Balance Firmness with Relationship
Children need correction and discipline. Their immaturity often requires that you take firm action. We’re advocates of firmness and setting tight boundaries for children in their areas of weakness in order to teach them how to live differently.
Discipline, however, must take place in the context of relationship. When the pressure must increase for a time in family life, be sure to also increase times of fun, affirmation, and closeness. The two must go together. Too many parents fail in this area, viewing themselves simply as disciplinarians.
Family or Military Camp?
Emphasizing relationship illustrates the difference between a family and a military camp.
It’s important that children learn respect and responsiveness to authority, but that doesn’t mean that parents have to be cold, demanding, or harsh to teach these qualities to their children. Let’s take the example of giving instructions to kids.
Sometimes parents forget about relationship. They see something that needs to be done and yell out commands to the kids to do it. Dad walks into the kitchen and sees the trash overflowing and barks, “Jimmy!” It’s not enough to see the need and tell someone to respond to it. That approach doesn’t demonstrate value for the child. Parenting isn’t just about getting tasks done; it’s about equipping kids with skills, and that’s done through relationship.
If Dad were to take a moment and look for his son, he might find that he is having a meaningful dialogue with his older sister. The instruction might best be postponed a few minutes.
On another occasion when Dad wants to give an instruction to Jimmy he might find him at the computer and take an interest in the game his son is playing before giving direction.
Balance is Important
Firmness doesn’t have to be cold and distant. Eye contact, gentle words, and extra time can add a personal touch to parenting that helps children feel valued. Putting your hand on your son’s shoulder, calling your daughter close to give an instruction, addressing a child by name, and speaking softly are all ways to show children that they’re loved.
Of course, sometimes children need to drop what they’re doing and follow instructions. That’s part of learning obedience. Many kids can’t seem to follow an instruction without an argument. In those situations your child is likely going to need some practice giving in and doing the right thing without a dialogue. But your firmness in those moments can still be done in an honoring way.
When Parents Change, Kids Do Too
Like every step in a good instruction routine, getting close to each other requires changes from both child and parent. Children also find it tempting to yell across the house. They need to learn that dialogue only takes place when relationship has been established through eye contact and being physically close together.
Sometimes it’s the small things that demonstrate that a parent cares or that a child is willing to listen. Putting down your cell phone, looking up from the computer, or just turning to face your child before you speak communicates the importance of what you are about to say.
We Are Teammates, Not Opponents
It’s often helpful to view your family as a team. In fact, you may choose to call your family a team sometimes just to communicate the unity you share. When a job needs to be done, the “Smith Team” pulls together. You may work hard to clean up the house, or build a garden, or do yard work. Then you also have special privileges together as a family, going out to eat, playing games, or having ice cream.
The team idea helps children recognize the relational component of family life instead of simply emphasizing the task of getting things done. As you talk about teamwork and unity your family will recognize the benefits and see the privileges associated with being a part of your family.
Children and parents should be friends, but don’t let that desire weaken your limit setting. One mom of three teens said, “I used to feel bad when I had to say ‘No’ because I thought they’d be mad at me. Now I’ve learned to make a decision and enforce it because it’s the right thing to do. They may get mad, but I have to do it because I’m their mom. After they settle down, they know I did it for their own good.”
Truth Has Two Wings
Maintaining a balance between tasks and relationship is essential for good parenting. If you find yourself erring on one side or the other you’ll see negative symptoms in your children.
The parent who overemphasizes relationship may find that a child takes advantage and doesn’t respond properly, resulting in patterns of arguing, resistance, or complaining. On the other hand, the parent who continually orders kids around loses the closeness that the relationships provide. View the symptoms as warnings to readjust your approach to keep the balance in place.
Parenting mistakes happen in even the best homes. You don’t always have to be right. Having a strong relationship with your kids helps everyone deal with the regular challenges, mistakes, and uncertainties of maturing together. Peter reminds of that in 1 Peter 4:8 when he says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” That truth is so important for the family.
Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
Disagreements happen, emotional energy rises, and tension fills the air at times. What’s going to save the day and preserve the situation? It’s the relationships you develop with those fellow family members. When love increases then it’s much easier to resolve conflict and get through the challenging times.
Learning how to love in a family is important. It’s more than just the hug at bedtime. Love happens even in the challenges that we face. What does it mean to be loving when you have to discipline a child, say no to a request, or require a child to separate from something they’re involved in to follow an instruction?
Paul gives some helpful words of advice in Colossians 3:12 when he says “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Those aren’t the opposite of getting things done, correcting kids, or staying on schedule. In fact, those words illustrate for parents ways that they can add relationship to their parenting.
Often a gracious approach to parenting is perceived as weakness. It doesn’t have to be that way. Usually graciousness just adds a bit more time to the process, allowing relationship to envelop the tasks that need to get done. When parents demonstrate love in the midst of their parenting then kids learn important lessons. Life is hard sometimes but love can reign in the midst of it all.