When I was a kid, I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother. She was a cold and distant disciplinarian, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about anything. Now that I’m a mom of two kids, I don’t want to be like that. I want to be more of a friend to my kids than my mom was to me. How can I enforce the rules and still be a “cool” mom?
We commend your desire to be a great mom. It’s a joy to see moms and dads who take parenting seriously. You want your daughter to know she is loved and valued. You want to be understanding and provide a safe place for her to come and share her joys and fears and concerns. That’s one very important side of the parenting coin.
While you don’t want to be a “cold and distant disciplinarian” like your mom be careful that you don’t overact to the pain of your own childhood experience by becoming too much of a “friend” rather than a mom. We’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.
Here’s the deal. Our kids can find friends anywhere but they only have one set of parents. Your daughter needs to know that she is loved and accepted and at the same time your daughter needs someone who loves her enough to guide her through the rapids of childhood and adolescence, to provide direction and when necessary to provide correction and discipline. That’s the critical other side of the parenting coin.
One essential aspect of becoming a caring and competent parent 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 that we learn how to listen to others. When you take the time to listen you are saying that your daughter is worth setting aside other concerns and activities to give your full attention to. You are bestowing value and honor on her.
When are the times that you daughter is more talkative and open? It may be a certain time of the day or it may be when you are driving in the car. The reality is that most kids have times when they are more likely to open up and the wise parent learns how to identify those times, listen, listen a bit more, perhaps ask a few open questions, and then listen some more. It’s impossible to overstate how powerful this can be.
Responsible parenting also involves setting rules and guidelines. Make sure you daughter knows what those rules are as well as the reasons for them and the consequences if they aren’t followed. Remember, there are two kinds of consequences. The first kind 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 kind of consequences comes from a parent who loves their child enough to want to help them learn from their mistakes. It might involve something like a time-out or a curfew.
In our home we make a big distinction between punishment and discipline. The purpose of punishment is to inflict some kind of 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 we have to impose a consequence we work hard to make sure our boys understand what they have done, the potential consequences of their behavior and the purpose of the discipline.
Our own experience as well as the testimony of hundreds of other parents tell us 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.