As shown in the recent movie, Hidden Figures, and more fully in the past movie, Apollo 13, it takes a team for any space launch to be successful. There are a whole bunch of people at ground control. For the US, that’s Houston, TX. Remember the famous line from Apollo 13? “Houston, we have a problem.” Also, these launches take years, decades of preparation, with new technology always adding to the mix. And astronauts are groomed, prepared, and meet certain criteria of stamina and expertise even to get into the astronaut training program. No space launch is exactly perfect, so the spaceship trajectory is adjusted, mid-course corrections, by the ship’s pilot, in consultation with ground control.
I know you see where I’m going with this. As we prepare to launch our teens from adolescence to adulthood, we see the parallels to manned space flights. We, the parents, are their primary ground control, although we ask extended family and experts to give us help and counsel. When did ground control start its work? When your son or daughter was born. Their entire life is a preparation for launch.
Finally, the day arrives. Your child fills their car with their stuff and is off to college or work, with a different place to live. Suppose he gets lost? He talks to Siri or consults his GPS app on his phone. Suppose he runs short of funds? He goes to his local ATM or, more likely, he calls you for a “loan.” These are the mid-course corrections of his space flight, for which he is primarily responsible, but not without your wise counsel.
As he continues his space journey of exploration, are you hawking over him, ready to advise and protect? No, advice-based parenting was appropriate in his teen years. When he becomes an adult you switch to consultative parenting. “I have some thoughts about what you are going through, son. Do you want to hear them?” And then wait for him to give you permission. What about Sunday dinners back home with you? Mission to ground control, we have successful space launch to adulthood.
A newspaper cartoon that I grew up was called “The Family Circle.” Several children and parents, and occasionally a ghostly character named, Not-Me lived in the home. Does Not-Me now live in your home?
You come into your family room and see that it is a mess. Susie is on her phone. Joey is locked into a World of Warcraft computer game, and little Emily is talking to her dollies around their tea table. After surveying the mess, you bark, “Okay, you guys. Who made this mess?” In unison, without looking away from their respective activities, your crew responds, “Not me!” That poor fella, Not Me, gets blamed for lots of messes around the home.
So, how can you delegate getting the room straight again, while also creating a teachable moment about taking personal responsibility? Several things come to mind. First, you might conclude that assigning individual blame is pointless, and the priority is to get the room straight again, to your standards. If that’s the case, have your children stop all activity and take 15 minutes to collectively straighten the room, with you delegating each responsibility. “Okay. Enough griping. The sooner we get the room straight, the sooner I’m out of your hair and you can get back to your activities.”
Second, you might conclude that everybody having fun is more important in the moment than how straight the room is. If the room’s messiness does not directly impact you, then no big deal. However, if you are having friends over in 20 minutes and you want to use the room to entertain them, then the messiness does impact you, and you ride heard to get the room straight in a timely manner.
Finally, if you want to use the circumstances as an object lesson for the kids, then the Not Me defense needs to be addressed. After the room is straightened, either sooner or later that same day, have a brief family meeting where you address the subjects of taking personal responsibility and lying. When my son accepted personal responsibility and took the time to make the circumstances right, I heaped praise on him and gushed my pride and his consequence was less. When he tried to dodge the circumstances, I asked him how much trouble he wanted. One trouble is making the mess. Two troubles is making the mess and then lying about it, and his consequences were double.
If Not Me lives in your home, use it to create a teachable moment for your children.
My precious 6 year old daughter, many years ago, came home from a private home daycare. She was sporting a fancy, women’s watch on her wrist.
“Hey, Sweetheart. Whatcha got there?” I asked. She proudly extended her arm to me to show off her prize. “It’s a watch. Paul gave it to me. It’s my birthday, ya know,” she explained. Actually, her birthday was months away. I could have exploded her story right then and put her in her room both for lying and for stealing. But…I wanted to see how far she would take this.
“I see…Hmmm. Paul gave you this expensive, lady’s watch as a birthday gift?” “Uh huh. He’s my boyfriend, ya know.” So, having given her an opportunity to fess up, I crafted a teachable moment.
“Okay, then. Let’s go right back to Paul’s house and see if it is okay with Paul’s mom for him to give you such an expensive birthday gift.” My daughter got quiet and then erupted, “Oh no. We don’t have to do that. Isn’t it pretty?” she protested, as I picked her up, got her in her car seat, and made the short trip to Paul’s house.
On arrival, Paul’s mom answered the door and I explained the circumstances. “Oh my goodness. Thank you so much. I had looked everywhere for my watch. With prompting from me, my daughter reluctantly owned up to her theft and offered an apology. On our return trip home, I alternatively consoled her, active listened her feelings, and praised her for correcting a bad choice. On arrival, I sent her to her room for some alone time and to think about the impact of her actions. Later, after talking to her more, I helped her write a letter of apology and draw a pretty picture for Paul’s mom.
A punishment for my daughter’s crime would have been a spanking or grounding with no explanation. Punishment would have satisfied me, shown my power, diminished her self-esteem, and created emotional distance between us. I chose a series of natural consequences that made it about her, maintained her self-esteem, and brought us emotionally closer together. Punishment or natural consequence. Which would you choose?