To parent in a way that appears different from the mainstream requires courage and faith that you will make a difference in your child’s character. I know the challenge of being true to this courage and faith, because I experienced it as a dad and many of you are facing the challenge today.
You don’t allow your children to be “plugged in” to the video screen without restrictions. You allow your children to express their feelings and have their tantrums. You have limitations on what they can and cannot do or see. You are a parent who has set up respectful rules, agreements, and consequences, and have taken time to develop strong relationships with your children. You are a parent who avoids yelling, punishing, or reacting to your children’s testing and then suffers the wrath of criticism from those who notice it. You don’t provide your young teens with cell phones or allow them to have a MySpace page, just because everyone else does. All the while, your family members, parents, neighbors, and even your spouse, may think you’ve gone overboard and have bought into the “new age” parenting. They may think you are spoiling your child. They judge you, talk behind your back, avoid spending time with you, and even find ways to sabotage what you’ve created.
Parenting effectively today is so difficult for many reasons. The world is no longer autocratic like the one we grew up in. There are so many differing opinions on how to parent. It is hard to become a parent you’ve never seen, and the media and advertising culture are not parents’ friends. Because we live more complex lives than our parents did, it’s often easier just to give in to our children’s demands and the pressure of what everyone else is doing.
In the 80’s and 90’s when I was raising my three children, this transformation had already begun and I felt like I was the only one struggling with being a real dad. My father was a poor role model, so I knew what I did not want to be like as a parent. With no support system to help me, making the transition was challenging, but I was committed to doing what I knew was right. Many of my neighbors knew that I was a parent educator but no one ever discussed this topic. My column on discipline ran each month in the local parenting magazine but no one ever acknowledged it. On occasions when I would prevent my children from watching unsuitable movies at a friend’s home, or pulled them from a party where inappropriate behavior or activities were going to be allowed, some adults would say to me, “They are going to see it somewhere anyway, so what’s the use in making life difficult.”
A woman who attended several of my parenting classes revealed how difficult it was to be with judgmental family members who used autocratic parenting methods, such as yelling, threatening, punishing, and scolding. On occasions when she had not taken the time to set up boundaries or agreements in advance with her preschooler, or if he became over tired and hungry at a family gathering, she noticed that her little son became uncooperative. When this happened, she knew that the next step was to simply end the activity and go home. But her family would say that her parenting style was wrong, and instead told her that she should demand that her child behave and comply. After all, she was the parent and should be in charge. She knew in her heart, though, that forcing a child to comply and demanding that a child behave, would only create fear, animosity, and resentfulness in the child. These feelings could then erode the parent/child relationship.
I am writing this article for all of you parents who feel like you are alone in the world with your firm AND respectful style of parenting. I encourage you to believe in what you feel is right for your children and not to give up. You must have the faith that what you are doing is right, regardless of what everyone else is doing. You are parenting today to help form and shape your children into the adults you want them to become.
A friend of mine had children who were similar in age to mine and he made it clear that he disagreed with my parenting style. He was a father who loved his children very much and always provided for them. He also used a very permissive style of parenting but would “lose it” regularly and yell and punish. He had no rules or boundaries set up in advance and he let his children pretty much do whatever they wanted, whether watching whatever they wanted on television or buying them whatever they asked for. As of today, his children are in their twenties, have been arrested multiple times, and do not have regular employment or a place to call their own. Did his parenting choices contribute to their bleak disposition? Today, my three children are leading productive lives, keeping themselves safe, building healthy relationships, and following their intuition to find their purpose in this world. Did my choice of parenting style help contribute to their success today as adults? I like to think that it did.
A parent once said to me, “My parents yelled and punished me when I was growing up, and look at me… I have a job, a mortgage, and I’m able to live my life just fine.” I replied that I did not want my children to live their life “just fine.” I wanted them to live their life to the fullest, to find the work they love, to build awesome relationships, and to find their purpose in this world. Goals like these require parenting differently than everyone else.