There is a popular meme that shows up on my social media feeds on a fairly regular basis. It goes something like this:
I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, and hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I love you! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will never find someone who loves, prays, cares, and worries about you more than I do.
I am certain that the author of this meme created it from a place of sincere love for their children. I have no doubt that they do love, pray, care, and worry about their children just like I do mine.
On this journey we call parenting, we are all clueless. None of us truly know what we are doing and most of our actions are fueled by the fear that we are fully capable of screwing up our children’s lives. I love my kids like crazy, just like you love yours, and there is a very real chance that we will mess up in some way and ruin them for eternity. No pressure.
And yet this meme literally makes my heart ache. I truly don’t see how being my child’s worst nightmare is in any way a picture of love. I believe that all actions come from either a place of love or a place of fear. We don’t have to parent from a place of fear. We can choose love.
Parenting from a place of love, not fear.
I want my children to learn how to control their emotions and live peaceably. The best way for kids to learn is through modeling and imitation. If I flip out on my kids and drive them insane as the meme suggests, my children will miss out on the most valuable lessons I can provide them regarding self-regulation and emotion control.
And the dictionary defines a friend as “a person who you like and enjoy being with; a person who helps or supports someone”. Hmm, I think that is exactly how I want my kids to think of me. Sure, we are not on a level playing field and I am the authority figure, not just their buddy, but if my kids want to call me their friend, I’m totally down with that. I’m completely fine with the idea that my kids might actually like and enjoy being with me and that they might consider me a person who helps or supports them. I think that’s called winning at parenting.
I haven’t the slightest clue how to deal with all of the mood swings, tantrums, and misbehaviors that my children exhibit. I make mistakes in parenting every day. But I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research lately to start seeing the types of things that work to raise great kids and the types of parenting methods that research shows can be detrimental to our kids.
I kind of feel like I’m coming out of the parenting closet today. You see, when memes like the one you see above are so prevalent, and thousands of people rally to support my favorite football player when it was discovered that he beat and injured his child, I feel quite alone in the way that I have chosen to raise my kids.
And yet, I know that I am not alone in this. I know there are many other parents who feel the way I do. There are many parents searching for a better way, to parent with peace, to offer our children respect, to prioritize our relationship with our kids over punitive control, and to be an example for our kids to model themselves after. So I’m speaking up today in the hopes of encouraging others trying to navigate this journey. I want to open the eyes of parents who are looking for a better way. We can do better by our kids. We can offer love, grace, peace, patience, and kindness to our kids and fully expect them to grow up to be capable, self-disciplined, compassionate adults.
Please don’t misunderstand. This method of parenting is not one of permissiveness. My parenting efforts are absolutely geared toward discipline and strong limits, but I don’t believe that we need to spank our children into good behavior. And I don’t think that we properly teach our children how to handle their big emotions by isolating them until they “figure it out” all on their own. And I most certainly do not believe that shaming our children, publicly or privately, will teach them how to be successful adults.
Over and over again research has taught us that physical punishment does not work in developing long-term obedient children. What research has found is that bullies create bullies, so if we are mean and hit our kids, our kids are likely to be mean and hit others.
Research has also found that while kids may immediately start behaving properly after receiving physical punishment, they are less likely to be obedient down the road when parents are not around, and to sneak around and lie to their parents in the future to avoid more physical punishment.
Physical punishment is also well correlated to depression, anxiety, anti-social behaviors, poor intellectual performance, and a higher usage of drugs and alcohol. Not exactly things that I have envisioned for my children’s futures. (A few sources for all of the above research findings can be found here, here, and here.)
Good Parenting Starts by Prioritizing a Good Relationship
As humans, we were created for relationship. We learn in relationship. We grow in relationship. We thrive in relationship. As parents, we must learn to value our relationship with our kids as gold. Not by allowing our kids to walk all over us and get their way, but by loving them through disappointments, by empathizing with their frustrations in the midst of our limits and discipline, and by connecting with them on a daily basis so they know that they are loved, that they matter, and that we really do care.
I’m quickly becoming very passionate about this topic, so I’m excited to share the things I’m learning along the way. With a five-year-old and a two-year-old, I know that I will have many opportunities to practice and learn effective strategies. I will freely admit that parenting in this way is much harder than I originally imagined. Spanking, time outs, yelling, and forcing my kids to do what I want would be so much easier, but in the end, it doesn’t raise kids who have an internal sense of discipline, compassion, and cooperation. I’d rather parent with a long-term view of my children’s lives than with a short-term plan for immediate compliance.
Today’s Action Step
Parenting our kids well is one of the most important tasks we have. It is also, one of the hardest. Take a few moments to consider your most recent parenting methods. How do you respond when your children misbehave? What words and actions are you modeling to your kids when you have a disagreement? Are you modeling the behaviors you want your kids to have when it comes to controlling emotions and impulses? Do you strive for long-term success or immediate compliance? No one is a perfect parent. No one gets is right all the time. The way we can improve is to regularly analyze what we are doing, what is working, and what areas are opportunities to improve.