As you talk to others or just listen to parents discussing their children, you will come to an interesting conclusion. There are two kinds of parents. There are those who feel that their children’s behavior is determined by what happens to them and there are parents who believe that children’s behavior is determined by who their children are. In other words, there are parents who hold themselves responsible for their children’s behavior and there are parents who hold the child responsible for their own behavior.
It is easier and feels better to assume that we, as parents, have some kind of magic control or power that can assure that our children will turn out ok. In fact, the idea is so comfortable that parents have difficulty giving it up even when their children are rebelling teenagers who have strongly communicated to their parents that they will not be controlled. To let them figure out for themselves what is wise and what is unwise seems just too scary to attempt.
But, if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that although we have the power to influence our children, the only individual we have total control over is ourselves. When we recognize this fact our focus changes from trying to change our child to learning how to control our own behavior so that we can become more effective at helping our children make wise decisions.
Let’s compare these two ways of thinking. If your child doesn’t make their bed your can either try to figure out what you can do to make them do what you want. (Like lecturing, taking away privileges, setting up a reward system, or punishing them) Or you can think about what you could do to help your child understand that making their bed is important. (Like asking them if they would like your help to remember this task, showing them how you make your bed and telling them why you making your bed is important, or letting them know that this task is expected from all family members)
Another way to contrast the two approaches to parenting is to consider the role of the parental relationship. In the “controlling” approach the parent is more concerned with the child doing the “right” thing” the relationship is secondary. Haven’t you heard parents say, “I don’t care what they think of me as long as they do what they are supposed to do?” This sounds like real love because the parent is even willing to sacrifice their relationship with the child to help them learn to do what is right.
But when a parent decides to help the child develop their own “self mastery” skills the relationship between the parent and the child becomes the most important thing to preserve. The reason for this is that when a parent decides that the job of a parent is not to control the children but to control themselves, they make a leap of faith. When you decide to have faith that the child will choose what is best, you also recognize that your child will probably behave as you behave. You recognize that because of the respect you have for your child and because of the resulting respect they have for you your relationship with them is everything. When a parent chooses the “self mastery” approach the relationship built between the parent and the child is the most important element in the parenting process.
The encouraging thing is that when a parent gives up the “control” mode it is easier for the child to build a relationship with the parent. They do not have to spend their time defending themselves, sneaking, trying to avoid the lectures or punishment. They do not have to wonder if you care about them or if you are more concerned about what others think. They learn to see mistakes as experiences to learn from rather than events that make them “bad.” They learn to see you as a coach rather than a drill sergeant.
It takes a lot of courage and faith to give up the “controlling” method of parenting. There is a certain false security that is present in this approach that keeps us repeating it over and over even if we also see our relationship with our child deteriorating. But, if you can learn to have faith in yourself and in your child, the parenting experience will be much more enjoyable. It may not be more enjoyable for your child because they will no longer have anyone to blame for their misbehavior but themselves.
If you decide to change approaches make sure you have your spouse of someone else available to talk to when you get discouraged and revert back to the comfortable “control” approach. Let your children know what you are doing so they can also help you and understand when you “back-slide.” But most of all do not give up. The benefits you gain in the added self-respect you have for yourself and the peace you will gain will make all the effort worth it. You may also reap an added benefit if your child recognizes and appreciates what you are trying to do. You may gain a new “friend.”