I grew up in a home where my mom nurtured us and where my dad, when he was not on the road, was the disciplinarian. I remember feeling like he was cold and distant and never felt safe talking to him. As parents of three my wife and I know that we need to enforce the rules but we also want our kids feel like they can relate to us. Any suggestions?
Be encouraged with the fact that you can both “enforce the rules” and be a parent your kids can love, trust and feel safe with. Here’s the deal. Your kids can find friends anywhere but they only have one set of parents. I’ve worked with many parents who, with the best of intentions, thought if they could just get down to their kids level, dress and talk like them and be their buddy that they would be better parents. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
They need to know that they are loved and accepted and at the same time they need parents who love them enough to guide them through the rapids of childhood and adolescence, to provide a consistent Christ-like example, direction and when necessary correction and discipline.
A great starting place is cultivating the skill of listening. The Bible has a lot to say about how much God listens for our voice and how important it is for us to listen to others. When you make time to listen you are investing in your children. You are telling them they are worth setting aside other things to give your full attention to them. You are bestowing value, honor and respect on them and that is priceless.
Take the time to observe when each of your kids are more talkative and open. It may be a certain time of the day or it may be when you are driving in the car. Most kids have times when they are more likely to open up and wise parents learn how to identify those times, listen, listen a bit more, perhaps ask a few open questions, and then listen some more. It’s impossible for me to overstate how powerful this simple principle can be.
Effective parenting also involves setting rules and guidelines. Make sure you kids know what those rules are, the reasons for them and the specific consequences if they aren’t followed. Remember there are two kinds of consequences. The first is a result of the act itself i.e. if she hits one of her playmates she’s likely to get hit back. The second comes from the parents and is in response to disobedience. It might involve something like a time-out or a curfew but should be appropriate to their age, the situation and their personality type.
It’s important to distinguish between punishment and discipline. The purpose of punishment is to inflict a painful consequence to make them “pay” for what they did that was wrong. The purpose of discipline is to, in a sense, disciple them into healthier and more biblically-consistent patterns of behavior. When there is a situation where you have to impose a consequence work hard to make sure our child understands what they have done, the potential consequences of their behavior and the purpose of the discipline.
My own experience as well as the testimony of thousands of other parents tell me that when we’ve laid a foundation of love, listening, acceptance and have given them the gift of time, they are much more likely to receive and respond to compassionate and consistent discipline. Their initial response may not always be positive but they eventually come around and may even express gratitude for a parent who cares enough to be a real parent and then let them in as a friend.